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Author Topic: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.  (Read 21532 times)
Joel P. Shempert

Posts: 451

« Reply #30 on: August 07, 2006, 10:04:24 PM »

Riffing off the concept that the actual transcript of a game says nothing in itself about the CA, I'd like to ask about PCs being violently at odds and how that relates to CA. Specifically, the incident of Andjagger vs. the Crone in your account, Levi. . .this incident bears a lot of resemblance to some styles of trad play: A band of PCs with a "party" structure, all having roughly the same goal, some reason for one PC to attack or otherwise dramatically oppose another, and then the respective player's decision to do so, resulting in "inter-party" conflict.

Only there seems to be a world of difference between Levi's scenario and the traditional version. But it's a difference I wouldn't have pegged from merely hearing/reading an account of the events. It's something in the tone used, and even moreso in the OTHER things Levi says throughout the thread, that tells me the conflict arises from, and works toward, Narrativist goals.

I've seen a fair amount of "PvP" in my roleplaying history, and barring a few instances of just plain dysfunction, most of the conflicts seem to have been, for the participants (i was usually a spectator), just "fun" in a departure-from-usual, let's-see-who's-tougher way, with the reason for the conflict unimportant, perhaps even forgotten. A couple of times I remember it was mind control or possession; in the few cases where it was a real conflict of interest, it always seemed like a pretty bland one, like "my guy is so crazy he'll kill you for the slightest insult". And one always suspected the participants were simply happy that the "reason" was sufficient excuse to trigger the fight.

So my question is, how does one tell the difference between Narr inter-player conflict and, say, non-dysfunctional Gamist? Does it look (or feel) different in play, or is it one of those "you can't tell from just the incident, look at the whole play cycle" sort of things? Levi, was there any element in that confrontation of "heh-heh, now we get to fight each other," or was it ONLY "wow, so THAT'S how devoted to the Totem Andjagger is" and the like?


PS In light of my recent gaming experiences, I'm really jazzed about Christopher's question.

Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #31 on: August 08, 2006, 01:52:01 AM »

Hi everyone,

OK! Five posts, five questions. Now it’s me & Levi again, no more outside posting.

I’ll clarify my reasoning for calling for the questions. First, and most minor, was sympathy – I could sense all the heads out there distending with the need to process the discussion so far.

Second was to give Levi some space to process the latest exchange, which he is taking anyway, and that leads me to a bit of a conundrum. Because I hadn’t intended for him to whacked with questions, but failed to phrase my post accordingly. I’m torn between (1) my desire for Levi to stick exactly with the dialogue with me, and not get into “speaking to the multitudes” mode – which can be destructive to the kind of thinking and writing we’re doing – and (2) my awareness that muzzling him at this point is simply not fair, especially since people asked him questions in good faith.

So, what to do? Levi, I guess my desire is for you to stick with the dialogue with me for now[]/i, because there are still some outstanding inquiries for you in my post ‘way up-thread. But then after, can you return to the questions from Precious Villain and Joel?

Best, Ron
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #32 on: August 08, 2006, 06:00:55 AM »

Despite my intentions, I'm answering these out of order.


what are typical symptoms of actual CA clash and how does that relate to the text you quoted earlier about CA being exlusive in application?

Symptoms of CA clash

1. Pure agonizing frustration, usually covered up with highly-characteristic denial statements, but which can be seen in side-comments or qualification-statements, and which erupts when you ask the right questions

2. Isolated moments of pure satisfaction, highly treasured, often-repeated, and held up as emergent properties of “good” role-playing

3. Repetitive attempts to “do it right” without negotiation, because the other person should “just know”

4. Highly personal assignments of blame, usually to someone who is secondarily involved (much as an alcoholic family will blame the acting-out teenager for all their problems)

5. Split-up for obviously spurious reasons (“personal reasons,” “we just drifted apart”) OR play characterized by sitting there glumly hoping for one’s own moment eventually

Note that I do not call any of these dysfunctional play. That would be the case if and when play becomes consistently un-fun and/or socially abusive. #1-4 above can apply as a low-level context, and the gaming group can still have fun in the most general sense, usually described as “well, we just game in order to hang out together.” That’s incoherent play, but not dysfunctional.

