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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 88 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Reward Cycle II: Cycle Sans System  (Read 11012 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #15 on: November 28, 2005, 12:12:35 PM »

You seem to be thinking that reward cycle means only one reward per cycle or something. Levels being a prime example. Thing is, even with a level-based system, there are other, smaller rewards that happen in between on the level cycle. They're all part of the overall reward cycle. The one from which you can really get an idea of agenda. In fact, it's from the multitude of rewards that are each tells that only the "reward cycle" can elucidate the agenda. That is, if all you had was leveling up as evidence, that alone would be scarce evidence of the overall agenda. It's the stuff in between.

And in fact, some of the rewards in between will seem out of place with the agenda. This is the other reason why you need to look at the overall cycle. Because those outliers seem otherwise to indicate a "mixed" or "incoherent" play possibly, when in fact they don't neccessarily.

Yes, this does mean that what demarks the edge of a reward cycle might be fuzzy to some extent. But watch enough play, and you'll catch the reward cycle.

Take our IRC HQ play. The HP awards have nothing to do with the reward cycle in terms of agenda. Mostly because I only give them perfunctorily, and never cite anything about why I'm giving them. They're not really rewards at all, merely fuel for the real reward system, which is using the HP to raise up abilities or bump. Basically look at how people use HP in the game for a few sessions, where they've gotten a chance to build some up and spend them, and more importantly time during which players have applauded certain narrations, and such social reinforcements as we do (like me and you posting back in mail) - a cycle - and you get the agenda for the game.

Before I say what I think it is, can you see the agenda of the IRC HQ game from this? What would you say it is?

Mike
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #16 on: November 28, 2005, 01:34:48 PM »

Asking me what I think the agenda is not a good idea, Mike, because I really don't subscribe to the theory. 

It's like asking a heavy duty socialist what the "best" price for bread is, given an inelastic demand curve and restricted supply.  He'd say "free."

When we're in the middle of a big combat, such as against the giant snake, we're going gamist all the way.  We're scrounging around for whatever augments we can dig up, working out what kind of advantages we can bring into play from the environment, and the like.  The same during the numerous scenes where Archelaus and Okhfels were going head-to-head.  Archie and Okhfels have spent a lot of points making themselves better at fighting each other, and Isadora has put a lot of points into her fencing along the way.

I don't think there's a lot of Narrative play because I really don't see people driving the game in any particular direction.  You might say it's nar play because lots of the PC's do stupid things because they're dramatic, but I'm not sure that really qualifies.  I don't know how you'd identify Nar play from spending HP though.  Perhaps the fact that Thomas spends almost no points at all identifies him as having a more narrative focus in his play than the rest of us.

At first I didn't think we had much sim play, but since agreement on what sim means still seems scarce, I think I was just misidentifying it.  The side-play you and I have had about the Teth background may have been sim depending on your definition.  I spend a lot of my personal head-space exploring the question, "what is Okhfels like, inside his head?" but since that's a 1-person game I don't think that applies either.

After some thought, however, I'd say the play is pretty heavily sim, where the world being simulated is a relationship-heavy soap opera set in your Shadow World.  The thing that seems to matter most to us as players is the relationships, and exploring how they evolve.  After all, if you look at the character sheets, we've been hitting those relationships pretty hard.

In the light of the Big Model, of course, I'm wrong.  It's not kosher to identify one scene as Sim and another as Gam and another as Nar, skipping from one agenda to another as the player mix and their interests change.  That's incoherent play and as a result, not as much fun as coherent play.  According to the Big Model, we're supposed to have a single constant agenda (that may be made up of a mix of named or unnamed agendas) that doesn't change on a small timescale.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #17 on: November 29, 2005, 09:58:19 AM »

First, if you really don't subscribe to the model, then the whole issue of Cycles of Reward is a moot one. It really is only important in the context of the idea of creative agenda. Not to get too tautological, but the reward cycle is that cycle during which you can discern Creative Agenda.

