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Regarding the "actual moment(s)” of Role-play.

Started by Silmenume, August 02, 2005, 09:15:00 AM

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Nathan P.


Good times. I'm totally on board with most of your reply, but theres one thing I want to harp on. After reviewing some Big Model material, I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that - well, lets set up something of an example. In a primarily Simulationist instance of play, there certainly can be moments of address of premise and of challenge (small-n and small-g, if you will). Now, the symbols brought into play surrounding those moments can certainly be loaded with potential meanings that could end up being self-reflexive exploration, or could end up concerning address of premise or challenge, depending on the interpretation of those in play. Further, these symbols could be consciously loaded toward this end, with the intent to create the possibility of small-n or small-g moments, but also with the intent to contribute to the overall Bricole.

I'm also going to take a stab at deeply known/edge of known symbols, cuz that makes sense to me (unless I misunderstand your intent, of course...).

A deeply known symbol would be something like an NPC thats been known to the players for the entire game - indeed, perhaps a signiture or expected NPC, like the innkeeper in many D&D games. Or even something basic, like a sword in a fantasy setting. Everyone at the table is on board with what that sword "means" right from the get-go. Nobody is going to be all "holy crap, a peice of metal with sharp edges! that couldn't possibily be right!"

A symbol at the edge of the known, on the other hand, would be something that takes some justification and exploration to understand how it fits in. The tribal dwarfs your party just fought had some kind of projectile weapon that belched smoke and fire, and tore through metal armor like paper. Now, if this is your standard medieval setting, say, thats something that needs to be explored to be understood in context of the setting - is it magic? Is it a bound demon? Is it technological advancement? You suddenly have fodder for further exploration and bricolage, as the group attempts to incorporate that previously unknown symbol into the Dream.

Jay, feel free to correct my examples, but thats my understanding of what you're talking about.
Nathan P.
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Hey there Vern,

Quote from: Caldis on August 14, 2005, 10:48:31 PM
Quote from: Silmenume on August 08, 2005, 10:07:32 AM
If the symbol is already deeply "known" then there is little for the player to do.  However if the symbol has the potential of "breaking the dream" then interpreting it in such a way as to account for it within the Dream then one has both understood and expanded the Dream because the player has made to work that which was previously not accounted for.

...Could you post either short examples (or an Actual Play thread) showcasing play where the symbols are deeply known contrasted with one where the symbols had the potential to break the dream.

Excellent call!

In the game I play in the symbol (object) known as "leather armor" has some of the following entailments.
  • Light weight
  • Normally brownish in color
  • Somewhat effect against slashing weapons
  • Nearly useless against arrows
  • Relatively cheap to buy
  • Relatively easy to maintain
  • Rarely appears in a form other than a vest
  • Not favored by heavy infantry
  • Never yet seen on an Elf or Dwarf
  • etc.
While some of the information here might relate back to mechanics at some point, mostly they are the acquired/generated meanings that have arisen through "play," i.e., these qualities were demonstrated through the manipulated interaction of the "concrete objects" within the "fact space" of the SIS.

So we have play where an NPC is wearing "leather armor."  One of the PC's drills him in the chest at point plank (1.5x damage) with an arrow and even maxes out the damage rolls a few times (exploding dice) – except this time the arrow shatters upon impacting the vest leaving the NPC hale and whole.

We know that one of the "entailments" of leather armor is "nearly useless against arrows" but something clearly has transpired that "breaks" that entailment.  We have a potential dream-breaking event.  Assuming we trust the GM to be both fair and competent we are then left to try and figure why this happened from within the SIS as opposed to arguing something "outside" the SIS – something like fudging, incompetence or cheating by the GM.  So we dig into our "sheds" and try and build a case using what "already exists" within the SIS to create an explanation for this apparent anomaly.

Maybe the arrow was bad?
Maybe there was something under the leather armor?
Maybe it wasn't leather armor?

...or maybe something new is going on?

