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Author Topic: Reward Cycle III: hybrids  (Read 5348 times)
talysman
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« on: November 30, 2005, 03:30:52 PM »

this thread isn't actually a spin-off of Reward Cycle I and II, but it may address some of the minor definition disagreements occurring in those threads. this thread is really a theoretical-approaching-the-practical thread: how do you use reward cycles to properly design an RPG, including hybrids? I have some ideas, which I hinted at in a response to M. J. Young in the Secret of Sim thread, but I'm going to elaborate on it here. first, I'll be absolutely clear on how I'm interpretting the term by establishing examples.

a reward cycle is a unit of play during which the players as a group are rewarded for their actions withn the concept of their Creative Agenda. we'll take the concrete example of early brown-box or white box Dungeons & Dragons used for a dungeon crawl. the unit of play -- the reward cycle -- is the delve: the DM sets up the location of the dungeon, then the players make a series of tactical and strategic decisions (stocking up on useful equipment, selecting spells, figuring out which corridor to take first, marching order, and so on.) at the end of it all, the characters will have met challenges, acquired treasure, and perhaps levelled up a couple times, increasing their effectiveness. then, the cycle begins again.

the end of the cycle, you will note, is not the moment one character levels up or acquires a treasure or kills a specific monster, but the resting space between meeting a group of challenges and looking for the next challenge. the best way to see it is to think: if a player decides to retire a character and introduce a new one, where could this be done without seeming like an interruption in that character's story?

on a side note: we know that winning a specific battle with a creature or gaining a specific treasure or level isn't a reward cycle because sometimes you lose instead of win. what's that? a punishment cycle? no, because it doesn't keep players from continuing to play, the way a true reward cycle rewards the player's efforts.

anyways, this early brown-box/whitebox D&D reward cycle is Gamist, of course, because it rewards group play that focusses on creatively addressing the challenge, making gambles or skillful decisions that lead to the payoff ("we beat the dungeon!") a Narrativist reward cycle would reward play that challenges a premise and illuminates moral statements. a Simulationist reward cycle would reward play that throroughly explored one area (geographic or conceptual) of the Fiction.

I think you can see at this point how Simulationist Creep took over D&D as it evolved into AD&D1e: the delve as a Gamist reward cycle could also be interpretted as a Simulationist reward cycle, as long as the dungeon crawl isn't just a random arrangement of challenges. when the DM starts dropping clues that the goblins in cave 6 hate the kobolds in cave 1, this can be used for Gamism ("let's trick them into fighting each other and wipe out the weakened winners!") but it can also be used for Simulationism ("now we understand more about the history of goblins and kobolds in this area.")

this is the clue to developing hybrids. hybrids must have two reward cycles that either fire in sync or at least do not conflict. it's really easy to do with Sim/X hybrids, although M. J. Young has proposed congruence as a possible approach to Gam/Nar hybrids. we still haven't seen a functioning example of Gam/Nar, however.

I haven't played Multiverser, but M. J. has described enough of it that I think I understand the reward cycle: it's basically Sim with each reward cycle corresponding to one world; however, each world may also be a hybrid Sim/Nar or Sim/Gam, with one world addressing matters of slavery versus freedom, or another world being a war zone with the players making straight tactical decisions. thus, Multiverser can transition from one Creative Agenda to another as each reward cycle is completed.

what I'd like to see is some more concrete examples of hybrids and how they handle reward cycles. do we have any hybrids where the reward cycles aren't in sync? how about the specific mechanics used to support the build-up and resolution of each reward cycle? I know that M. J. has mentioned the general effects roll in Multiverser, which would be part of the support for Sim, although I'd like to know if there's a formal method to determine when a world/reward cycle is "played out" in the game and it's time to move on to the next cycle. it's sort of the same thing I intended with Dispute Rolls in Serpentine Thunder, although since the game is still alpha, I haven't decided yet whether to focus on one Sim hybrid agenda or leave both Sim/Gam and Sim/Nar open (I think Sim/Gam will be disapointing if the game is played as currently written.)
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John Laviolette
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rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2005, 05:36:21 AM »