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When we're in the middle of a big combat, such as against the giant snake, we're going gamist all the way.
Nope. What player tactical skill are you displaying? I mean, do you really get a sense of personal accomplishment from such a fight? Like I, the player, have done well? If so, why? What challenge have you addressed? Coming up with augments? That's not hard. And I rarely say no, so it's not a matter of convincing me to accept them. Right? So where's the gamism?

If you've felt dissapointed by the system at these points, then you've been playing gamism here, and the system has, predictably, been letting you down. Which it's intended to do.

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Archie and Okhfels have spent a lot of points making themselves better at fighting each other, and Isadora has put a lot of points into her fencing along the way.
It's funny, because I do sense that you're fighting with Charles, but he's not fighting with you. That is, only you amongst the entire group think that character competition must mean player competition. Again, given the system, this is why you've had lots of moments where you were uncomfortable about this stuff. You're not seeing that the agenda for the rest of the group is that conflicts between characters are player cooperation intended to make both characters look good.

You'll note that at least once Charles has not countered one of your bumps to prevent his character from taking over. This is the narrativism potential of HP. They give players the ability to control individually, or when working together on some conflict where both their characters are involved, to collaborate on controling the plot.

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I don't think there's a lot of Narrative play because I really don't see people driving the game in any particular direction.  You might say it's nar play because lots of the PC's do stupid things because they're dramatic, but I'm not sure that really qualifies.
First, if they're not driving the game, then why does it go at all? I don't do anything at all, but set up situations. Again, only you see these situations as "forcing" a particular action. My favorite example was the expedition to the White Wood. The way you talked about it, OOC, it sounded like you felt that the expedition was expected at this point. Which was the result of some bad play on my part, really. Because I had no particular intention of having you guys do anything in particular - I never do. But in not providing other stuff to do, I think that you felt aimed at the White Wood. But to be clear, I had no idea that you'd go there, and I was caught a tad unprepared for it, in fact. Even with the extra week to work out what was there, I was scrambling some, and didn't do a great job with it. But that wouldn't have happened if I'd had some intention for you to go there.

The point is that nothing that you guys do is caused by me. With the possible exception of you alone doing the, "Well, this is the situation, so Okhfels must do this" effect. None of the other players are playing this way. Note that I haven't bothered to discuss this with you at all, because even though you play this way, you're only one player, and I can work around you just fine, generally speaking.

But, yes, the fact that players have their characters do "stupid" things, which should read "stuff that makes the plot interesting instead of being tactical," yes, that means it's narrativism. Any reading of the definition of narrativism that makes it sound deeper than that is over-reading the definition. One of the best definitions of narrativism is that it's not gamism or simulationism. That is, it's not to "win", and it's not projecting it as a character decision, but it's the player having the character do something they find plausible, yet dramatic. For whatever reason they find it interesting (barring Step On Up).

Quote
The side-play you and I have had about the Teth background may have been sim depending on your definition.  I spend a lot of my personal head-space exploring the question, "what is Okhfels like, inside his head?" but since that's a 1-person game I don't think that applies either.
That's actually exactly what I was going to point to. Yes, the narrativism of the game has strong sim supporting stuff. Basically you not only get to decide what your character cares about, but what those things are like. This is technically narrativism, too, in that you wouldn't be creating Teth if Okhfels wasn't from there. But it's very high simulationism support, because some of the information is created for it's own sake. That is, I'll try to get the information into play at some point if I can. But creating it was done for it's own sake because you and I find it fun. That was a two person activity, I monitored the creations (to say nothing of the fact that we got to post it for anyone else to peruse). Might not be play by some definitions, but it sure was fun. :-)