As for how this relates to exclusivity … um, well, I think this would do well to refer to series of older threads.

What is Creative Agenda? (in which Fred demonstrates that he does not really want an answer, and Nathan’s brain fuzzes out)
Teaching Creative Agenda (in which Nathan starts defiantly and then figures out what his question is)
Group vs. individual CA (in which Nathan asks a great question and gets answered)

After reading over that, if you have any other questions about why I consider real Creative Agendas to be exclusive, then I recommend a new Actual Play thread, with an actual-play description, to talk about it.

What differentiates an actual conflict of CA instead of just a difference over preferred means or possibly a disfunctional version of the CA, such as a Typhoid Mary GM or Primma Donna player?

When you say “differentiates,” I assume you mean observational variables, not definitions.

CA conflict – a little difficult to describe without further context, because it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Here are three forms or expressions.

a) The typical result is incoherence, as described above. A good recent example of incoherent play without being dysfunctional can be found in Hero System, M&M, and assessing incoherence; see especially my comments in my first long post about “flashes” of Creative Agenda.

b) Another result is sudden and social censure of a given person’s desired CA getting expressed, but as a kind of flare-up that subsides and gets repeated. This is interesting because the person who’s “at fault” is convinced that sooner or later everyone else will get it and join in, and everyone else is convinced that sooner or later he’ll stop “acting like that.”

c) Re-arrangement of the group. This isn’t exclusively symptomatic of CA clashes, obviously, but it takes on some interesting details when CA clashes are involved. For example, if the GM stops playing with the group and the group continues with one of the former members as the new GM, the first one becomes a “non-person” in the purest Maoist sense, in group memory. That doesn’t happen when one person, for example, simply moves away. This is why I often ask about the history of GMing in a particular group, in discussions. “Oh yeah! Steve ran the game for a while, then he, uh, well, John started GMing, and Steve, well, it was personal reasons.” (Secondary point: sentences without verbs are a great sign of stuff that’s been shielded from critical thought.)

Difference over preferred means – play with this going on is characterized by what I call procedural hiccups. Every so often, there’s a re-negotation about how the hell does X happen, or why you can’t say that, and similar things. However, it doesn’t become acrimonious, even though it’s repetitive. In some groups, they avoid certain kinds of conflicts or certain kinds of statements, like avoiding potholes (you have to be there with them to catch this; it won’t emerge in verbal accounts of play). In some groups, they do arrive at a way to handle a particular situation, but someone retains a funny itch because he doesn’t really like it, and you can see that when they play using the agreed way – he bugs out, for a little while, and essentially lets someone else (the GM, for example) play his character through it.

Dysfunctional – best recognized as social outcomes that lead people to cry or to lose their tempers, to go into long and repeated debriefing and retro-interpretations (usually involving secret or at least separate communications via phone, email, and private meetings), to lie and to build upon webs of lies, and to exert blackmail on one another

The phrase “dysfunctional play” is actually a bit of shorthand … it’s play which is continued in such a way that it facilitates these dysfunctional social behaviors, becoming a rather depressing nexus of activity which, in time, guarantees that the dysfunctions persist.

The Typhoid Mary, for example, may have enlisted everyone into the shared delusion that he or she is a “master storyteller,” and that their game is a “great story.” If the others buy into reinforcing this notion, then they can’t violate it without (they think) hurting the central person. That’s why this behavior persists in the group, if it does.

Signs of this problem are easy, once you understand it – semi-hysterical repeating that the game’s story is so great, but it always seems to be some game in the past; crashing boredom and distraction at the table in actual play; social deferment to the central person in all kinds of ways (up to and including everyone sleeping with them, or thinking they’re about to!!); disdain for all other groups and all other games; and more.

