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Author Topic: [Lab] Setting Premise?  (Read 4496 times)
timfire
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« on: September 14, 2004, 01:23:36 PM »

I'm taking Paul up his invitation to discuss experimental play.

I'm intrigued by the idea of Setting-Premise, but I'm not sure where to begin. How 'bout the obvious: Paul, are there any games you see that have a strong  example of a Setting-Premise, or do you think this is something that is still under-developed?

How would a Setting-Premise work? Obvious, the setting would have to have some sort of moral issue imbedded in it. But who would do the answering/ addressing this Premise? I assume that the group would have to. And who would, err, problem-ize the issue, meaning who would provide bangs & such?

And how would the group effect the setting? I guess you could grant players large scale directorial power. But that could create issues. I mean, if you view the 'setting' as a single entity, you would have multiple players sharing control of a single entity. You could easily have different opinions on how the moral issues should get answered.

Anyway, what type of experimentinig have you done, Paul (or anyone else), with this stuff?

PS- I read the threads on your EPICS game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2004, 01:45:35 PM »

Hello,

I've never understood what the big deal about Setting-Premise is. It seems to me to be an obvious, common, and easily understood sort of Narrativist play.

a) You have a Setting full of seething conflicts, usually in terms of war or politics, sometimes environmental; these conflicts fulfill the "problematic human condition" criterion for Premise

b) Characters begin play wihtout a whole lot of personal conflicts (no need for six-fingered men, e.g.), and through play they get all embroiled in the conflicts of the setting

c) Through characters' decisions and actions, Premise becomes Theme

I do this all the time, most especially in HeroQuest. It's readily apparent in Castle Falkenstein and Legends of Alyria. Technically, the Master in MLWM is "Setting," so it happens there too. I guess I don't see why anyone considers this an unusual, unacknowledged, or undeveloped form of play ...

Am I totally missing whatever it is that you're talking about with this term, Paul?

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2004, 04:59:28 PM »

Tim, thanks for starting this thread. Hey Ron,

a) You have a Setting full of seething conflicts, usually in terms of war or politics, sometimes environmental; these conflicts fulfill the "problematic human condition" criterion for Premise

b) Characters begin play wihtout a whole lot of personal conflicts (no need for six-fingered men, e.g.), and through play they get all embroiled in the conflicts of the setting

c) Through characters' decisions and actions, Premise becomes Theme


I think that describes it, in a top-down sort of way. Here's my own explanation, from http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=51087#51087">this thread:

"So the difference between Character-Premise Narrativism and Setting-Premise Narrativism is that with the former, it is the character who answers the question, and with the latter, it is the setting. In the former, it is the job of the setting to problematize the character's efforts to address the premise. In the latter, it is the job of the character to influence the answering of the question of the premise by the setting; which means that with Setting-Premise Narrativism, there is no absolute mandate that the character ever come into conflict with his own convictions, as long as he impacts the way the setting answers the premise."

I don't think interest in understanding Setting-Premise Narrativism comes from notions that it's a rare form of play. I think, rather, it's from wanting to pay attention to group dynamics, and maybe from a perception of games past in which everyone wasn't on the same page during play. Knowing you're in a Setting-Premise game, and not a Character-Premise game, particularly when play is characterized by aggressive scene framing and/or one-roll scene resolution mechanics, informs a group's decisions about what kinds of things are, in fact, conflicts. Consider a game where a criminal and internally divided minority party has seized power in an impoverished nation by advancing an innocent and clueless idealist as their puppet for the presidency. The Premise is, "Can ideals survive the imperative of taking action?" Consider how, in such a Setting-Premise game, that a player's understanding of what's at stake conflict-wise when his foreign correspondent character is tortured and questioned about his confidential sources is different than it would be in a similarly outlined Character-Premise game, and how a lack of consensus across players on the locus of Premise (Setting vs. Character) can become a social contract issue as players maybe contribute creative content and roleplay in ways that set their characters apart from what others perceive is a collaborative sense of purpose.

Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2004, 06:20:15 PM »

Hi Paul,

I think the key issue is one of willingness to engage in the setting per se.