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The thing that seems to matter most to us as players is the relationships, and exploring how they evolve.  After all, if you look at the character sheets, we've been hitting those relationships pretty hard.
Which is narrativism, narrativism, narrativism. We don't just "hit" the relationships, but you as players make decisions about them constantly. The very detailed nuances of how Okhfels relates to Isadora in each scene are priceless narrativism. Deciding he had to dump Elahra. I hope that you didn't do that because you felt I was making you do it. Because it was supposed to be a fun decision for you. In fact, with Elle, I probably have pushed the romance angle quite a bit too far with Okhfels, but the narrativism opportunities are just far too easily available to ignore sometimes. So I go to that well a lot. Thomas' decisions about Sebastian's relationship with Laura. Chris' decisions about Egani, well, being rather out in the open with his depredations in front of everyone. Charles' decisions with regards to Archelaus' wife, and all the people of the camp that he might be able to save or screw over. And Adrienne's decisions with Isadora about...everybody, and how to make it all gel if she can, or whether to just give up somehow.

I don't make up any of that. It's 90% of the plot, and it's all you guys. Then you make up the other 10% of the plot by deciding to do things like go to the White Wood. All I've done is drop you in a setting, and have folks come along to make the situation interesting. You all make all the decsions on where the plot goes.

Not spending HP to win when one could is a clear narrativism tell. The player saying "I'd rather have my character fail here." Spending HP to win is narrativism, too, because, again, there's no player challenge involved in the decision to spend a HP. It's a no-brainer if you want to win. Spending to win in these cases is merely saying that you'd prefer the plot to proceed from a character victory. Spending HP on a relationship is like slapping me in the face and saying, "Mike, Pay Attention, play this NPC more as doing so makes my character Cool!" It's a clear indication of player values. Does the character get stronger? Marginally in some ways, but I can always simply jack up the resistance of the opposition. So there's no real progress in a gamism way. Same with augments. They are highly sim hybrid supportive narrativism that "displays" the character in use. That is, it's mechanical exploration of the character and how they relate to the conflict in question. Everybody playing looks at a list of augments that Chris pulls out and oohs at the big bonus he gets in many cases for his very powerful ability to see the essence. I do at least.

Watching the actual reward cycle of our group, I see a general "vanilla narrativism" agenda with strong sim hybrid support for most players. A sort of "meandering" play that addresses the overall premises of the game very gradually. Which is what I'd intended. The agenda is slightly incoherent, because, yes, sometimes you're bringing in some straight simulationism priority, and occasionally I see other players sliding that way, too a bit. Which, again, I don't worry too much about, because I actually have a strong sim preference myself, and sort of treat Okhfels like a force of nature in play. And the other players are good enough to be able to do so as well (and otherwise mostly play narrativism).

But this small dose of incoherence does explain every single slightly odd moment we've had in play. I won't get off on a tangent about that, however. I will say this:
Quote
It's not kosher to identify one scene as Sim and another as Gam and another as Nar, skipping from one agenda to another as the player mix and their interests change.  That's incoherent play and as a result, not as much fun as coherent play.  According to the Big Model, we're supposed to have a single constant agenda (that may be made up of a mix of named or unnamed agendas) that doesn't change on a small timescale.
Where do you get such ideas? To use your analogy, this is like somebody railing agains socialism because it's totalitarian.

1. Players can shift modes. It's not as common as people think, but it can happen. Further, it's Kosher to identify individual tells as being "gamism tells" or such. That's part of the model. That doesn't make the overall mode a mix, however, which is why you have to look at the overall reward cylce to see the overall agenda. If you'd then say that this makes the definition of mode less useful than you thought it was supposed to be, you'd be about the 1000th person to make that observation. The model is what it is. There are other "atomic" models that are more what you're looking for, I think. These don't contradict the Big Model, they're just about looking at smaller cycles (and have their own attendant problems).
2. Nothing says that incoherent play is less fun than coherent play. This is something like common misconception #3 (there actually was a thread like that). Incoherent play has a tendency to lead to problems. That's all that agenda says. And lo, it accurately predicts precisely where the only small problems we've had have been. Note that, again, I wouldn't push the overall agenda on you, because for the group in question, the incoherence hasn't lead to any problems that have really been dysfunctional (non-fun), and you seem to like the way you play. So...
3. The model has no "supposed to" clauses in it. In fact it says right up near the top of stuff about agenda that, if your game doesn't have such problems, then you probably don't need to look at the model for your play. The model can be used to help good play, but is hardly neccessary. It's useful for all sorts of things, IME, but nowhere does it say that it's the end all of how to play.