The play itself contributes to these problems because it provides a shared mythology of how great it is, via edited memory, and it provides the crucial social environment in which the Typhoid Mary can exert total dominance. However, within this seemingly unified group, all the symptoms in the first paragraph above (“Dysfunctional” heading) can be observed.

In an attempt to be perfectly clear: Incoherence and CA-clashes do not have to be dysfunctional, but dysfunctional play observably arises from them consistently enough to be noted as such. It can, however, arise from other things as well, usually at the Social Contract level, like who’s screwing whom and stuff like that.

Do you have actual play examples that you can share that show this in action, or are your CA clashes so far in your past they're hard to clearly remember :)

“Do I have actual play examples …” Christ, man, I have a whole life-history littered with ruined relationships as actual play examples. Finding one isn’t the hard part, it’s finding one that isn’t outright traumatic to summarize. However, time has caught up with me, as I’m going to GenCon tomorrow morning. I will have to provide an actual play example another time, afterwards.

Best, Ron
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #33 on: August 08, 2006, 06:19:48 AM »


Hi Christopher,

This is about two different things: what the Big Model is saying, and judging other people.


I think Ben’s point about social esteem is … well, trivial. All social interactions occur in a medium, so saying that they require or take on certain aspects due to the medium seems, to me, like saying swimming takes on features because it happens in water. True but not, you know, really exciting unless you really want to engineer using hydrodynamics (or design a game).

Your comments on engagement scare me a little …

In my experience, what happens is the "wandering away" factor: people picking up magazines to read and so on. Or even waiting patiently for their "turn." Does the Big Model really have anything to say about or to these people -- if they are content?

See, I think you’re talking about way too many things as this vague “lack of engagement.” If you’re talking about people taking rests or scaling back their overt input as a means of facilitating others, as a means of collecting themselves or recharging, or as a means of enjoying what others are doing, then it’s all still engagement to me.

But I think you’re talking about really checking out, really not paying attention, in the sense of not even wanting to pay attention. If that’s the case, then

What if simply not being fully engaged with folks at the table for the duration of the session isn't a high priority for people. It may be incoherent, it may not be what you and I would like, but does it necessarily need to be "fixed"?

I’m getting a little nervous, or you’re getting too Californian, or both. I’m getting the idea that by “engaged,” or “fully engaged,” you are imagining everyone reaching into their core beings and gutting out brutal, wild, intense input, with everyone imagining what everyone else says in the most attentive, soak-it-up sense possible.

OK, I’m recovered. Let’s say we’re talking about an incoherent, wait-around, not-involved situation of play. Am I saying it needs to be fixed?

Nope. I’ll develop why not in a few more paragraphs.

How about this...

Although the Big Model is only about the activity of RPGs, isn't it actually about the choice to be fully engaged in a social group and a social activity? (The same way, when the pitcher is about to pitch, all the players on the field move as one to "get ready" -- they are engaged... Whereas, some employees, say, at a B&N, seem completely disengaged from their fellow employees and customers?)

No, the Big Model is about role-playing with the baseline assumption being that people are engaged as you describe in the baseball team. Its processes occur in the social context of that full engagement, sure. But geez … again, my response to that is “yes, and?” As in, OK, yeah, it’s in water. I was talking about swimming, and that’s where it happens, in the water.

… what is your view that the division between those who see it as a useful understanding of RPGs and those who don't is actually a difference of desire about what people want from what they do with their time with other people?

Umm, how to say this nicely? I think that’s too simplistic. I think the roots of resistance regarding the Big Model lie in two things:

1. Failing to grow out of the Geek Social Fallacies, in which case the Big Model is threatening for the reasons you’re describing – it cannot provide a haven from socializing, but is rather a thing to with (or when) socializing.