This is quite difficult for people to believe others are going to do. How often do we see people posting in agony that their players aren't "getting into the setting," or won't read the source material? And yet I also see these same people hoarding setting from the players, unwilling to share their own fandom or fascination with others ...

Anyway, it worked just fine for us and Glorantha - why? Because we did it in bite-sized chunks. I had an extensive but very dated early-80s take on the setting; the players had none. So I gathered up the current writeup that gave an overview (a few pages in one of the current books), added a few illustrations from my materials and from various other references I thought appropriate, and wrote up a one-sheet for the setting, strongly emphasizing a limited area.

We made characters from there. As we went, I continued to provide various snippets or pieces from the books, reading the new stuff and learning it at a rate that was comfortable for me, introducing it into the game, and everyone was borrowing the books and buying some of them too, all of us "studying" at an easy, steady pace and integrating it all into play as we went.

You see, I totally rejected the idea that I was their lens into the game-world. No - if we're going to play Setting-Premise, then we all have to bring excitement about that to play - not receive it. Too many times, it's as if the GM were injecting excitement into the players' veins, then eagerly watching to see that same excitement appear in their thoughts and actions. That's an exhausting task, and I watch it burn people out over and over. It's socially and imaginatively impossible.

The same happened with Fvlminata, which (damn us) we Drifted to Narrativist play as time went on. Roman slavery was just too interesting. And you know why we were able to get this going in play? Because the text in the game was interesting enough for all of us to want to read it, on our own, and to prompt a couple of us to dig up various Roman history references to share as we met for play.

In fact, in both games, I now realize that a certain amount of time before settling down to play the characters was spent on plain old "let's share what we learned" about the setting discussion, often including marked passages in texts or an enthusiastically-shown illustration.

Again, I think my real point here is to promote the following things to make this sort of play work:

1. Prompt the enthusiasm in others, rather than trying to inject or to transfuse it from you to others.

2. Provide summary/introductory materials that are easy to digest and which promote the enthusiasm about exactly what matters most about the setting to you.

3. Make all source materials available.

4. Encourage discussion, interpretation, and suggestions about the setting, with special emphasis on everyone having full authority to identify what interests them and to express it to everyone else.

Best,
Ron
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timfire
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« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2004, 08:24:05 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
a) You have a Setting full of seething conflicts, usually in terms of war or politics, sometimes environmental; these conflicts fulfill the "problematic human condition" criterion for Premise

b) Characters begin play wihtout a whole lot of personal conflicts (no need for six-fingered men, e.g.), and through play they get all embroiled in the conflicts of the setting

c) Through characters' decisions and actions, Premise becomes Theme

Hmm... See, when I first read Paul's comments on "Setting-Premise", the situation I envisioned was one where events occured in the setting that weren't directly caused by the PC's. For lack of a better example, I envisioned something similiar to the movie "The Day After Tomorrow." If you're unfamiliar, in the movie a scientist has to save his son when global warming triggers a monsterous, climate-changing snow storm.

See, the story of the father saving his son is layed ontop of the environmental message. They're seperate. While the character's situation is directly related to the storm, the characters are not directly part of this Nature vs. Man's-Arrogance conflict. It's the appearance of the storm (and the following death and destruction), that answer this Conflict.

So I envisioned a situation where a moral issue was present in the setting, and while the characters would be affected by this conflict, the characters would not be the ones to answer this issue. I envisioned something external to the characters answering this issue.

Does that make sense? Paul, does this follow your thoughts? Ron, is this the same thing that you were describing?
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matthijs
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« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2004, 11:11:07 PM »

Tim, I think I get what you're talking about. I'm not sure, though, so bear with me if I'm reading you wrong :)

It seems like in theory, you could have two different processes going on in the same game - one where character premise is addressed, and the other where setting premise is addressed. (Whether or not these processes should influence each other, would depend on the situation - i. e. what the group agrees on beforehand, perhaps).

