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Author Topic: Complete games with unguided resource assignment  (Read 5661 times)
Vaxalon
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« Reply #15 on: September 13, 2005, 03:08:51 AM »

Now that you've designed your terms, I can provide answers to your question.

Quote
What is the take of people here on RPG's which ask for users to assign mechanical resources without system guidance? Say, like a game which has some combat rules and stuff but some guy, usually the GM, is to draw up a dungeon for it (a dungeon, or whatever material suits the setting and angle of the game).

I like 'em.

Quote
Do you see these as complete games? And so I'm not starting an opinion poll, what's the reasoning behind your answer?

They're as complete as any other roleplaying game.  My reasoning is that resources are only one of many things that participants bring to a game.  Some games ask for more of one thing, some games ask more of another.  You always have to contribute something to an RPG.

Quote
If you picked up one of these games and had a fun time playing, would you attribute that result to the game? What are the reasons for your answer?

Yes, as well as to the participants.  Causality is funny that way.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #16 on: September 13, 2005, 10:01:53 AM »

Callan, I don't believe I have followed a cooking recipe exactly since I was ten.  My wife is also a pastry chef, and so she tells me all sorts of things about different ovens' heat distribution, the size and shape of pans and how they affect how things bake, the effects of altitude and humidity on yeast (there's a reason San Fransisco has good sourdough), and the ten thousand different kinds of flour, sugar, and salt that we 'amateurs' use interchangably as if they were all the same thing.  You can't reproduce the same cake by using the same recipe.  It doesn't work that way in cooking, and it doesn't work that way in gaming.  The players will always be bringing different things to the table, and they will ignore the published rules in favor of their way of doing things.

Additionally, to extend your analogy to the breaking point, I don't want to enjoy eating the cake, I want to enjoy making the cake -- roleplaying is not just a product to be appreciated but an activity that all the players take part in.  It's the doing that is the fun part, not sitting back and enjoying what already happened.

But I think the main thrust of your topic concerns games that offer something like 'currency budgets' for the players, to delimit how much in-game 'oomph' they can throw at a situation and to what extent they frame conflicts.  Players get so many skill points, the GM gets so many monster points.  That way the GM doesn't overpower the players.  Yes, that's simplistic, but it can be expanded outward, to include sources from which players and GM can draw their material, techniques that they can use to affect the game in the ways they like, and so on.  A clear, explicit, and public outline of player and GM powers, rights, and responsibilities.

I'm writing a lot of this sort of thing into FLFS, but I'm writing it with the patent expectation that vast reams of it will be totally ignored.  Playing 'by the rules' the entire playgroup sits down and discusses what kind of game they want to play before they even choose who will be the Game Master -- like that is going to happen in 90% of the playgroups out there in the gaming world!  In fact I am pretty conflicted about including so many pages of material that will not find its way into a given customer's actual play that I've adopted a few dodges and tricks.  I list out options that can be taken rather than make dictates that will not be followed anyway (Troupe Play, Round Robin GMing, Bluebooking, etc).  I provide more than one way to scale the same mountain (credibility is explicitly transferred, but players have some strong control over it once it's in their hands).  And lastly, everything on how the game is setup and run is (supposedly) discussed and agreed upon by the players in the First Session.  That clear, explicit, public outline of player powers is created by the players, not dictated by the book.

But then, I don't think that it will ever happen any other way -- every playgroup comes to some sort of agreement, either implicitly or explicitly, when they sit down and start playing.  Maybe they play 'by the book', maybe they agree to do that thing that they liked from the last game, maybe they 'just use the system, but not the setting' or vice-versa.  Thing is, the players will always decide this.  The game designer never will.  This is the piece that makes the game 'complete' and it is not a piece that the game designer can ever include.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: September 14, 2005, 01:41:55 AM »

Hi again, Joshua,

I think the cake analogy's been overextended until it broke. Instead, take the card game 'Lunch Money'. Actualy play accounts can be incredibly varied and different from one another, all as a result of player input while using the system. However, despite the variety of play, they are all manipulating resources in exactly the same way - under the guidance of just one system. The players didn't need to add resources without system guidance, to get varied and interesting play.