Hello,

My current take is that if you make the Sim reward system fire in sync, but subordinately, with either the G or N one, then effectively you have removed its Sim-ness, making it merely Explorative power to render the G or N reward cycle all the stronger. If on the other hand it's not subordinate, but supposed to be in tandem somehow, then I think all that results is Incoherence - at best Abashedness. The reader is then thrown into the same world as AD&D2, forced to interpret and re-tool in order to make anything work at all - and worse, taught to believe that confused play is all right, because at least it's play at all.

This may simply be a vagary of my current mood over the last few months, especially given my attention to the Ronnies and what I've seen with them, but I'm now thinking that "hybrids" are a lost cause, for theory of play purposes. My main influences in thinking this way are the long-term play-experience compendium of The Riddle of Steel, and the key shifts and very clear consequences of the changes from Hero Wars to HeroQuest.

How about for theory of design, then? Well, good question. Is HeroQuest currently considered a "good hybrid" design, even though it's clear as can be that players are reading and playing it in two distinct and incompatible ways? Do we really know that such play has been satisfying ... when as far as I can tell, a fair amount of evidence suggests that it's limping and confused, in many cases?

I hope people can see that this is a very Holmes-ish point of view. As I've said before, Mike's version of the Beeg Horseshoe is compatible with my thinking about GNS ... but I am disinclined to call the "thing at the bend" Simulationism, or even a Creative Agenda at all.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2005, 09:49:04 AM »

Well that's just it, the eternal question for sim...what's the reward? As per usual, nobody can come up with a sim reward system - just sim promoting resolution and such. Usually the reward for sim play is cited as being the play itself. Which I think is in a way accurate. That is, I don't think that sim is about reward cycles, but about making the play itself enjoyable in a very specific way.

In fact, the only thing like a reward system that I can think of that promotes sim are actually "penalty systems." Like experience penalties for alignment violations. Mostly, though, systemwise you typically see the system merely having mechanics that enforce sim. Personality mechanics again, or "physics" mechanics - task resolution. Lastly, when those are chucked, you end up with freeform sim support, which means constant player negotiation (which some people find the height of sim play).

Which is to say that if you use a strong reward system for, say, narrativism as happens to be the case in HeroQuest, you can have a strong sim subordinate at the same time, quite functionally. Or, at least that's been my experience. Now that's not to say that HQ as written doesn't support incoherent play - it does. My game only keeps it all in line because I'm quite aware of the issues, and could be argued to be drifting the game to the less incoherent nar with strong sim support.

Given this, I don't think that there is a reward system that exists that acutally promotes sim over anything else. Again, I'm not sure what a sim reward system is. Experience given as a result of "practice" either ends up being simply a mechanism in play and not a reward at all (no moreso than resolution systems that produce the "right" results are rewared systems), or, more often, they are actually gamism or narrativism rewards. This is the essential problem with BRP and players going off to practice intstead of doing anything thematically or in terms of player challenge, because it's a better way, tactically, to power up the character (no threat of character loss). If the player "really" treats these as pure simulation, then they'll have the character practice only exactly as much as the character "would." And that accuracy becomes it's own reward, not the outcome of the practice.

In any case, sans a reward system being chased, all you have is enjoyment of the process of exploration. That most powerfully unique thing of RPGs, IMO. I'd agree with the definition of sumulationism as not being a Creative Agenda at least in that from the early definition of the modes as being about what bugs other players, I honestly don't think that prioritizing exploration every really bugs anyone. I think that all supposed seeming GS or NS problems are actually GN. Let's take a look at an example:

Player A has a character in a fight along side Player B's character. Player A has his character surrender. Player B with a gamism drive looks at player B in disbelief saying, "Surrender? Why would your character do that?"