I've talked a bit about setting premise in GM premise in narrativist play. I called it "GM premise", assuming that the GM would be the one addressing setting premise. However, it should be quite possible for players to do so, too. In an Aria-like game, for example, players can control individual characters, social groups, and/or entire nations.

You say you want something external to the characters to answer the issue. The first thing that springs to mind is, well, other characters - NPC's. Perhaps it'd be possible to be more abstract, and use different social/political forces in a setting as influences under player control.

Is this what you're talking about...?
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2004, 06:05:34 AM »

Hey Tim,

See, the story of the father saving his son is layed ontop of the environmental message....So I envisioned a situation where a moral issue was present in the setting, and while the characters would be affected by this conflict, the characters would not be the ones to answer this issue.

I would call that metaplot. For Setting-Premise Narrativism, the player characters must be significant to the Setting's answer to the Premise. Check out the clone setting example I used for differentiating Setting Exploration Simulationism from Setting-Premise Narrativism in the thread I linked to above. In the case of Setting-Premise Narrativism, the play group collectively takes on the creative constraint that the setting will react to and answer Premise relative to the player characters.

Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2004, 06:17:22 AM »

Hello,

Bangin' my head against the wall ... it's just that kind of day ...

Anything a character does in the crunch creates Theme. It doesn't matter if it solves the problem that the setting faces.

In Castle Falkenstein, the characters do not have to defeat Bismarck in order to create Theme. They could be hundreds of miles away doing something else entirely. What matters is that Bismarck's impending modernistic assault on classical/fairytale Bavaria (cough! or whatever it's called in the game, forgot) sets the stage for whatever situations the characters find themselves in.

Same thing with HeroQuest. No one can solve the problems of Glorantha; it's doomed. What matters is what new mythologies will emerge from the ashes, as defined by the heroes' choices in whatever small-scale and personal conflicts they've dealt with. This occurs even if the players have no direct role in (say) the Dragonrise or the appearance of Argrath. Especially if they don't.

In fact, as I see it, the less the characters are shoehorned into such events, the better. Theme arises from what they do. In Setting-Premise games, yes the GM imposes shattering and incredible events, even up to the point of stuff like "The sky cracks open" or "Stalking tripods destroy half the country." I'm totally not saying anything else but.

I hate the very words "Character Premise" and "Setting Premise," in fact. There is only Premise, and it only becomes Theme via character actions and decisions. We can talk about whether Premise initially arises from features on the character sheet at the outset, or from established features of the setting prior to character creation, but that is just about the first glimmerings of Premise, not establishing and realizing it - which is a function of play.

Tim, does that work at all? I'm totally not saying

Quote
I envisioned a situation where a moral issue was present in the setting, and while the characters would be affected by this conflict, the characters would not be the ones to answer this issue. I envisioned something external to the characters answering this issue.


Cartman voice: Thecharactersdotooanswerthisissue!! They answer it in their own small way, for their own small issues, in their own small corner of the setting. But in story terms, this is the Big Story! We know the Titanic will sink; that is not the conflict of the story. The real story, the Big one, the one in which Premise becomes Theme, concerns a few people and a romantic triangle.

In the Lord of the Rings, never mind the issue of defeating Sauron. In fact, (more South Park), fuck Sauron, fuck him right in the ear. The real story concerns Sam, Gollum, and Saruman, with various other hobbit characters (Frodo, Merry, Pippin) as pieces and linchpins for that story. The Setting provides necessary and fertile meat for the Premise, more so than the starting characters provide. But the story - Premise in action, Theme in production - is theirs.

So Matthjis, with respect, I think you're way off track on this one.

Best,
Ron
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matthijs
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2004, 06:55:39 AM »

Ron, the way I read Tim's postings - saying things like "something external to the characters answering this issue" and "who would do the answering/addressing this Premise" - he's talking about a way that lets the players deal with the issues of the setting through something else than their characters.

So (again, in my reading) Tim isn't talking about "premise" as described in the glossary - premise requires characters to address it.

But I'm not Tim, so I guess I'll wait and see what he says.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2004, 07:14:19 AM »

I always assumed that it was a little simpler than that.  Because, see, the setting doesn't do anything.