Is unguided resource assignment by GM or player the only way for players to give input?

Hi Vaxalon,
Quote
They're as complete as any other roleplaying game.  My reasoning is that resources are only one of many things that participants bring to a game.  Some games ask for more of one thing, some games ask more of another.  You always have to contribute something to an RPG.
Emphasis mine.

Although only one of the things participants bring to a game, why are resources (brought in without system guidance) important?
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #18 on: September 14, 2005, 02:47:16 AM »

They're important in the same way that "Community Chest" cards are important to a game of Monopoly.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #19 on: September 14, 2005, 08:46:34 AM »

The players didn't need to add resources without system guidance, to get varied and interesting play.

emphasis mine

If you're trying for "game is potentially complete if you gamer monkeys don't muck with it" the question hangs on who determines that "need".  The players?  The designers?  Different groups will have different standards of what they consider "acceptable and needs no mucking with." Perhaps we might define 'incomplete' as "directing players to allocate resources without providing explicit rules for doing so"?
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RPGnut
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« Reply #20 on: September 14, 2005, 02:40:04 PM »

Just a quick question or three: What is the take of people here on RPG's which ask for users to assign mechanical resources without system guidance? Say, like a game which has some combat rules and stuff but some guy, usually the GM, is to draw up a dungeon for it (a dungeon, or whatever material suits the setting and angle of the game).

Do you see these as complete games? And so I'm not starting an opinion poll, what's the reasoning behind your answer?

If you picked up one of these games and had a fun time playing, would you attribute that result to the game? What are the reasons for your answer?

Also, what do you think about the resource structures of games and what sort of effects newly added resources have on system (and how it matters)?

If your asking what I think your asking...is a rule set without setting information a complete game....correct me if I'm wrong.

I would have to answer that although a game can be played that way I think that it requres alot of input from the players of the game to decide on settings and environments.  Thus why D&D supplements sell so well, I consider D&D (perhaps I should say d20) to be a rule set and by itself although functional would not be as muh fun without an environment to play in.  Where as I find Palladium's RIFTS to be a complete game with just the core book because it has rules set and and environment that is easy (IMO) to understand.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #21 on: September 14, 2005, 08:00:27 PM »

Joshua,
Quote
If you're trying for "game is potentially complete if you gamer monkeys don't muck with it" the question hangs on who determines that "need". The players? The designers? Different groups will have different standards of what they consider "acceptable and needs no mucking with."
Let's skip this issue. If as I designer I make a wrench but an end user decides to change it into a hammer, that's no fuss to me. But I AM interested in helping the people who want to use the tool as I the designer intended.

Quote
Perhaps we might define 'incomplete' as "directing players to allocate resources without providing explicit rules for doing so"?
Yes, absolutely!

Do you think these unguided resources have an effect on how the game rules work? And do you think these resources which the game directed the players to allocate, are part of the game? As in how the game designer intended play to occur?


RPGnut: Hi, welcome to the forge!

Sadly no. I'm not talking about setting, unless by setting you mean stuff like 'Your physical strength stat is 3D6 totaled".

Rather than setting stuff like "the animated tree's in the woods are dangerous" setting fluff text, what about where the GM reads that, and decides they do 2D6 damage per round to those adjacent them? Would you say that is part of how play should work out, given the fluff text the author gave?


Vaxalon: In that community chests do what for you in play?

Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think your looking at this from the entire end users perspective. It's like looking at a little girl who hugs and cuddles and has tea with her dolly. From your perspective of the overall experience, the dolly is only part of it (next to the hugging, the affection show, the tea ritual, etc). However, the dolls designer can only impart a doll to someone. The doll is the entirety of the designers contribution. The importance of the doll could easily be discounted given that it's only one thing amongst a whole bunch of other interesting stuff stuff (the cuddling, the having tea, etc). How much are you focusing on the overall experience?
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2005, 03:17:50 AM »

Vaxalon: In that community chests do what for you in play?