2. Failing to grow out of the Geek Hierarchy (a different variable!!), in which case the Big Model is threatening because different sorts of role-playing can no longer be parsed up into arcane little sub-cliques with complex status games among and within them, based on membership.

Both of these are separate from the far more localized, far more specific criticisms I have for “storytelling” issues in role-playing, which is a Narrativism-only issue, so I’d appreciate it if people didn’t mix that up. (faint hope …)


It’s not that tough, unless one buys into the Geek Social Fallacies. At the most basic level, we judge other people in choosing whether to spend time with them. Judging goes on all the time. I guess you’re talking about whether the Big Model is involved doing so.

Vincent is the least compromising of the theorists in this regard. He says, “I’m not interested in stupid play,” meaning play which fails to have group-level buy-in to one another’s enjoyment. (For some reason, everyone thinks Vincent is the nice one and I’m the mean one. But he’s really mean!!)

As for me, judging others really isn’t the point. Despite all the victimized rhetoric scattered ‘round the internet in reference to me, there are only a couple of things I really think are bad (presented below).

For instance, “non-engagement,” you wrote,

I assume that you think this is -- well, bad. And so do I. And yet -- I'm hard pressed to say exactly why. If not being fully engaged with someone is -- you know, okay... I don't want it. And from your writings, I know you don't want it.

See, there it is: because I don’t want it, doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. Not at all. If people want to do it, my outlook is, “Well, at least they’re not selling crack to kids,” and I move on. It’s not about whether their activity is good or bad.

I’ll tell you what I do think is bad in role-playing – dysfunctional group behaviors, like what I described for Caldis, above. They result in real damage to real people’s lives, in terms of emotions, disorders, money, careers, and life-choices. I’m not being alarmist – I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, and many people reading this post have seen it.

Another thing which is bad in role-playing involves personal maturation, consumerism, and effects on creativity, but as I demonstrated only too well in February, this topic is not for the internet.

But engagement, as a good or bad thing in general?

Because truth to tell, I think there IS something wrong with not being engaged. And I could not tell you why I think OTHER people should be engaged at the table as a group (like the baseball players on the field). The Big Model seems entirely designed to push people toward that kind of engagement. So, what are your thoughts on this idea that this, ultimately, is what the Big Model is all about? That The Big Model is simply the "medium" for being more engaged with the people around you, a commitment to the activity you're sharing with other, and, in fact, a philosophical point of view about how to conduct oneself as a human being?

Uh, hold on. The Big Model assumes that we’re talking about people who are engaged in the basic sense of “we’re role-playing together,” and not using that phrase as a mask over asocial huddling. I’m talking, in my essays and posts here, to people who buy into that from the start, myself included. I’m not talking to (or about) those who aren’t, no matter how much they self-identify as gamers and no matter how much they fill out character sheets and roll dice.

So no – it’s not as profound as all that. The Big Model does not push anyone toward anything. If someone who is currently not enjoying role-playing sees it, and then says, “Hey! I want some of that!!”, then bluntly, that’s a side-effect. My typical reaction is exasperation, as Jesse can attest, and it only becomes outreach when the person really tries. I am, however, such a sucker that after that point, I am willing to put forward some major effort. But that’s me, not the Model.

Maybe that’s the key to this point, and perhaps to your entire post – distinguishing between the Model itself, and me, the guy, who interacts with other people, and often in the context of discussing the Model.

The Model itself just sits there, although it constantly undergoes refinements and clarifications, and provides nifty new things to discover (e.g. the four authorities I just parsed out with Paul T). It does require a discourse community, and such communities benefit from an ongoign, academic-style induction/graduation process. I, as a person, participate in this discourse.

I, the guy, also practice some outreach about understanding the Model only because I am constitutionally incapable of ignoring people who face the same hassles I faced, or different ones which I think I might nonetheless understand.