And this is where things get interesting.  Let's say the player introduces a potential solution into the SIS – "Hmmmm... it must have been a bad arrow.  I pull an arrow and examine it first before I fire it at the chest of that person again."  Here the player is attempting to spackle over the apparent anomaly and thus demonstrate that the dream is indeed whole and functional.  So he fires, hits, rolls damage and again the arrow crumples.  His first abduction is proven incorrect.  This is not necessarily a failure for the player.  Rather it is another opportunity to dig into the shed and construct another possible solution to demonstrate the Dream is whole and functional. 

For this second example we'll have him say something like, "Hey!  This guy's a demon!" or "I think his armor is magical!"  Let's assume that neither has been ever demonstrated in the SIS before and there are no mechanics to tip the players off to this possibility.  If this player's proposition is upheld by the group and is not demonstrated to be "false" in play then he has added to the Dream because that which was not accounted before is demonstrated to be a functional part of the whole Dream.  Let me give a slightly different example...

In the same game but in a session years ago a PC elf had run out of arrows and was in dire need.  He had his elf "sing an arrow" from the heart of a tree – and it was confirmed into play.  (In this case the symbol is the "elf.")  The kick is that until this point in play this type of "magic singing" had never been played before.  It was hinted at in the Silmarillion and LOTR but never really made explicit.  The mechanics certainly didn't cover this.  Yet by allowing this statement credibility the everyone at the table basically said, "yes, we think this is a reasonable extension of the elements/themes/physics/etc. of Middle Earth.  So this player, by taking concrete actions, expanded the Dream!  He did not ask if he could do this, rather he made the attempt and let the chips fall where they may.  This particular process I find extremely exhilarating because it is akin to taking a step off a cliff, stating that there will be something there to support one's self --- and then having it really happen!  Huge amounts of trust and a deep understanding of how the "world works" (that is – an excellent understanding of what has been demonstrated in the collective Dream) plus the stakes of the Character's life all combine to make this type of play extremely exciting and fun!  Not only do we demonstrate an understanding of the Dream in general, but when we try to extend it, especially when the stakes is the life our the Character, and our input is confirmed – wow!  That is really heady stuff!

So Vern, I hope that I have answered your question in some way.

Joshua I will respond to your posting soon!
Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.



Hey Joshua,

Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on August 15, 2005, 08:53:34 PMI think you're giving short shrift to ambiguity, here, and you're assuming too explicit a connection between a signifier and its referent.

I can see how I could be read that way and I must admit it is might fault for coming off that way.  However, regarding ambiguity, I am very much with you – at least as far as Sim is concerned; I haven't branched out into Nar and Gam yet.

Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on August 15, 2005, 08:53:34 PMSignifiers point to referents -- but that's not the same as saying a signifier points to a referent.  In fact, any signifier points to a number of different referents.  This is why a cigar can be a phallus or just a cigar -- or a spaceship.  This is not, however, a problem, and is, in fact, a great boon to creative minds everywhere.  The juxtapositions of the different referents assigned to a specific signifier can create tons of meaning (concrete example: the old veteran NPC can be both a father-figure and an embodiment of military tradition).  Further, the referents attached to specific signifiers can be idiosyncratic to different players around the table (my father-figure, your embodiment of military tradition), and can even be complicated by different referents for a player and his character (I personally find the Big Bad repulsive evil, my character thinks she's gloriously uninhibited) or multiple referents all working at the same time in one person's head (player or character).

Bolding added.

I am right with you on all the above.  To []try[/] and my position more accurate I will borrow shamelessly from Chris and his thread Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)

Quote from: clehrich on February 16, 2005, 10:14:18 PMEssentially a structure is two things.  First of all, it is a pre-made machine, already pretty well tuned and running just fine.  We can slap it into any machine we want to build and know it will run in particular ways.  Second, it is the abstract formulation entailed by the machine.  This is the hard part.

Suppose we step back from the actual machine for a minute and look at it like the engineer.  Yes, that thing there is an iron, but from the perspective of the machine in which it is placed it is really a meaning: it means "local heat, heavy, etc."  We may only be using "local heat," but it's still heavy.  But from this perspective it isn't "iron."  So the structure of "iron" put this way is (Local Heat)&(Heavy).  If we look at a whole big elaborate machine, we'll see a long column of such meanings intersecting.  We'll also see some apparently contradictory meanings: because we wanted the heating thing to be light, we have both Iron (Local Heat)&(Heavy) and Helium Balloon (Really Big)&(Delicate)&(negative-Heavy).  In this machine, Heavy and negative-Heavy cancel out, so we get a light total.  You see?

