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Author Topic: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)  (Read 6632 times)
clehrich
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« Reply #15 on: December 01, 2004, 08:53:04 PM »

Quote from: Artanis
So I see our original disension more as a mixing up of theory vs practice. In theory, you've got more freedom when there are no limiting factors. But in game, an unsuspected rune can break routine and thus bring something new. I don't see this as an increase in freedom, but as a vector for imaginative innovation (!).
I'll buy that.

I do think that most die systems incorporate strong constraint rather subtly, though.  This is akin to Mike's Rant about rules and their relation to play emphasis.  In effect, the rules you put in place already give a strong sense of what you can do in the game.  So while it appears to be free choice up until the die roll, you are encouraged to make choices that fit well into die mechanics, and furthermore ones that suit your character's current situation.

To my mind, then, having rules that essentially say, "Throw a rune and decide what it means" affords greater liberty.  Now, there is no sense in which this is absolute liberty, but such a thing is not possible anyway outside of pure thought and conceptualization within a single mind, and probably not even then.

As an example:
Quote
Quote from: I
Actually, I would think that the "forgive the barkeep" approach is perfectly valid.
So what's the point in drawing runes if you can divert it's effect whenever it doesn't suit you, and then go on doing what you wanted to do in the first place?
Because your application of the rune is (1) validated by the other players on the basis of prior use -- you can't use the Bear rune to create a Rabbit situation, and (2) relevant to all future uses of the rune -- if you use the Bear defensively again, you preconstrain all future uses of the Bear to tend ever more in that direction.

Now one thing that's wrong with the example as I posed it is that what we might call "creative deflection" is lost.  For example, let's suppose the same situation (the warrior and the boy-thief), but all I've got is the Rabbit rune.  As a rule, that rune has been used to entail cowardice of some sort: people run away, hide, play dead and then bolt, etc.  But I don't want my warrior to do that, and for some mechanical reason I have to use the Rabbit.  So now I have to draw on a kind of constellation of meanings surrounding the Rabbit and its past uses in order to get what I want.  This may appear to screw up the system, because it's in a sense dishonest -- or appears so -- but in actuality it will provoke depth and complexity all by itself.

Here's a brief example from the theory notes at the back of Shadows in the Fog (see weblink below for the complete text):
Quote
Letís consider a famous [Tarot] card, The Tower, often taken to mean disaster.  The imagery is of two people falling from a high tower which has been struck by lightning.

Now if we think of the card as simply a meaning, itís difficult to see how it can be used in any but a limited number of circumstances.  For example, in a combat situation, it could be taken as disaster for one of the combatants.  But if we think of it as a relation, there are lots of possibilities opened up to the cunning player.

Suppose the card has been used for the following:
    [*]A thug came to grief in a gunfight with a middle-class professional
    [*]A spell to summon power from the Thames went catastrophically wrong, and the spell-caster was flung from the docks and drowned.
    [*]An attempt to climb the tower of Big Ben went wrong; the climber fell to his death.[/list:u]Okay, so clearly all these fit the description, Disaster.  But there are other possibilities if we think of it as a relation.  In every case, two adjacent spheres have commingled disastrously: the lower-class thug with the middle-class professional, the caster on the docks with the Thames beneath, the climber in the air with the land beneath.  So we could in fact read this card as meaning a bringing-together of separate spheres.  If the spheres are close together, this is disastrous, as weíve seen.  But suppose the spheres are far apart, and bringing them together is a good thing?

    Sir David Fulsham (a Lord, as we know), confronts a thug (lower-class).  The spheres here are far apart.  Rather than interpret the Tower as disaster for the thug, Sarah could interpret it as bringing the two spheres into conjunction, making the thug feel higher-class than usual and read Sir David as a guy like him.  This could cause the thug not to attack Sir David, but in fact to unbend and deal with him in a more constructive manner.

    Now of course, it takes a cunning player to make this sensible, and Sarahís going to have to do some fast footwork to get the idea across.  To do this, sheís going to have to draw on all that history of the cardís usage: this is what Interpretation is really about.

    If this seems like a strange example, incidentally, Lťvi-Strauss has a neat case of it occurring among the Hidatsa, a North American tribe.  For them, pollution (in the sense of impurity) has exactly this property, i.e. it brings together spheres normally separate.  When a man goes hunting, for example, he is absolutely prohibited from touching his wife or his sister if she is menstruating, because the pollution of the blood will commingle spheres that should be kept separate: his arrows will not fly (air/earth), he himself will be hurt (predator/prey), etc.  But if he goes eagle-hunting, which among the Hidatsa involves climbing down into a hole, tempting the eagle to descend to the ground, and then grabbing the eagleís ankles, the hunter has a problem that the spheres are too far apart: underground and air are distant.  He needs the eagle to descend, to come to the ground, because underground and ground are close.  So the eagle-hunter is encouraged to touch a menstruating woman, even have intercourse with his wife if she is menstruating, because this will draw the eagle to the ground.  Thus itís not that pollution is a bad thing, itís that it brings together spheres usually kept apart.  If for some reason you want to do this, pollution is a useful tool.