But no, neither the Model itself nor I as a person are better understood by adding the outreach as a necessary feature, nor do I consider it a form of self-help as a fundamental goal of its (or my) existence.

As a sub-question to that: What about a group that simply doesn't care about social esteem? Have you observed such groups?

At first glance, this looks like metaphysical babble – what if I pick up a rock and it doesn’t fall?

On the chance that it’s not babble, I really need an example from you first, so I can understand well enough in order to sift my memory for examples of my own.

Your example, though, has to take the term “group” seriously. You can’t describe a mere aggregation of people. They have to be a group in the sense of doing stuff with one another, together, in a way that I can identify with.

I confess I don’t think you can do it. Even a few strangers standing in an elevator together display concern for social esteem, for instance, not farting loudly.

Overall, Christopher, I think I’ve been a bit dismissive to your points, for which I apologize. It may be a simple failure of vision and expertise on my part. As you know, I think humans are pretty easy to understand, contrary to the popular view that our identities and behaviors are too complex and ineffable for anything but awe. So when it comes to these more generalized or philosphophical points (or rather, philosophy that’s not material inquiry, my chosen professional sphere), I’m not very useful.

Best, Ron
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #34 on: August 08, 2006, 07:46:42 AM »

Hi Ricky,

Can you explain your thought process? More specifically, what clues did you look for to determine that the CA is Narrativism?

I hope some of my answers to Caldis helped, although they were phrased generally rather than specific to Levi’s game.

I don’t think just picking bits and pieces out of Levi’s posting is going to help you much. I already pulled quotes from his posts, to use in mine, extremely selectively, and similar chose portions to point out or make reference to.

Here’s what I suggest as a procedural outline, for you to use yourself. For a lot of different experiences, yours and other people’s, do this.

1. Find out who the players actually are. How old, genders, sibling or other family relationships, romantic connections (past and present), and other basic variables. Also, who’s recently joined or who’s recently left, how long the group has been running, how long it’s had its current organization (who’s GM, etc), where it meets, how often.

2. Consider which game is being played, and how long has it been played, what other games have been played, and, importantly, whether this set of characters is a new thing or a long-standing thing. Learn how invested the group is in this game – are they playing it because one guy begged, and they finally gave in? Or is it their best-beloved game they’ve been playing for twenty years? Or is it another in a string of games purchased in hopes that “this one will be good?” and similar.

3. Identify how at least one person, preferably more, speaks about enjoying the game. Look for statements of clarity or vagueness. (Contrast Levi’s clarity with Mike’s multiple self-qualifiers and backtracking in the Champions thread I referenced for Caldis.)  Make sure to cross-reference these accounts and descriptions with #1 and #2 above

4. Get an account of at least one full session. What happened to the characters, what they did, how it turned out, and so on. But also, what did the people do, how did they interact with one another, and what socially occurred, whether subtle or dramatic (hugs? arguments?). Look at the small-scale techniques employed in particular places and see if any are disconnected or weird relative to the others. Look also at the larger scale, of the events of this session and how they relate to sessions before and after.

5. At both scales described in #4, look at what the social rewards really are, and whether any rules-based rewards reinforce them (extreme correspondence vs. extreme disconnection are the trends). See whether the group as a whole buys into these rewards, or whether they’re individualized, or even isolated. Identify a reward cycle, which is to say, when a payoff demonstrably occurs and a new “round” of attention to what play will be about begins.

6. For purposes of clarity and curiosity, look for Drift relative to the textual rules. Does the group actually follow the rules in the book? If they don’t, do they say they do? If they say they do, do they insist the rules really say what they think they say? (very common in D&D, by the way) This step isn’t required, but it’s interesting because strongly-justified Drift may indicate a strong CA.

7. The time/play unit of Creative Agenda is a reward cycle. So it’d be best to observe more than one cycle, to see phenomena repeated and hence show themselves to be patterns (if they do).

