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Author Topic: "Thematic Causality": What, why and how?  (Read 18043 times)
TonyLB
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« on: April 15, 2005, 01:56:42 PM »

In Why have Conflicts at all?...
Quote from: C. Edwards
The choice itself is important, but without a pattern of what I'm going to call "thematic causality", it has no meaning. Capes is not conducive to creating patterns (a chain, with each link informing the next) of decision/action/consequence because future actions are not dependent on past events or actions.

That sounds fair.  If you want it, and Capes doesn't support it, then that would explain your objection.

So what's "thematic causality"?  I'd love to discuss whether or not Capes supports it, but I'd sort of need to know what it is, first.
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xenopulse
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2005, 02:16:29 PM »

No game mechanically supports "thematic causality," it seems to me. That's always a player call. Say in D&D, you slay the dragon. The GM declares it revived without any obvious cause. There's nothing in the mechanics to stop him.

That's the same in any game. Why? Because mechanics do not deal with interpreted content. They deal with plugged-in numbers. They can never provide creative content, and therefore, cannot provide thematic continuity.

A game could have a soft rule that says, "You cannot undo..." But that's still open to interpretation.

The issue comes up more in Capes because it's a game where all players have that power of input. In traditional, GM-based games, only the GM does.
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John Harper
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2005, 03:07:22 PM »

Christian: Bingo. You nailed it.

The tricky part is that Universalis does have a mechanism for keeping this causality in place. If one player tries to "undo" something with narration, then the other players can challenge, and bring previous events to bear as Facts (and extra dice) to win the challenge and block the undo.

Some people are arguing that Capes should have this kind of mechanic, too. It most certainly could have such a thing. Vax's "goal-in, goal-out" is a fine example*. But should Capes have such a rule? That depends very, very much on what kind of play you're after.

* FULL DISCLOSURE: I personally prefer a "goal-in, goal-out" system, and I will probably use such a thing when we play Capes. I'm participating in all of these discussions on the side of "leave things alone" because I don't agree with the assumption that the Uni way is better, nor that Capes is less-good without it.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2005, 04:45:14 PM »

You guys are talking as if you know what Thematic Causality means when Chris says it.  Is this terminology that he's defined and used in other threads?
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xenopulse
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2005, 08:56:40 PM »

Nah, I'm just guessing :)

Actually, I read the thread this came from, so I had an impression of what this was aiming for.

I might be wrong, of course.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2005, 05:28:40 AM »

Quote from: xenopulse
No game mechanically supports "thematic causality," it seems to me. That's always a player call. Say in D&D, you slay the dragon. The GM declares it revived without any obvious cause. There's nothing in the mechanics to stop him.


In a well run Dungeons and Dragons game, the DM has to use the same mechanics the players do.  If the dragon is revived, then (as a player) I had better be able to track down who cast the resurrection/wish/whatever or there'll be hell to pay with that DM.

The same is not true of Capes.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2005, 06:03:06 AM »

MODERATOR HAT:  ON

When and if Chris chooses to explain what he means by Thematic Causality then there will be a foundation to have a discussion about it.

If your name is not Chris Edwards, please stop posting to this thread until that time.  Feel free, however, to split off new threads on different subjects.

Thank you for your patience.
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Paganini
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« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2005, 12:13:44 PM »

My name isn't Chris Edwards. But, I game with him a lot. Anyway, Chris is in Ecuador, and I haven't heard from him in a couple of days. When that happens, it usually means he's off in the mountains someplace and can't get to the internet cafe. So, my guess is that it could be a little while before he gets back to this.

That said, if you want a little "thematic causailty" theory to chew on until Chris gets back with the official "What Chris Thinks" version, here's what it usually boils down to in our games:

The importance of a choice depends on what happens down the road. The actual act of making the choice right now is not such a big deal. Say you've got a choice whether or not to kill a guy. If you just kill him and that's that, then the choice was no big deal. It existed basically to show off howe awesome your character is. On the other hand, if your killing him causes your wife to go nutso in a fit of remorse, give all your worldly posessions to the good will, and commit suicide a month later, then you have "thematic causality."

A while back I ran this Arthurian Vampire pool game. At one point, Chris's character killed one of my NPCs, this weird gnome / leprechuan thing. It wasn't a thematic moment. It just showed that Chris's character was One Bad Mother... Don't Mess With Him.

In contrast, in the Wierd West Supers pool game, Lxndr's character Jeremy had a series of escalating conflicts that eventually resulted in Jeremy killing his own father. That's the difference between some random choice and thematic causality.
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2005, 06:35:55 AM »

Quote from: Paganini
Anyway, Chris is in Ecuador, and I haven't heard from him in a couple of days. When that happens, it usually means he's off in the mountains someplace and can't get to the internet cafe.


Nate, I returned from Ecuador a couple of weeks ago. I was off in the mountains though, on the second annual Wild Turkey Camping Trip. Also, good example of what I'm talking about in regards to thematic causality.

Quote from: TonyLB
So what's "thematic causality"? I'd love to discuss whether or not Capes supports it, but I'd sort of need to know what it is, first.


The chain of decision/action/consequence produces meaning and expectation.

I'm playing a character. I make a decision, have my character take the appropriate action, and that action produces consequences in the SIS. Those consequences will shape my next decision. And so on.

Not only does each link of decision/action/consequence inform the next, but as the chain grows so does the meaning of the character's collective actions. Patterns start to form, emergent themes become noticeable, and a framework for the further addressing of Premise is built. It's important to note that this is a feedback loop. Current actions increase the meaning of past actions when this chain of thematic causality is kept intact.

