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Started by Ron Edwards, April 02, 2006, 05:50:32 AM

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Ron Edwards


A couple of months ago, through a few discussions with Julie (jrs) and Tim (timfire), we developed the notion that Forge-ish activities might include ... drills. Like repetitive punching or movements in martial arts, or scales and similar exercises in music. Such a drill would be easy to repeat, but provide benefits at all degrees of development. It would also be limited in scope, being an isolated part of the whole activity rather than trying to satisfy any desire to the whole activity. It might also be exaggerated and developmentally oriented, in the same way that running scales on the piano isn't playing a song, and punching forward from sitting stance isn't fighting.

Why? Well, as I wrote in a recent thread, there are three very straightforward "attitude" requirements for participating in a social, leisure activity. They are:

Quote1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue

So drills are clearly a concrete application of the third point, focusing on the practice aspect that's so prevalent in music and martial arts development. A drill focuses on some highly specific dynamic that produces concrete results, and by the way, a drill works best if it's a hell of a lot of fun.

And clearly we weren't the only people to be thinking along these lines. Check out the recent Death Stakes, for which Nathan Paoletta very rightly said,

Quotethe point of the game is to hilight the (IMO dysfunctional) nature of hidden all-GM fiat as a resolution system. It's not really a RPG, its more a "gaming exercise" that you play in order to warm up, or learn something about how RPGs work.

I suggest, however, that Death Stakes suffers a little bit from lacking a concrete endpoint besides social reactions. Or maybe it doesn't suffer, and I'm jumping the gun. Drills need to be tried out, not judged by their text. And remember - respect the learning curve. Callan "tried" Death Stakes ... but has he practiced it? No. To try drills, one has to lose the need for instant gratification that I see a lot in gamer culture, and adopt more of the music or martial arts student attitude.

A more developed drill is Mexican Standoff, by Tim Kleinert, with play described in [Mexican Standoff] I was shot, but I got the money, and previously in [Mexican Standoff] A party game for you, your friends, and a big pile of money. I would like to play Mexican Standoff again, but instead of repeating it with the people I was with last time, or instead of "picking up where we left off" in any way, I'd rather play it again with a new bunch of people. Or maybe with the same people after all, but not for a while, until after we play some more RPGs and then come back to see what Mexican Standoff can teach us now.

Some other games whose authors described them as beer & pretzels, or "funny little" games, or similar diminutive subtitles, can be regarded as drills, and would probably be very effective as such. I play the card game Once Upon a Time primarily as a drill. I benefited from Matt Machell's Bedlam (see my Forge review in the way that I'm now describing as the benefits of a drill.

But I'm going to head one thing off at the pass right away - I'm totally uninterested in naming some existing game and having some stupid debate about whether it is or isn't a drill, rather than a "real" or "complete" game. That's going to be nothing but a bullshit hurt-feelings and ego exercise. If you must, go start that discussion on your blog, but don't say I didn't warn you when it blows up in your face. You know as well as I do that people are going to read "this is a drill" as "this is only a drill" and have a hissy-fit about it.

This thread should be used to discuss drills as a concept. I'm interested in what isolated bits of role-playing can be developed as drills. I'm also interested in whether drills can show us what familiar, presumably-essential bits of role-playing are more modular than we tend to think.

If you want to develop a drill, start a thread here in the Endeavor forum! This isn't really a contest, although depending on what comes of the discussion in this thread, I might come up with one - or if anyone thinks of a cool Endeavor-style framework for us to develop them in, please feel free to start a thread for it. Keith, you came up with some cool ideas during our conversation the other day, so feel free to chime in.



That's interesting ... you're coming at this from a different angle than I (at least) was looking at it from.

In Martial arts and music the kata and technique exercises are pretty well self-contained.  Yes, they're teaching you principles that you will eventually apply in vastly different places.  But if your doing scales or front snap kicks there's an expectation that some of the benefit comes just from doing them, no matter what the context.

And here I was thinking of providing very similar exercises, but labelling them as "warm-ups," and assuming that they would be used mainly in the context of ritual entry into (or exit/integration from) a larger game.

I suspect that the design implications of the two (drills vs. warm-ups) would be subtly different.  Perhaps not enough to make a huge difference in making them up, but probably enough to make an important difference in fine-tuning them after play-test.  Cool.
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Jason Morningstar

I (and several other regulars here, actually) just started a six week improv class, and of course it is packed to the rafters with activities I'd classify variously as drills and warm-ups.  Our instructor stressed that the techniques we were learning would be broadly applicable to improvisational theater in many formats. 

Some of the exercises really fit the drill model, being an end in themselves without much extensibility beyond the adoption of particular effective attitudes, and some exercises are clearly designed to prepare you for entering a more complex performance space - warm-ups.  Within that context the difference is clear. 

Ron Edwards

To be the dissenter ... I do not think much of breaking up the classification. What I'm talking about applies to the description of warm-ups as presented as well as anything else; the distinction is way more fine-grained than what I'm trying to promote.

Look, take a whole play with all the cast and crew and promotion, all the bells and whistles.