8. Follow up with questions at any and all signals of denial, mumbling, unnecessary protestations; similarly, follow up with questions at all signs of triumph, excitement, mutually-socially positive reward, and similar. Pay strict attention to whether all statements of enjoyment are backed up by real play-events, or whether they are vague … and also ask how often such things happen.

Looking over all these things, use my bicycle race analogy that I talked to Levi about. Forget everything you think you know about “being a gamer” and “what role-playing is …,” and ask the extremely easy human question – what the hell are these people doing? What’s the freakin’ point?

You’ll either …

a) get an easy answer, which is to say they have a coherent and obvious CA (despite their protestations, which is common; they’ll claim they are “just” role-playing, or enthuse about getting into character or their setting, or whatever – for some reason, the only really honest-off-the-cuff role-players, about CA, tend to be the Gamists) (in practice, CAs are either Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist)

b) see that play is incoherent with a number of coping mechanisms or, perhaps, a certain low-level contentment that’s enough for them (although if you ask, “really?”, the answer is often “No! Actually I’m fed up!” even though the person just claimed he was soooo content about ten times, unasked)

or c) see that play is dysfunctional, that these people are borderline or over-the-line miserable, and that their so-called friendships mask a pit of really bad behaviors (although this doesn’t have to happen if their play is CA-incoherent, and it might be happening for totally social reasons, it never happens when their play is CA-coherent)

A couple of follow-up points …

It’s not about clues

I hate to disappoint everyone who’s looking for inductive, additive “proof” or “clues” about a given CA. I do think that if you follow and practice the above protocol, and if you really get the point about the bicycle races, then it’s easy, based on what humans do and what they want in the simplest of terms.

A coherent CA is not something you have to tease out and deduce from hidden, arcane signals and isolated, intermittent clues that only an expert can spot. It is glaringly obvious. All this huntin’ and peckin’ for clues is misplaced effort.

It’s not about percentages

I talked about this in one of the threads I linked to in my reply to Caldis, but I think it needs to be repeated here:

… From the very first day I posted System Does Matter, I was thinking about big ol' arcs of satisfaction and participation, and this fascination with "Bludgeon-Man hits Ultra-Weasel! Is that Gamist?" has kept tripping me up from all the way back then.

 … I suggest jettisoning instants as a direct Creative Agenda indicator. Yes, of course instances are composed of instants. I hope you can see that "instants" now have a name, specifically Ephemera, and the Big Model is built, in part, specifically to keep us from getting all hung up about Bludgeon-Man's action. We can recognize that Ephemera are often indicative, but also that we do not have to (and cannot) classify them individually by GNS and counting their little noses to arrive at a conclusion.

I also hope you can see that historically, I asked about all those "instants" from people, and still do, using this logic:

"What happened in that fight?"
"Bludgeon-Man hit Ultra-Boy! It was rad!"
"Why was it rad?" (answer)
"Did the GM or anyone else say anything?" (answer) ... and so on ...
... evolving eventually to things like "How does such an action factor into resolving stuff during play, with you guys? What sort of stuff? Does anyone sulk when that stuff comes up? Do people make suggestions about that stuff?" and so on.

I use these questions, the later one, to help the person evaluate the Creative Agenda, if any.

But I do not use this logic:

"What happened in that fight?"
"Bludgeon-Man hit Ultra-Weasel! It was rad!"
"Why was it rad?" (answer all about tactics and guts and ego)
"Oh, that's Gamist. So does that happen a lot?"
"All the time, except when we describe stuff or get involved in the whole family-issue thing."
"Ah, so if you have lots and lots of those, and they outnumber all those Sim and Narr instants, then the whole thing is Gamist."

I'll stick to my guns, this time. This really is an "all the way back to the beginning" point. Gamers' intense emotional reactions during moments of play, and their need either to be praised for them or called on whatever bullshit social-game they were playing at the moment, are very strong. They wanted to talk about that, and what I was trying to talk about was lost as we always hit upon fucked-up Social Contracts as revealed by those moments. So people rarely "graduated" to talking about any kind of play in terms of agenda as I wanted to discuss. Hundreds of threads, thousands of posts. It's been a long six years, man.