Once we've started to build this chain it gives form to player expectations in regards to actions and possible outcomes in the SIS. Expectations are formed when we have patterns of meaning. Patterns of meaning are formed by a series of links of decision/action/consequence.

Players can then base their decisions not only on the weight of past actions and consequences, but on the likelihood of particular future outcomes. This allows them to make decisions that are likely to lead to consequences they consider properly dramatic or are reinforcing of the meaning created through past actions.

Does that clarify the nature of thematic causality? Do you think that Capes offers support for its creation?

-Chris
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TonyLB
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2005, 06:45:52 AM »

Hell, yes, to both!

Nice clarification.  And yes, I think Capes delivers this in spades.  I'm sort of surprised that you don't think so, but... well, that's what makes discussion fun.  Do you want to elaborate your position first, or should I?
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2005, 07:29:24 AM »

Well, to put it simply, Capes depends on the Social Contract level for the structure and limits that I feel should be inherent to the game itself.

I don't believe Capes contributes in any way to thematic causality. There's no enforcement of causality period. At best you have discreet, individual links, but no chain. Like you said in the Why have conflicts at all? thread, you don't see any inherent meaning in a particular outcome or action. So it's not surprising that Capes doesn't help assign any meaning to particular outcomes or actions.

Even The Pool, with its character traits and how they effect resolution, has more structure capable of creating thematic causality.

This is not to say that I think Capes has to support any particular thing, but I do think that it needs to support something. That, or make it absolutely clear in the text what is required from the players in regards to Social Contract, getting on the same page, etc., for "fun" play. If you don't, I think you're leaving people that buy Capes to either swim or sink.

-Chris
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TonyLB
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2005, 09:28:37 AM »

Okay, I think I see the source of dispute:  You feel that there must be structure and limits, in order for one link of thematic causality to connect to the next?

Whereas I say "Hey, you can create any link you want, and it's connected to the previous one because you tell me it is," which (as I've argued in the thread you referenced) is all that's happening in any other game anyway.

Have I got the distinction correct?
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2005, 09:58:59 AM »

Not really.

I also say "Hey, you can create any link you want, and it's connected to the previous one because you tell me it is," but after that I say "Then why do I need this game that's not contributing in any way to that process?", because I know that's not all that is happening in any other game.

Sure, Social Contract is the big umbrella that the rest of System falls under, but there's a reason people buy games. Games define limits, create structures for decision making, and basically take care of the hard work of communicating the nature of the experience that playing the game will create.

We can do that on the fly, all by ourselves, without assistance, but it's often time consuming and possibly frustratingly difficult. So why buy a game that doesn't take care of that stuff so that we can get on with an enjoyable play experience?

I'm not saying that Capes doesn't, or won't, appeal to people. Tastes certainly differ. But I think it behooves you to understand what Capes does and does not support. Saying things like "..and it's connected to the previous one because you tell me it is", as an argument for how Capes supports causality doesn't sound to me like you fully understand what a variety of people have been saying.

I think Capes has great potential, a lot of other people do to and that's why there has been so much debate regarding how the game plays. You certainly don't have to change the game in order to please anybody, but I think at the very least you should consider including some optional "house rules" that people will come up with to fill the holes they perceive. It's that much less work that will be placed upon others with similar agendas when they buy the game.

-Chris
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xenopulse
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« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2005, 10:04:17 AM »

Chris,

Could you give me a concrete example of how other games support this causality? That'll help me understand better what you think is missing here. I'm just not seeing how a concluded scene in Capes is different from a concluded scene in D&D with regards to the future consequences of that scene, mechanically speaking.

Thanks.
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Valamir
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« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2005, 10:53:45 AM »

I think there are a couple of answers to that.  The first boils down to the standard expectation that player have that mechanically generated outcomes will be enforced.  The rules say "if a character wants to persuade an NPC to do something, they must make a Persuasion Check vs the NPCs Will subject to the following modifiers..."  If the player makes the roll, the expectation is that the NPC has been persuaded and will act accordingly.  We all know that there is wiggle room in the enforceability of rules...house rules, fudging, on the fly rulings, etc.  But the default assumption is that once a thing is decided by mechanics it now "exists" and must be accounted for in future play.

Secondly you have all of the accumulated tradition of play.  Is it possible in D&D for the DM to spontaneously start doing wacky and wild things like have been suggested may occur in Capes...technically, yes.  But traditionally...that doesn't happen (at least not with a DM who's going to be asked to DM a second time).  There's a foundation of "how things are done" with traditional play that enables players to trust the DM that they've vested with great power and feel reassured that he's not going to abuse it.  There's text in the rules telling the DM not to abuse it and decades of "how a good DM acts" to back that up.


That's the difference between granting a DM "unlimited narrative power" and granting a player in Capes "unlimited narrative power".  Just because the rules of D&D don't give players any mechanically enforceable authority over the DM's whim...there's a whole support net of tradition and "good DMing guidelines" to rely on.  So there are PLENTY of contraints on a DM's actions.  Most of them just aren't defined by game rules.

In Capes (as well as many other more experimental RPG designs...especially those of the GMless variety) all of that traditional support net of "we can trust him to do the right thing because he's a good DM" is gone.  Uni replaced it with the ability of every player to act as "continuity cop" and relies on the group dynamic to be mutually self sustaining.

I earlier came down on the side that Capes replaced it with nothing, but my new understanding of Inspiration suggests that perhaps its not "nothing" after all...perhaps one can say that Capes replaced it with Inspiration.  Although without more actual play evidence I won't attempt to speculate further as to how effective Inspiration is at maintaining causality.
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