Now, given that the way I play allows for a lot of simulationism input, it's no surprise that my games tend to have a bit of sim-nar incoherence. For example, if I'd really wanted to push narrativism, when you guys were heading off into the White Wood, I'd have stopped you and made it clear that I hadn't intended events to lead you there. But I though, eh, what the heck, I'd wing it instead of all the rigamarole of trying to reframe the decisions so that players felt they had more choice. After all, they might have chosen to go to the White Wood anyhow (I really need to have such a locale like that better prepared given that it was bound to attract you guys at some point).

The point is that in looking at several sessions worth of play at a time if you characterized the game overall, would you say it was about players trying to defeat challenges through the agency of their characters? Have I presented the situation as a puzzle for you to solve? Or have I instead merely made it a tough situation for all of you in which decisions have to be made.

You can ask Thomas about this, but I've made explicit the general premise of play that I got from all of the players, and it's one that HQ tends to produce automatically anyhow. And that is, "Where is home?" Note how all of the PCs are caught away from home (OK, except for Fahd)? Further, they are all looking for something that's home as well. Adrienne has already decided for Isadora that Kaitaine isn't home. But is Green Lake? Teth? Same for Okhfels who, I think, you've decided, feels that wherever Isadora is, is home. No? For Thomas, the question with Sebastian is whether he's gained any values that supercede his jadedness that mean that he might not want to go back to the big city. Or, if he does, which big city? What about Laura? For Chris, can a person simply construct a home peopled with the corpses of others? He can't go home to Sel-kai, the elves there want his blood. For Archelaus...poor Archelaus. Is his goddess who he thinks she is? His "home" is somewhere up in the stars, but can a mortal man live there? Especially when the stars might really just be the madness of the void?

Less Played Characters -
 - Can Elkaru avoid being kicked out of another tribe here at the end of the line?
 - Now that Gennadi has his sister back, does he try to make a home with the Rhiani here? Or with the colony?
 - For Serama, does the curse of her father's pendant mean that she'll never be safe anywhere?
 - Can Aysha, though dead, be satisfied with servitude of a "lesser" god? Can she ever find a community to accept her ways on her terms?
 - For Tamul, can he return to Kaitaine (too many dead, you see)? Or will he have to try to make a home here in the sticks? Can he manage that?
 - Can Nurek, member of the enemy race, and traitor to it, actually find a home amongst these people?
 - Now that Alitia is back, where will Fahja go? Can he convince her to love him?
 - For Fahd, if he gets involved with the "stationary" Green Lake spirits, what happens when the tribe leaves?

What happens to everyone when the tribe leaves? They're nomads, you know. Already overdue to depart.

Looking at the game from a POV of the reward cycle being the end of the "phase" of play, the payoff will be the answers to these questions.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: November 29, 2005, 10:36:01 AM »

Mike: "Yes."

Everyone else: "See what Mike said and especially, how he supported it."

Best,
Ron
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #19 on: November 29, 2005, 01:59:52 PM »

I had a big long post to make here, but you know what?  Just forget it.  It's clear that I'm so far away from the Big Model in the way I think about games that I probably shouldn't bother anymore.

Most of what I had to say wouldn't helped anyone, including me.  I'm having more fun in HQ than I've had in just about any other game.  I have my own explanations for why, and noone's going to take them seriously under the present circumstances.

I need to sit down and actually write Panaesthete.
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                                     --Vincent Baker
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