Note the phrasing of the question. Not, "You realize that this is going to get my character killed." That would indicate the real problem at hand. Not that it's sim, but that it's not gamism. Because, after all, why would a player surrender? The retort will be "Because given the odds, it's what my character would do!" Again, plausibility becomes the court of appeal. But what the player really means is "Given the plausible options to give up or fight on, I thought it would be more fun to give up." Either this is some creative gamism tactic, or it's narrativism.

Both players are making like they're simulationists. But neither of them are. At least the question of how hard they are applying to plausiblity is simply not germane. In all of these cases, both players see their option as plausible. The only question is which of the other two agendas is being bugged. For there to be violations to a "sim" player, there would have to be cases where the player objected purely on plausibility (including here, genre expecations, and all of that). And, yes, this happens. But it's different. Such an objection is never objectionable itself, other than the recieving player thinks that it's because of a GN problem, or simply disagrees about the plausibility. Again, in the example, even if Player B's priority here is really that surrender is implausible in this case, then there's only a problem if Player A thinks that the player in question is saying so for gamism reasons. If he truely believes that Player B is only about plausibility, then he either agrees, or argues the merits internal to plausibility.

I believe this is true. The "problem" with prioritizing exploration is that it tends to look like you're hiding some other agenda. That is, you have to believe that the player in question is not masking his GN agenda in order to accept any plausibility arguments. Given that I'm saying that all players really do have at least a subordinate G or N agenda, they're all hiding to some extent, in fact (this is the only thing the original Beeg Horseshoe got right). Not so much hiding, but stating their objection in terms of pure plausibility where they might do better to say to the other player, "I have an agenda, and this doesn't match it. This won't be fun for me, even if it is for you."

I don't know how to better state this. Nobody is sans either a subordinate or primary gamism or narrativism bias at any point. All incoherence problems are actually the result of GN incoherence, even if they seem to be sim incoherence. What seems to be sim incoherence is people appealing to plausibility as a theoretically arbitrary and impartial court when they actually want something from one of the other two agendas.

Again, this is not to say that people don't have problems with plausibility. But, when they actually do, and the other player actually realizes that this is the case, the "argument" is actually of a whole different sort. That is, the argument will not have that angry edge that most incoherence arguments do have, because everyone knows that everyone else involved is lying about their agenda (such intra-sim arguments can be rancorous themselves, but that's a result of purely social level interference, like player competition to see who knows more).

As for gamists and narrativists claiming that somebody is playing too plausibly? Never happens. Rather, it only happens, again, when the one player suspects that the other is actually hiding an opposing agenda behind plausibility. These arguments can sound really hilarious as players deny that really very plausible things are implausible. "Dude, Ragnar is a pround warrior of the house of Arganorous. He'd never surrender!" Read, "Dude, I'll come up with whatever arguments I have to in order to get you to see that you're not making the right gamism decision!"

People will say that I'm focusing too much on the problems of incoherence. But I believe that this is really all that GNS does. That is, everybody else, in trying to find "products of play" and such, are creating additions to the model that it doesn't support. I think that all of that baggage applies more to a model like GDS did - which was far more inclusive of motives and such in play. Which neccessarily lead to far more confused use of that model - it had breadth, but lacked specific utility. GNS has very specific utility, but not breadth.

As Creative Agenda, however, where we look at things like hybrids, intra-modal differences, techniques, etc, all as part of the agenda, not simply the three major divisions, that has some breadth again. So looking at something like a Primarily Simulationism driving design hybrid with narrativism, we can say watch out for the narrativism elements leading to implausibility or, more likely, being used for gamism (because, again, that's where you'll get your real problems that look like sim problems).

In fact I'd go so far as to say that hybrid design can and should be done, and that we can do it well right now (even if it hasn't been done all that much). What I think is actually far more of a challenge than sim hybrids is dealing with the fact that I think that pretty much everyone wants gamism, along with their narrativism. Now that's the real challenge.