In that being part of the game, they're required to play it.  You can't play monopoly without Community Chest cards, and you can't play DnD without someone, somewhere, sticking monsters in rooms (or analogues thereof).

Quote
Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think your looking at this from the entire end users perspective. It's like looking at a little girl who hugs and cuddles and has tea with her dolly. From your perspective of the overall experience, the dolly is only part of it (next to the hugging, the affection show, the tea ritual, etc). However, the dolls designer can only impart a doll to someone. The doll is the entirety of the designers contribution. The importance of the doll could easily be discounted given that it's only one thing amongst a whole bunch of other interesting stuff stuff (the cuddling, the having tea, etc). How much are you focusing on the overall experience?

You asked me why resource allocation is important.  I told you why resource allocation is important.  Now you're accusing me of not talking about resource allocation, but the game as a whole?  I don't understand.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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John Kim
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« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2005, 08:22:02 AM »


Do you think these unguided resources have an effect on how the game rules work? And do you think these resources which the game directed the players to allocate, are part of the game? As in how the game designer intended play to occur?

Well, if we're talking about stocking a dungeon in D&D or creating supervillains in Champions -- I don't think that's "unguided".  The rules have advice about how to create something which will challenge but not overwhelm the PCs.  D&D has pretty explicit guidelines, even, on the mix of CRs to give.  In Champions, supervillains are made on a point scale comparable to PCs which makes it clear. 

On the other hand, in virtually all games with a GM it is pretty trivial to "beat" the players if you are trying.  This is just as true of Dogs in the Vineyard as it is of D&D.  Though I have only a given set of stats, I can throw in extra people for +2d6 per stat or just have the six stat blocks work efficiently to beat the players.  So even though I have a limited budget in a sense, it doesn't really change the dynamic of the game. 

If we're talking about completeness of games here, I think it may help to look outside of RPGs for a moment.  Let's compare, say, Star Fleet Battles with Starfarers of Catan.  Star Fleet Battles has a set of resolution rules for weapons, shields, and transporters.  However, it doesn't specify a particular scenario.  You can use a predesigned scenario or you can try your own matchup of different ships and conditions.  Is it therefore a less complete game than Starfarers of Catan which locks down the board and forces? 

I think in a sense, SFB without premade scenarios is less complete as a game.  However, I think it's also important not to attach value to that.  It is more of a "toy" -- in the sense that Greg Costikyan suggests in his article I Have No Words & I Must Design...
Quote
According to Will Wright, his Sim City is not a game at all, but a toy. Wright offers a ball as an illuminating comparison: It offers many interesting behaviors, which you may explore. You can bounce it, twirl it, throw it, dribble it. And, if you wish, you may use it in a game: soccer, or basketball, or whatever. But the game is not intrinsic in the toy; it is a set of player-defined objectives overlaid on the toy.

Just so Sim City. Like many computer games, it creates a world which the player may manipulate, but unlike a real game, it provides no objective. Oh, you may choose one: to see if you can build a city without slums, perhaps. But Sim City itself has no victory conditions, no goals; it is a software toy.

A toy is interactive. But a game has goals.

So having defined goals / victory conditions and starting setup make something more game-like.  However, RPGs are often more toy-like than game-like.  It's certainly part of the designer intent for both Sim City and D&D that they have toy-like qualities -- where the player will try different things to explore rather than proceeding towards game-like goals. 

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Callan S.
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« Reply #24 on: September 16, 2005, 12:55:25 AM »

Hi John,

Just looking at your comments about toys, the pennies drop aplenty (thanks so much for introducing this!). Earlier in the thread I was trying to think of an analogy to describe what I meant. Ron's "Ouija-board" analogy came to mind. Then I read that part of the nar essay again and realised that he'd described almost exactly what I was trying to get at. I'll introduce it now and quote the nar essay.

Quote
Ouija-board role-playing

Here's another outcome for the faulty Simulationist-makes-Narrativism approach. Actually, it's the same phenomenon as Simulationism-makes-Gamism, which I discussed in "Gamism: Step On Up" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/21/) as "the bitterest role-player in the world." I consider the Narrativist version to be the "most deluded role-player in the world."