What "setting-premise narrativism" means to me is that the setting, rather than the character, provides the baseline question.  It doesn't answer it.  It can't.

Only players can provide an answer to the question.  Not characters, not setting.  Players.

So, to be a cad and use my game as an example, Polaris has a setting-based premise.  It is "What should we do when faced with absolute obliteration?"  It doesn't resolve that premise.  It won't, because it can't.  The players have to resolve it, with the system providing little reminders to let them know that it is still there.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2004, 07:21:10 AM »

Hello,

I'm pretty sure that Tim is talking about Premise as defined for Narrativist play, 'cause that's definitely what Paul was talking about when he first started talking about Setting-Premise.

But yeah, let's see what they say.

Best,
Ron
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timfire
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2004, 08:24:56 AM »

Let's see... First, Paul & Ron, I think I'm beginning to understand what both of you are talking about. And actually, I realize I was talking about a different sort of phenomonon. I think Matthijs accurately interpreted my thoughts in his first post.

But, Matthijs, I was talking about Premise in the traditional sense. Talking about using 'setting' to address a Premise is probably confusing, however. What I was thinking about was players using entities external to the characters to address Premise, entities (be they NPC's or some sort of abstraction such as 'the people of Rothundria' or 'the land') that normally get lumped into 'the setting.'

Now, whether or not this sort of play is viable, I don't know.

Oops, time's getting away from me. I hav'ta go, but I'll write more later.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2004, 08:28:47 AM »

Hello,

Tim, I'm not sure what "using" means in:

Quote
What I was thinking about was players using entities external to the characters to address Premise, entities (be they NPC's or some sort of abstraction such as 'the people of Rothundria' or 'the land') that normally get lumped into 'the setting.'


If you mean players taking over these entities in some way during play, or asserting things about them, then you're describing plain old Director Stance, possibly at a large scale.

Best,
Ron
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matthijs
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2004, 10:01:12 AM »

Ron, I think the difference is that Director Stance is about players determining events relative to the characters, while what I and Tim are talking about (if I'm correct), is players determining events that may not have anything to do with the characters.

To use an example (a very contrived one, but nonetheless...):

- My character, Conan III, wants to avenge his family. While I'm playing this out, I also take an interest in the effects of religion on a democracy (which the group has been focusing on earlier), and narrate the burning of the Council of Seven by the Priests of Thrull. Conan III isn't at the scene, and the events don't affect him.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2004, 10:21:44 AM »

That's an odd example, but if you were to do this, then it's still director stance. That is, stances are stated in terms of their relation to the character - how one is standing in terms of their character. So creating something outside their character, no matter how unrelated to their character, is making a change relative to their character.

Rather, none of the terminology matters. Looked at another way, you're playing the country in the example as a character. So from that POV, you're creating theme using author stance. Doesn't matter. Theme is creating action within the game that is an answer to a premise. The premise doesn't have to be about any one character.

Have you tried Universalis? Stuff like this happens all the time - I've played entire games where all we played was governments. The thing is that it's an unusual game, and I'm really not seeing that this has anything to do with the original subject which was just the premise arising from stuff pertaining to the setting in some way. Through whatever agent the player controls in-game.

Character is the red herring here. Premise is the question that the player has to answer. Theme is the answer. Where these come from can be anything that the player controls in the game.


Oh, BTW, I think that this might be at odds with some of what Ron's saying, but OTOH, it agrees with other of his theory...Hero Quest succeeds at this sort of play, IMO, because all of a character's effectiveness is related back to the setting. Where does he know the customs and langage? His homeland. Where does he earn his keep? In the place that needs him in his occupation. What does he believe? A religion that has a socio-political region that it covers. What magic can he do? See religion.

Every last part of creating a character in HQ is about nerve stapling him directly into the soil of the setting.

Coming from an obtuse angle here, I think that it's interesting that RPGs didn't start this way given their wargaming roots. That is, I think this is a far more "natural" way to enumerate a fantasy character than to give him a "race" that's an aglomeration of bonuses to hit, and ability to see in the dark.

Mike
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