As it happens, I'm working on an El Dorado (if you will) of a game that tries to incorporate all three modes into play without leading to the problems of incoherence. A few people are aware of this, actually, but I thought I'd let the cat out of the bag. That said, I'm now sure that somebody will beat me to the punch and produce a better game before mine is finished. Which is fine. :-)

I've always agreed, and still do, that hybrid designs are extremely problematic to do well if they can be done at all. But I've also always said that such a design is the pinacle design goal for at least myself. I think that single mode games were a natural retraction from incoherence using the most powerful tool available, the scalpel. Now we have to see if we can put the monster back together again without it going berzerk.

Being ever the Frankenstinian optimist I have to be part of the effort to try. Might end up with nothing better than the incoherent designs that have come before. But I think it'll be an interesting process at the very least.

Mike
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2005, 09:59:11 PM »

John, I want to applaud your post before I quibble. I'm still interested in whether hybrids are possible.

To get clarification, are you looking for congruence (players working together with different agenda) or blend (one player desiring two agenda simultaneously)? I've decided that you're not seeking transition, because that would imply (as I think Scattershot attempted) shifting between reward systems (and thus cycles) with the change in agendum. I don't think you're talking about alternate support (the game can be played to either agendum within the confines of the written rules, but does not support both at once in the same play group) because, as Ron observes, that has a strong tendency toward incoherence in play, as different players think their groups do it "right".

I also tend to think that "blend" hybrids are psychologically difficult at best; how can one have two incompatible first priorities? Multiple agenda support may make for a more marketable game, but I don't think it makes for a more playable one, and certainly does not result in any one individual or group coherently pursuing multiple agenda simultaneously. Still, transition is demonstrably possible, and congruence is perhaps one of those elusive dreams that may yet be realized (I look forward to Mike's efforts here).

To clarify a few points, although in the main I think you understand Multiverser, the details are lacking.
I haven't played Multiverser, but M. J. has described enough of it that I think I understand the reward cycle: it's basically Sim with each reward cycle corresponding to one world; however, each world may also be a hybrid Sim/Nar or Sim/Gam, with one world addressing matters of slavery versus freedom, or another world being a war zone with the players making straight tactical decisions. thus, Multiverser can transition from one Creative Agenda to another as each reward cycle is completed.
It's difficult to explain what's wrong here, but the first point is no, there is no direct correspondence between the world and the reward cycle. Often players will hang on to one world for a long time, and have several adventures within it, and these may transition from one agendum to another while in the same world. In a recent example, one player spent several months in a particular world trying to track down the thief of a particularly dangerous object (whose danger was, for reasons not pertinent here, known only to him) in a very gamist sort of puzzle solving challenge. He succeeded, but remained in that world, took a job with a stage magician, and went into a rather extended simulationist experiment in being a world traveling entertainer with a side interest in archaeology. It may be transitioning again, as un unexpected issue has arisen in his current location that might become the basis for a segment of narrativist play.

On the other end, very rarely an adventure will cross universe lines. As I say, this does not happen often, but one that I particularly remember (done by Eric Ashley) involved a struggle between two versers in which the fate of several universes was at stake, and the player character was trying to prevent the villain from completing an experiment that would have killed in unimaginable number of intelligent beings "in the name of science".

A very weird thing happened to us mere weeks before we went to press. We discovered that someone held a trademark on the use of the word "Multiverse" in the comics/entertainment field, and we had to change the name of our game. We rushed about trying to come up with something, and changed it to "Multiverser"--and realized almost immediately that that was a much better name for the game, because it was not about the worlds but entirely about the characters, the people who move from universe to universe. The stories, the arcs, the cycles, are all determined by the events in their lives, and not much by the worlds they visit. That becomes particularly so when they start gathering fellow travelers. A number of player characters have married characters they met in the verse, and often the "stories" are more about their interactions with their spouses than about anything they encounter along the way. The worlds become the backdrop against which the real events occur, not the setting of the events.