How do Ouija boards work? People sit around a board with letters and numbers on it, all touching a legged planchette that can slide around on the board. They pretend that spectral forces are moving the planchette around to spell messages. What's happening is that, at any given moment, someone is guiding the planchette, and the point is to make sure that the planchette always appears to everyone else to be moving under its own power.

Taking this idea to role-playing, the deluded notion is that Simulationist play will yield Story Now play without any specific attention on anyone's part to do so. The primary issue is to maintain the facade that "No one guides the planchette!" The participants must be devoted to the notion that stories don't need authors; they emerge from some ineffable confluence of Exploration per se. It's kind of a weird Illusionism perpetrated on one another, with everyone putting enormous value on maintaining the Black Curtain between them and everyone else. Typically, groups who play this way have been together for a very long time.

Take that and replace "No one guides the planchette!" with "No one but system guides the planchette!". In that with an Ouija board, people think spirits are moving the board when really it's someone's fingers. Here, someone thinks the system is moving the game, but again it's some player in control. Some player, even if that player isn't aware of it because the black curtain is being enforced. This curtain isn't about stories not needing authors, this one is about…well, I'll get to that in a second.
 
The toy idea fits that wonderfully. Imagine that ball again, and a group of people walk up to it. One of them decides to kick it a bit. Then another guy intercepts that and kicks it in return, trying to hit a tree with it. But someone else decides to just get in the way of that person to sass him a little. Then another guy joins the kicker because he thinks they can team up to get that ball past the smart arse. But someone else joins the smart arse and so on and so on. Basically they invent a lot of game goals and pursue them, all generated from the initial toy play.

Now take roleplay games, which as you say are more toylike - a mix of toy and game rules. When it's like this, can you distinguish between the goals the game presents and the goals you've invented from toy play? Where does one end and the other begin? Any uncertainty and inability to distinguish that allows a black curtain to be created. That's exactly how the ouija board works "Did Jim just move the planchette then? I can't be sure and because of that *shiver* perhaps it really was a spirit!!". And in the same way "Did Jim just decide to spring those Ogres on us? He's using an awful lot of dice rolls and such and because of that *shiver* perhaps it's system in action!".

Thoughts? I reckon there will be a few…just don't call me a pushy bastard or power gamer, eh! ;)


Extra bit: Sort of talking to myself here, ignore this if it's too much on top of everything else. I think I've just cottoned on to a feedback issue I was wrestling with. Where players excitement creates the game goals and drives play. But they attribute it to system. So next time they gather to play, they don't think the onus is on them to push game goals, since they assumed 'system does that'. This means they bring less excitement/game goals to the table. This leads to less exciting play, which means their less excited for the next time they play. Repeat this a few times and eventually excitement/game goal contributions drop so low you hit "Bitterest gamer in the world" or "Most deluded gamer in the world" levels.
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John Kim
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« Reply #25 on: September 16, 2005, 11:11:58 AM »


Now take roleplay games, which as you say are more toylike - a mix of toy and game rules. When it's like this, can you distinguish between the goals the game presents and the goals you've invented from toy play? Where does one end and the other begin? Any uncertainty and inability to distinguish that allows a black curtain to be created. That's exactly how the ouija board works "Did Jim just move the planchette then? I can't be sure and because of that *shiver* perhaps it really was a spirit!!". And in the same way "Did Jim just decide to spring those Ogres on us? He's using an awful lot of dice rolls and such and because of that *shiver* perhaps it's system in action!".

You're implying a sort of delusion here which isn't necessary.  If I'm playing D&D and the DM is not using a published module, then I know that it was his decision to put those ogres in the dungeon.  There's no confusion or delusion about that.  Conversely, if he is using an (unmodified) published dungeon, then I know that it was not his decision.  Now, it is certainly possible that in cases the group will be confused about what each other are doing -- but that isn't inherent in the system.  The game can still be fun even if I know what the DM is doing. 

I could generalize a little.  Being more game-like is a more specified process.  It's more capable of play with random strangers -- people you might not otherwise enjoy spending time with.  However, being more toy-like can be fun to play with friends or by yourself. 