The thing is, any structure like this is a horrible mess if it takes into account every single potential meaning, because every thing we use has a huge raft of potential meanings, i.e. is structured densely.  This isn't true with engineering, because you design things to have one meaning and little else, but in bricolage you're stuck with the vast entailments of actual things as they really are.

So in addition to structure being a quality of the machine, it's also an aesthetic constraint on what the machine ought to look like.  This has many, many layers—which we can roughly break down into those functions (practical, psychological, social) and some intellectual and aesthetic ideals of how we like things to be.

Back to RPGs.  I did promise, I know.  And yes, I'm getting on toward practical implications.

So CA is basically this kind of aesthetic constraint structure.  It says that of the many possible games we could play with our mechanics and characters and so on, we only want a limited set of them.  Others will be counted failures, even if there are no rules-violations or anything like that.  So every time we dig into the shed of System or whatever to get something, we choose not only what could work but what works well under these constraints.

Now that means we're always thinking CA no matter what we're doing.  It's no good trying to build a light heating machine with an iron if we don't actually own a helium balloon.  Just so, it's no good trying to develop an on-the-fly rule for handling energy weapons in a Gamist game if it creates a "you automatically win if you have an energy weapon" rule.  But on the other hand, that might be just fine in other games: maybe part of the Premise in a Nar game is about the uses of absolute power, so by creating a new absolute power we actually encourage the addressing of that Premise.

All in all I used "symbol" as Chris' "structure".  My mistake, but it did simplify some things for me.  Let me propose an analogy (gulp!).  My moniker of "symbol" might be thought of as "proton," i.e. it is "a thing."  This thing has properties – mass, charge, etc.  However this paradigm is somewhat misleading, as it tends to make one think that its properties are "black box" and the object itself is immutable.  So now we employ Chris' "structure."  This "structure" does things (his machine – a thing) and is composed of other things that determine what it does (the parts that constitute the machine) while still being regarded as a whole!  In this analogy we have both the object (proton) and something that can be altered by adding to its constituent parts (which are also structures).  IOW the object's (structure's) properties are not static.  Thus a "symbol/structure" is not only defined by its properties, but its interactions with other "symbols/structure."  The interesting thing is that the very interaction itelf gets incorporated into the constituent body of structures making up the interacting symbols (again - structures).

Where I had made my mistake was saying that symbol must have at least one referent.  I certainly did not mean to imply that a symbol must or can only have one referent!  That a symbol can have many referents (entailments) is very important as it makes its employment that much more rich.  This is one of the main failings in many supposed Sim games that I have sat in on – the symbols are effectively without CA relevant meaning and no one knows the better.  Hence the relative ease by which individual players under these circumstances have drifted their own play to Gam and Nar.  Such play may not be functional for the group as a whole when it does happen but said player has at least found a paradigm by which to grant meaning to (structure and delimit the interaction of) the symbols and now can get on with the business of signification.

Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on August 15, 2005, 08:53:34 PMThis ambiguity is not, as it may first appear, to be detrimental to the creation of meaning, only that it complicates and qualifies all meaning created -- it, in fact, creates more meaning than if the signifiers exclusively and exhaustively pointed to one and only one referent.  Deciphering ambiguity, deciding when to parse it out, when to consider more than one option, and when to leave it as an open and intriguing question, are processes that we as signifying monkeys do every day.

I fully agree that deciphering ambiguity is a skill we humans use all the time and one I assert is important to play.  Point in fact I think that another common huge failing of most Sim game designs with their ginormous amounts of mechanics and omniscient play styles basically function to kill ambiguity and thus any possibility of engaging in the deciphering process.

Hey Nathan,

I think the examples your provided are pretty much spot on!

However, I do not agree that there really are small-x moments of play.  Just because a "conflict" looks like "premise-y" does not mean the player is addressing Premise.  I don't believe that CA is atomic in nature; just the opposite in fact.  I think CA is global and tends not to evolve as it is a reflection of aesthetic disposition as anything else.
Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.