    Here you see the mythic bricoleur at work.  Heís got an object in his shed [the collection of weird stuff like Bears and Rabbits] that has had lots of parallel uses: pollution has brought together lots of spheres best kept apart.  Now he needs to accomplish something that involves such bringing-together of spheres.  Not deflected by the seemingly negative valence of pollution, he recognizes that it will serve his purpose admirably, and puts it to work in his ritual machine.

    Sorry about the long quote, but I hope that helps clarify a bit what I'm talking about.  One of these days I'm going to post an elaborate but I hope clear essay about bricolage and its application in RPGs; this is a fore-taste.
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    Chris Lehrich
    Stuart Parker
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    Posts: 8


    « Reply #16 on: December 02, 2004, 07:37:53 AM »

    Quote
    Are we talking at cross-purposes here?


    Yes. And I apologize there. I seem to recall Piers having to make excuses for my communication style when we met in person.

    I think what simply happened in this case was that I unreasonably imposed many of my prejudices on games that use Tarot-type resolution systems on your particular system. It sounds to me that your game, unlike most card games, demands a level of fidelity an existing shared system of meaning.

    Because of the way my games unfold, I generally cannot demand this level of fidelity in advance because the process of play, in games I run reveals the world in a much more literal sense. Thus, the world structure and therefore the mythological and philosophical systems on which it is based are not shared knowledge at the beginning of play.

    Because all of the games in which I use numerological signification are about discovering the "true" nature of reality, your way of keeping symbols in context simply wouldn't work at the initial and intermediate stages in my campaigns.

    [QUOTEThe same goes for baraka.  You can't make it mean absolutely anything, only a wide range of things that are congruent with the game-world version of Sufism.  This means that baraka becomes something you think with, a concept and a structure that you encounter in the game-world and impose elsewhere in the game-world.  What it doesn't become is a mechanical system, what you call an Aquinan system.[/QUOTE]

    Indeed. But in the Sufi-Faerie game the I was running before I moved to Toronto, the plot of the game revolved around discovering that this was the nature of reality. Thus, at the beginning, the players were simply confronted with the modern world with what appeared to be odd game mechanics, presented entirely outside of their religious and cultural context.

    The baraka the characters/players accumulated was only identified as such about 10 episodes into the game.

    So, I now realize we are talking about similar relationship to symbols but are applying this understanding in quite different ways.
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    clehrich
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    Posts: 1557


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    « Reply #17 on: December 02, 2004, 09:11:58 AM »

    Quote from: Stuart Parker
    Yes. And I apologize there. I seem to recall Piers having to make excuses for my communication style when we met in person.
    Oh.  Hi, Stuart.  Didn't put the name to the face.
    Quote
    Because of the way my games unfold, I generally cannot demand this level of fidelity in advance because the process of play, in games I run reveals the world in a much more literal sense. Thus, the world structure and therefore the mythological and philosophical systems on which it is based are not shared knowledge at the beginning of play.
    Actually, sort of the reverse, but with the same effect.  It's not that there is fidelity to an established system, but that in fact there is almost no system at all in advance, thus fidelity is to the structural underpinnings of how people end up making use of the symbols.  Where I think the real difference lies is here:
    Quote
    Because all of the games in which I use numerological signification are about discovering the "true" nature of reality, your way of keeping symbols in context simply wouldn't work at the initial and intermediate stages in my campaigns.
    The point in Shadows in the Fog is that there is no "true" nature of reality, not in design and not in the game-world.  There are no answers, only sequences of yet further questions.  There can be no absolute resolutions.  Thus whatever fidelity to the symbol-sets can happen, and is required, is in fact fidelity to the symbolic structures as the players make them -- and at the same time, as the characters make them.  Your approach demands that ultimately there be a baseline, a reality, to be discovered.  Thus to set up a complete symbol system and demand player fidelity to it from the start would require that they already know what they're supposed to figure out.  In my case, they have to be rigorous and careful about their use of the symbols because without them there is no stability at all -- and in fact, every creative use of the symbols demonstrates that the stability is all constructed and thus both stable and unstable, if that makes any sense.

    I think we're on the same page now.  Cool!
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    Chris Lehrich
    Stuart Parker
    Member

    Posts: 8


    « Reply #18 on: December 02, 2004, 09:20:48 AM »

    Quote
    I think we're on the same page now.  Cool!


    Yes we are. And I see how your game interacts with symbol systems quite differently; your relationship to meaning allows for the creation of a portable game system whereas in my case, story, world and system are sufficiently entangled that there can be no system portability.

    Another more obvious consequence (accounting for my infrequent visits here) is that I do not share the values of most regular Forge participants in prioritizing decentralized egalitarian control of story over other objectives.
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #19 on: December 03, 2004, 02:52:12 AM »

    Quote from: Stuart Parker
    Another more obvious consequence (accounting for my infrequent visits here) is that I do not share the values of most regular Forge participants in prioritizing decentralized egalitarian control of story over other objectives.
    A bit of a sidetrack, but just before there's a sharp response to this, you're not quite correct about this point.  Far more Forge-ites are interested in centralized GM control of one sort or another than you might think.  Distributed-GM or GM-ful gaming is certainly a hot topic here, but it is not necessarily prioritized over other objectives.

    Anyway, back to the thread.
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    Chris Lehrich
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