Where players excitement creates the game goals and drives play. But they attribute it to system. So next time they gather to play, they don't think the onus is on them to push game goals, since they assumed 'system does that'. This means they bring less excitement/game goals to the table. This leads to less exciting play, which means their less excited for the next time they play. Repeat this a few times and eventually excitement/game goal contributions drop so low you hit "Bitterest gamer in the world" or "Most deluded gamer in the world" levels.

Again, this is presuming a sort of delusion about what goes on.  While there are perhaps some people like this (i.e. "I like Deadlands regardless of who's GMing or what the other players do"), I think that in general role-players accept that the GM and fellow players and what they bring to the game are an important part of the experience.  Indeed, a few come to the opposite (and unfortunate) conclusion that "System doesn't matter".  However, I think that most fall in between and accept that both the system and the other players are important to an RPG. 

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #26 on: September 16, 2005, 11:47:35 AM »

Do you think these unguided resources have an effect on how the game rules work? And do you think these resources which the game directed the players to allocate, are part of the game? As in how the game designer intended play to occur?

Yes, the resource allocation has an effect on the game.  Yes, the resouces thus alloted are part of the game.  Two pretty obvious statements.  Whether or not those resources and their allocation are incorporated into the game as the designer intended... now we're getting into some shady territory.

First off, your couching the question in terms of 'complete' and 'incomplete' immediately puts a perjorative tone to games which are deemed 'incomplete'.  Note that this includes a whole ton of games that have been commercially successful and enjoyed by many many people, and have created functional play.  So we have to understand from the outset the 'incomplete' is not necessarily a bad thing, that it leaves open more options, some of which may be highly entertaining.  For this reason, I think 'complete' is probably a poor choice.  'Guided' might be more accurate.

Secondly, writing out those resource allocation rules is really really difficult.  Try it sometime.  You simply can not provide guidelines for every possible thing that your consumers will want to use the game for.  It can be done, but it creates a narrowly-focused game.  Around here, that's not a bad thing.  Laser-focus on one issue can, it has been repeatedly shown, create some awesome game experiences.  But that laser-focus does come at a price of inflexibility.  Additionally, it's really easy to cripple the game with poor rules for resource-allocation.  Especially if the game currency is at all complex, players exploiting breakpoints might easily triumph over every single 'by the rules' antagonist.

Lastly, I see traces of an assumption that the game designer knows better than the players how to create an enjoyable experience.  That you can play a game 'right' and you can play the game 'wrong'.  Playing Pendragon with space aliens, for instance, is so totally outside of the game designer's intention that it's no longer "really Pendragon" or something similar.  But I, for one, am pretty disinterested in playing a game exactly as some game designer intended it to be played.  I want to take the neat tools and toys that he designed and play with them myself, creating what I want to create with them.  Now, certainly I can disregard those resource-allocation rules, but building an entire game that is founded on a delicate balance of such things really turns me off (I have played d20 exactly once, for instance).

In the end, these complete/guided games are the equivalent of a classically-trained cordon bleu chef.  They can do profoundly amazing things, things that will dazzle their audiences, and create a memorable experience.  That's good if you want some roast goose with raspberry sauce over exotic greens.  If you want a grilled cheese sandwich, however, with Kraft Singles thankyouverymuch, that chef is going to have to break some of the rules that they were taught.  I think that's one of the reasons that a lot of these laser-focused games are picking up Endgames, to prevent the players from wandering outside of the game's purview.  One game ends, and you can start another laser-focused game with a different focus.  And really, that's great.  It's just a different paradign to play under.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #27 on: September 16, 2005, 02:20:19 PM »

Hi again John,

Quote
Well, if we're talking about stocking a dungeon in D&D or creating supervillains in Champions -- I don't think that's "unguided". The rules have advice about how to create something which will challenge but not overwhelm the PCs. D&D has pretty explicit guidelines, even, on the mix of CRs to give. In Champions, supervillains are made on a point scale comparable to PCs which makes it clear.
For D&D: But where does the focus on challenging the players come from? (like giving them a PL +3 challenge rating monster to fight.)