You didn’t ask anything about that issue, Ricky, nor even imply it. But my antennae are twitching suspiciously, such that I think at least a few of the readers out there are thinking it. So that was for them.

It’s not a zen thing either

I don’t have any mystical insight into anything. Nor do I have a little emotional meter I run over actual play, and if I like it, pronounce it “Narrativist.” Nor do I claim that anyone “just knows CA when they see it.”

I told Ricky that it was easy and that he’d just have to try doing it. That does not mean that it is inexplicable or ineffable.

When people get together to have creative fun by making stuff up, and if (unlike many self-identified gamers) they actually do it, then their shared agenda in doing so falls into easy types:

- They want to see who cuts the mustard and who doesn’t (for non-English speakers, that means who is impressive/competent)

- They want to celebrate a common ground of imagery, narrative, or proposition of some kind, by reproducing it and maybe subjecting it to modifications

- They want to author a story – note, not merely enjoy a story (they can do that with any of this), but to make a new one where before there was none

Doing any one of these isn’t hard to see, nor does it take special skills beyond knowing what scale of activity to look for, as I showed to Levi. He didn’t need any indoctrination into every damn page of the Forge Glossary. He didn’t need to drink any Kool-Aid. He didn't have to believe I'm a special person. He just had to point his gaze toward where I was indicating. His own understanding of humans did the rest.

I hope that helps, Ricky. Remember, if you want to run through any of your play-experiences with me in the fashion Levi just did, all you have to do is post. After GenCon, though, please.

Best, Ron
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #35 on: August 08, 2006, 09:05:27 AM »


Hi Joel,

I’m a little surprised at these questions, at first. They seem to hinge on Social Contract and fictional-transcript, with no focus on the techniques of play itself, except for a couple of Ephemeral bits.

Then I realized why you asked them - because Levi and I haven’t talked much about system-stuff yet, and so far have only really talked about Social Contract, fictional content, and Ephemeral bits. But that doesn’t leave System out of the mix. I have tons of points to make about it, and tons more to follow upon his answers to my questions about his reward mechanics.

I think you'll see whole constellation of stuff at that level which makes a difference between your two contexts for inter-player-character conflicts.

Therefore, my discussion with Levi really isn’t complete and my points about system and CA are not yet articulated to him, here in the context of our immediate dialogue. And for this thread really to be an effective library reference for the future, that has to happen.

Best, Ron
Levi Kornelsen

Posts: 210

« Reply #36 on: August 09, 2006, 11:33:21 AM »

Okay, first thing; here is that second draft, with the extra stuff.  It's still nine different kinds of rough and cranky, and I haven't shuffled any pages yet, just added stuff, but I figured I'd already been out of this discussion long enough, time to just put the damn thing up and get back in.

Now, then.

I hope it is not too traumatic to look in the mirror and say, "We are playing with a Narrativist Creative Agenda." 'Cause that's what it is, lock stock and barrel, without any complications or confusions.

Easy enough; given how much less of a directive it is than I'd assumed, the idea suits fine.  Given the CAs as written, and the nature of agenda as you've described it here, that pretty much suits our group right down to the ground.

If you have any questions about what incoherent play or dysfunctional play are, or how Creative Agenda relates to them, feel free to ask, although nothing of that sort applies to this group for the sessions you described.

I'm still kind of in hash-it-out mode on a lot of that stuff, but I'll come back to that when I'm done, if I'm still chewing on it.

You also might consider altering your example setting in The Exchange to focus on the thematically-rich conflicts it offers, rather than just the

There's just a touch of that among those new pages.  You'll see it.