The other point is that if you're going to say that some of the worlds are "sim/nar" or "sim/gam" "hybrids", you're only going to get my agreement if you're using "hybrid" to mean "game rules that support any one of more than one possible agendum". That is, Orc Rising offers support for narrativist play, or can be played simulationist, or I think the last player I had in it really went strongly gamist, but no one does more than one at a time. You might do narrativism or simulationism or gamism; you might even do narrativism then simulationism and then gamism; but you won't do narrativism with simulationism with gamism. It doesn't happen in practice. It's much more like the world says, "You could do this; do you want to?" and the player responds in whatever direction he wants to go.

Quote
M. J. has mentioned the general effects roll in Multiverser, which would be part of the support for Sim, although I'd like to know if there's a formal method to determine when a world/reward cycle is "played out" in the game and it's time to move on to the next cycle.

Again, too things.

One is that GE rolls do support simulationism, but they also support narrativism and gamism, because as a mechanic they are tied in to what it is the player is hoping.

The way we determine that a character is finished in a world is that he gets killed. Death, in Multiverser, is the primary way in which player characters move to the next world. There are other ways--I've had characters crawl through gates, teleport and miss, and build dimensional travel machines--but usually it is character death that changes the world. Again, though, "worlds" and "reward cycles" do not really match.

Mike: Sim reward systems, like Sim advancement, are mechanics that open opportunities for greater exploration. I put forward some ideas in Advanced Theory. Given simulationism with strong director stance/player creation credibility, world-building points have great potential as a simulationist reward system. In fact, I would not be surprised if Universalis has something of a simulationist reward system, although I don't have a copy and I'm a bit fuzzy on the details. Is it not the case that if you create something someone else uses, you get points with which you can create more things? That sounds like rewarding creative efforts with creative power, which in the right context could be strongly simulationist-supportive.

In terms of pure simulationist play without secondary agendum, have you never been in a game where all you wanted to do was see it all? We walked through the woods for hours, asking about the trees, the animals, the plants, the rocks. It was all strange and wonderful, and so very vivid. I can still see the place in my mind's eye; I don't think I've ever been anywhere so beautiful.

And as far as the simulationist side of agendum clash, what narrativists and gamists say is, It was the most boring game session I have ever played. Nothing happened. The simulationist would object that something did happen: we observed, we experienced, we were there.

--M. J. Young
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Sean
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2005, 06:35:06 AM »

Mike,

What about the case where a player's raptly interested in, say, new descriptions of stuff in the fictional world, but gets bored during any protracted negotiation session? This isn't super-common, but I've seen it, most commonly in CoC and various fantasy games. Where the player likes to, say, look at things and talk to things a lot, but doesn't appear to have any greater story direction, and gets bored with fights, library research, everything except the process of layering descriptions, or (more commonly) getting spoon-fed interesting descriptions from the auteur GM, and then moving their token around in the fictional world to get other ones that they think would be interesting? How would you categorize that?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2005, 06:49:41 AM »

Hi there,

Sean, I know you asked Mike, but I'll answer too: insofar as the person really is playing at all, that'd be primarily Exploration of Color, which, if it's the priority, becomes a form of Sim play. That would far better be answered in terms of actual play, though, with people & context & system better understood.

M.J., you wrote,

Quote
The other point is that if you're going to say that some of the worlds are "sim/nar" or "sim/gam" "hybrids", you're only going to get my agreement if you're using "hybrid" to mean "game rules that support any one of more than one possible agendum". That is, Orc Rising offers support for narrativist play, or can be played simulationist, or I think the last player I had in it really went strongly gamist, but no one does more than one at a time. You might do narrativism or simulationism or gamism; you might even do narrativism then simulationism and then gamism; but you won't do narrativism with simulationism with gamism. It doesn't happen in practice.

Man! Shades of the old GO discussions in 1998! That one could have come straight from one of our dialogues in the old days ... and it still stands up today. I completely agree about your interpretation of "hybrid."

Best,
Ron
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