PL +3 is well within the range outlined. It's supported by reams and reams of book text. But where's the actual rule that says 'You now fight these monsters, it's one of the games goals'.

Of course, it's the players who invent it as a goal. That's easy to see. Or is it?

Because in the heat of the moment, what actually ensures they all invent the same goal?

Hmm, perhaps I'll explicitly shift ground here as my thoughts do: Perhaps the illusion isn't so much that system moves the planchette. But with all the advice and challenge ratings and points and guidelines, the illusion is that other people will invent goals that match yours. Particularly as GM, that after you've done your prep/invented your goals outside of play, in play players will invent their own goals that match yours. For example, say the GM thinks a series of  PL+4 challenges are great, but the players would prefer numerous PL +2, except for one player on the right who would prefer PL + 0.

Discussion might seem a cure all. But it's either not possible in the heat of the moment. Or it makes play bland/group play pointless: "Oh, how much would you like me to challenge you and push you slightly out of your comfort zone?". That will just get an answer from the player which is inside the players comfort zone, or outside the players comfort zone but the player pushed himself to that extent. The former is pointless, the latter wasn't influenced by group play (so you aren't really interacting as a group).
 
What is needed are pre-existing rules which let one player interact with another, by using the rules to push the other player a little outside their comfort zone. Toy play or discussion just don't provide that.

I think my stab at "Only system moves the planchette" design is a stab out how these sorts of rules just aren't provided, while all the advice, guidelines and numbers try and make it appear they somehow fill in for the absent rules.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #28 on: September 16, 2005, 02:31:05 PM »

Ah ha!  I think I'm seeing what you're getting at -- how is level of challenge determined?  Are you interested in this question, Callan, or the slightly-larger question of determining a game's scope, which includes level of challenge as well as what questions the game can address and how far outside player comfort zones the game can go?

Level of challenge can be dictated by the game design, although I think any hard-and-fast rule will quickly be ignored or turned into a guideline.  I don't know how much of the rest you can really determine in game design without any recourse to the social contract of the actual players.
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John Kim
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« Reply #29 on: September 16, 2005, 02:56:17 PM »


Perhaps the illusion isn't so much that system moves the planchette. But with all the advice and challenge ratings and points and guidelines, the illusion is that other people will invent goals that match yours. Particularly as GM, that after you've done your prep/invented your goals outside of play, in play players will invent their own goals that match yours.  For example, say the GM thinks a series of  PL+4 challenges are great, but the players would prefer numerous PL +2, except for one player on the right who would prefer PL + 0.
This is mostly a side note, but the DMG give very explicit advice regarding the mix of encounter levels.  I forget offhand what it was, but it is broken down something like 25% PL-1, 50% PL, 15% PL+1, or whatnot. 

What is needed are pre-existing rules which let one player interact with another, by using the rules to push the other player a little outside their comfort zone. Toy play or discussion just don't provide that.

I think my stab at "Only system moves the planchette" design is a stab out how these sorts of rules just aren't provided, while all the advice, guidelines and numbers try and make it appear they somehow fill in for the absent rules.

Well, hold on.  I'm all for trying out different types of designs.  However, they aren't "needed".  What you're effectively saying is that "Playing with toys isn't fun unless there are written instructions telling you what goals to try for".  I think this is blatantly untrue.  People can and do have fun playing with toys without written instructions on what their goal is supposed to be.  This was a discovery of many video games such as "Sim City" -- that given a game, players will often enjoy taking the game and playing for whatever goals strike their fancy. 

This sort of play is exploratory, and I think it very well has the potential of pushing players outside of their comfort zone depending on the social dynamic.  I certainly have experienced many times that play with others will push boundaries given players who enjoy that.  As I said, it's certainly true that toy-like design is less specific and depends more on the group.  So if you want dependability and regularity of experience, then more game-like specificity is warranted.  But you should be aware that many people enjoy toys which don't tell them how to play with them, which they can try out different goals with. 

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