Now take anything that is "practice," in the most basic sense, of any specific component - whether it's facilitative to the play's function but doesn't really appear directly in the play, or whether it's just a group hug, or whether it seems like something that gets applied very directly in the play ... I don't care. Too much nitpicking. Right now, for role-playing, we don't have anything that's anything like any of these. That total lack is the problem, not the lack of a fine-grained understanding of what sorts of sub-categories should be called what.

If you wanna slice up the concept into little subsets, I suppose you can, but I think the most useful way to do that is to come up with several dozen actual functional examples, then work out categories later.


Keith Senkowski


What the fuck did I say?  Was it the notion of letting go?  I'm not sure just what I would do to implement it, but I think a drill on letting go of character ownership would be useful.  A lot of people.  Fuck all of us can often find ourselves hesitant to let other people at the table fuck with our sandbox, even though nine times out of ten it makes something even better.

The drill though could maybe be something like when you would fold a piece of paper in three.  Person A draws a head, folds it over and passes it on.  Person B draws the torso, does the same and person C draws the legs and tail and shit.  Then when done you unfold it and see what ya got.  I think for it to work it has to be near fully formed ideas people have some investment with, and then they pass it on to the next person.  Maybe a small chit system to allow people the buy the right for the next section of the tale.  There are games out there that do this I'm sure.

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Peter Nordstrand

Quote from: Keith SenkowskiI think a drill on letting go of character ownership would be useful.

I just can't help myself.
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law


Over in another thread, Jason M. posted an excercise he learned in an improv class, Invisible Knife. Ron had this to say:

QuoteI think we need to work on role-playing  drills - which means, if anyone wants to read up on improv drills as they exist, they can go on-line or find a book or take a class. Now, if you for instance wanted to adapt  an improv exercise into something that'd be useful for role-playing specifically, then sure, describe it.

Tony LB then asked this:

QuoteQuick request for clarification:  What do you mean by "useful for roleplaying specifically"?  Are you saying that you'd prefer not to have people working (here) on drills that limber only general skills like attention and engagement and communication?

And I then said this:

QuoteI don't see the point in building excercises that build general skills, because there are so many out there that already do it, and likely will do it better than anything we can make up here. If you want to build those skills, you can go to the library and after a few minutes/hours researching, I'm sure you'll find books and books of such excercises.

What we don't have are excercises that build role-playing specific skills. One such skill would be building adversity, or transitioning from conflict to conflict, maybe recognizing the emergence of theme---I don't know, stuff like that. The excercises should also focus on the SIS, 'cause that's what role-playing is all about. I think something Ron was trying to get at was that the physicality of Invisible Knife as practiced in the improv doesn't neccessarily build a SIS.

I wanted to stress the point that I believe we need to think about excercises that build and focus on the SIS, as it plays into something I wanted to say about the purpose of our drills and the types of excercises I would like to see.

Real quick, I see 3 general types of drills: The first are warm-ups and the like. The second are excercises like Invisible Knife, excercises that teach essential skills but are not neccessarily the activity at hand, but are still related to the activity. Another example would be when the football player runs through a field of tires, or when a musician plays scales.

The third type are actually the activity in question, but under controlled circumstances. An example of this would be semi-free sparring in karate. The attacker comes in with a pre-determined attack, and the defender can defend anyway he wants (there are variations). My point in all this is that while the first two types would definitely be helpful, I think the most fruitful effort would be to try and develop these types of excercies for role-playing. In other words, I would really like to see highly focused mini-games, actual role-playing games. If you look at Mexican Standoff, I believe it works like that. You actually create an SIS, there's a certain level of characterization, there's a whole lot of situation, there's adversity, etc. But the game is extremely limited in scope, and that's why it works as a drill... At least that's my thought on the subject.

Are y'all following me? (Writing right after work isn't the most coherent time of day for me.)

BTW, I've been thinking about this for a while, and Ron and I have talked about it like he said, and my goal is to collect 6-12 or so really good drills in a volume along with some good introductary essays. Think about that, an honest to goodness teaching text! Obviously, that's down the road a bit, but that's where I would like to head. I really think we need something *like that* if we want to really see our artform grow.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert


Hoy, :)

Quote from: timfire on April 03, 2006, 04:28:39 PMcollect 6-12 or so really good drills in a volume

This idea is just too cool!

If you find it worth it, IEYToD is totally yours for this project.

João Mendes
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Gamer


Quote from: timfire on April 03, 2006, 04:28:39 PM
In other words, I would really like to see highly focused mini-games, actual role-playing games.
Well, I can tell the difference between a warm-up and a game.  But what's the difference between a mini-game and a game?

Quote from: timfire on April 03, 2006, 04:28:39 PM
BTW, I've been thinking about this for a while, and Ron and I have talked about it like he said, and my goal is to collect 6-12 or so really good drills in a volume along with some good introductary essays. Think about that, an honest to goodness teaching text! Obviously, that's down the road a bit, but that's where I would like to head. I really think we need something *like that* if we want to really see our artform grow.