Well, hold on, tiger. I do want to address that, but it couldn't be done until the whole Creative Agenda bugaboo got clarified. Didn't you know that I always said, CA (or GNS, whatever) is easy, and the real questions I want to discuss concern system? No one could have been more surprised than me to have the GNS thing turn into a tentacled monster that upset people at its very mention - I thought it'd be a big no-brainer and we could move on to talking about how role-playing, you know, functions.

Hey, I'm still frittering around with ways to explain what I'm looking at from this particular perspective and how to express that, possible other agendas, the nature of an agenda in general, better words than "agenda" ('cuz I really don't like "agenda", myself) and so on.  But I can torture-test all of that elsewhere, with help.

First thing: rewards
In the version I'm looking at, reward mechanics are very, very similar to those in Sorcerer. The point is not necessarily to make the character better at things, although this can happen to a small extent if you really want, but rather to re-position the character relative to existing or potential conflicts.

Sigh ... jargon alert. OK, a character in a role-playing game is always composed of three things: Effectiveness, Resource, and Positioning. The facts that a given number can do double-duty for more than one of these, or that in a given group some of these may be understood or simplified down to the bedrock, are not important. Without these in action, a character cannot exist as a part of the SIS. This applies for all role-playing, regardless of Creative Agenda, regardless of so-called crunchiness, regardless of anything else, yes, even for free-formers (who are not any such thing).

I also like to talk about Currency, which is to say, the means and rate by which "stuff" in these three categories gets traded off and switched around. Reward systems almost always concern Currency.

As a useful contrast, in the most familiar Gamist brand of role-playing, strategizing among options of Effectiveness and Resource is crucial, especially in the long term. One chooses one's race and class, one buys weapons and chooses spells with a specific eye toward efficiency, and one strategizes with (and occasionally against) fellow group members for purposes of acquiring new options, and thus a new platform to strategize from. That's pretty familiar, right?

Whereas in The Exchange, HeroQuest, and in Sorcerer, an increased point adds a modicum of Effectiveness, but the real oomph of that reward system is to nudge or angle the character into a different relationship with "what's going on" in any given way. I could give examples, but I am confident that if you, instead, listed the way every point was spent for every character, from the very beginning to the just-before-done bit (i.e. now), then we'd see exactly what I'm talking about.

Can you do that, maybe for your character during this particular scenario/story? Or anyone else's character? I'd like to see it.


For Andjagger, I think that in total, I've reworded two trait, created two new ones, and advanced traits about five times, as well as picking up an assistant (the magic sword).  It's been largely, but not solely, advancement to bigger stuff - but with "trait changes as stakes" in play, it doesn't feel so much like straight advancement.

One other point, which I think is most pronounced in Sorcerer, is that one important re-positioning is to remove the character from further conflicts. "OK, he's done," with the option to keep playing in some way or (if everyone's done) to finish up this particular game. This is such a functional and powerful feature of role-playing that we could have a whole symposium session on why it's so rare, and why the default seems to be "Your character dies so you can't play any more" instead, or why reward systems have traditionally assumed continuing play.

The reason I bring this up is that you guys clearly grasp that, in this Narrativist context, situations do get resolved, and the trenchant/potential themes (I call'em Premise) get answered. That's what you're calling a "season" in your post. But how does it strike you to permit a given character, within the context of a season, to have his or her issues "be done" and be removed? Or is it more suitable to say all the characters have to stick with the basic conflict of the scenario, hell or high water?

Really, it seems as if we're trying (not hard, but just a little) to keep characters running through the season so that they can change or leave or whatever at the end of the season instead of midway.  A mid-session dropoff for a character would just be a little much.

I'm not saying we'd never do that.  But I would be reluctant, and I believe that the other players would be too.

Second thing: Lumpley strikes


How's that work? I really wanted to show how the diversity you described in your first post is not even beginning to threaten or contradict the existence of a shared Creative Agenda, but rather is an expression of it to a significant degree.

Works just fine, for me, in those terms.
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