My current target is a 64 page 6x9 booklet of warm-ups.  With most of the warm-ups spanning two facing pages, and some introductory and chapter text, that probably puts it around twenty warmup exercises.  So far development has been a blast.  I love the brainstorming phase.
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Josh Roby

Oh hell yeah.  I am all about activities (if not games) to build the skills used in other games.

Conquer the Horizon drills player creation of setting.
Web of Shadows drills creation of situation.
Alternately, detaching Town Creation from Dogs or Engineering the Situation from FLFS would also drill situation-building awareness.
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Town Building is an excellent example of a drill IMO.




Quote from: Peter Nordstrand on April 03, 2006, 07:23:28 AM
Quote from: Keith SenkowskiI think a drill on letting go of character ownership would be useful.

I just can't help myself.

This may be the opposite! Teaching players to embrace and even fight for character control! My Cranium Rats probably also fits this goal.
Guy Shalev.

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Justin D. Jacobson

Very interesting idea, folks. A drill that I'm actually using in my development of Passages is as follows:

Passages uses a d20-light ruleset, the chief component of which is addition of degrees of success and failure. To elaborate, in standard d20, success and failure are simply binary results. If you meet or beat the DC you succeed; if you fall below it, you fail. In Passages, the amount by which you exceed or fail the check indicates the level of your character's success or failure. (This is one of the few complexities I've added to the ruleset; most of it is stripping down.) The drill I've been doing is setting up a check and narrating at various levels of success and failure. So, the PC is trying to sneak by the guard. What happens if he fails the check by 10? by 5? succeeds by 5? by 10? I've found this drill to be more challenging than it would seem on first blush and serves as a good exercise generally on narrative skills.
Facing off against Captain Ahab, Dr. Fu Manchu, and Prof. Moriarty? Sure!

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David "Czar Fnord" Artman

I don't know if these quite qualify, but:

1) Character creation with no game planned - We used to spend a LOT of time just writing up characters in whatever current system we played. Generally a Gamist sort of exercise, it helped us figure out synergies and break-points in the system.
   Later (as we got older and more creative--or just more influenced by more games) we expanded into a "schtick" style of character write-ups. We still would use (and abuse) the system(s), but now it was more about "elegance" or making a set of abilities, disadvantages, and backstory that "hung together" plausibly--which usually meant they had a high integration and internal logic, rather than just a collection of "best" or "checklist" abilities.
   This sort of exercise has lead me to write short stories about the characters (studies) and keep them for pick-up games, and even use them as NPCs. It's an exercise that leaves a useful "residual."

2) Maybe we could see an RPG equivalent of card counting/dice betting drills? Some good work on actual problems in statistics would go a long way toward helping folks wrestle with randomizers and probability distribution. I have often thought of signing up for some college courses, just to learn basic stats (I somehow managed to get two BAs without learning even a smattering).

3) Free association session - We could even do these online: basically, we take turns throwing a notion or idea out, and everyone chimes in with ONE extension/association of that notion.
   Done one-on-one (sparring), you throw out a notion, your buddy expands it or redirects it--freely associating--and then you have to react to that new vector/notion. This ought to help improve on-the-spot situation development for GMs, and might even be handy for extending/reinforcing a setting.
   From there, it's only a few more steps to the "shared storytelling" party game we all know: everyone takes a turn adding a sentence.

4) Sparring - Yep, don't forget LARPs. :-p There's a TON of benefit to be had--as a player and a GM--from actual sparring using some simple LARP system of hits and damage and down/death. In fact, my own Forge project (GLASS) came about because we spent a bit of time sparring for a different LARP, and it occurred to me that we could "boil down" that LARP's effects into what "really mattered" and be able to better focus on the actual swordplay. [That, and it sort of reduces the efficacy of sparring if folks use their Slay Abilities and Magic Spells and Knockout Abilities in "practice"--although doing just that lead me to realize just how powerful it is to be able to cast direct damage spells in melee combat: it makes the victim "step on the gas" rather than hang back and try to riposte, and that means *I* get to hang back and riposte. ;-) ]

As an aside/redirect, wouldn't it be at least a little useful to get a generalized list of the "RPG Skills" we want to exercise? I think there'd be a lot better brainstorming with such a framework in place--but I can also respect your feeling that you'd rather have that emerge from brainstorming (using categorization and synthesis) than be proscribed and, perhaps, insufficient (or deflect the purpose of the thread).

If you liked this post, you'll love... GLASS: Generic Live Action Simulation System - System Test Document v1.1(beta)

Eero Tuovinen

Hey, what do you know. I've been doing drills for a year now:

As some of you may know, I've been playing helluwa lot of Dust Devils for the last year, demoing it in 15-30 minute bits all over Finland. Must have ran a hundred sessions by now at least. What I realized when reading this was that my DD demo is actually a conflict resolution drill. Some people even want to play it several times, just to make sure they have the techniques down. The demo has it all: clear definition, exact procedure and focus. And it's simple enough that people learn the basics with one or at most two repetitions.

It's no wonder then, that I'm one hell of a explicit-stakes GM after doing that drill for so long :D

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