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Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion

Started by Josh Roby, October 02, 2006, 02:36:42 PM

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Ron Edwards


Joshua, you wrote,

QuoteI'm saying, in order to perform her job and to do it well, the GM has to participate in the game, and when the GM participates in the game, she fundamentally affects and limits the choices available to the players.  And this is a good thing.  It's collaboration, interaction, playing the game.  Because if the GM doesn't impact the game, if the GM doesn't impact the characters, if the GM doesn't impact the decisions that the players make, what the hell is the GM there for?

I agree. What I'm saying is that such activity is not Force. Force, as I defined it - in fact it's the other way 'round; we identified a phenomenon and named it Force - is:

one person takes control over another person's character's thematically-significant decisions

... which is not what you describe in that section I quoted. You are talking about a relevant and important form of input into the game. You are not talking about Force.

Hence, your stated question - does a Bang require the exertion of (some) Force? is answered: no.

Your implied question - does a Bang benefit from the input of a GM or GM-like person, often acting in terms of limits or parameters on the characters? is also answered: yes.

Now, regarding my Hero Wars example, I think you need to slow down and review its purpose. Don't fling it back in my face in the sense of "you asked me for detail when I asked you about Force, so now you give me some!!" I said, if you are asking whether Force is being exerted in a given situation, then give me lots of detail. If that were the purpose of my Hero Wars example, to "prove" to you that I exerted no Force, then I'd accept your counter-demand.

But it's not. The purpose of that example is something else entirely: to present a kind of interaction during play, between me and Tod, which I am asking you about. I'd like you to focus on that purpose. The question is whether you have engaged in such verbal interaction as shown by me and Tod, in your experiences of play.

Best, Ron

Josh Roby

The dual venues of discussion are starting to make my eyes cross.

I understand the question you were asking.  I was trying to clarify the place the question was coming from.  Which, not surprisingly, is also the basis on my present problem with the entire affair.  As long as the GM has control over how the question/issue/bang is framed, the GM has some control, from negligible to absolute, over the address of the bang.

Do I have a back-and-forth with other players during a game?  Absolutely.  Much of my gaming experience has been online, in which there's probably twice as much out of character chatter as there is in character.  Most of my current gaming is either convention games or playtesting, both of which all but require a significant amount of out-of-character discussion in order to function.  Full Light, Full Steam, occupying large parts of my brain right now, continually advises players to maintain open communication lines across the table whatever happens in the fiction, and has a number of places in the structure of game where such touching-base dialogue is required.

But what I'm not sure is what you were doing in your example with Tod.  Where you checking that you hadn't stepped on Tod's toes?  Were you checking to see if you had captured Tod's engagement?  Was Tod invoking an informal mechanic by which he placed a check on your narration rights?  Was Tod opening a space in which he would be able to make an entrance according to his idiom?  Dunno; not clear.

So do we talk at the table?  Well, yeah, that's the whole point.  Do we talk about the things that you were talking about in that short snippet of actual play?  Maybe?  I don't know what the subtext or the context was.
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Ron Edwards

Tell you what, I totally agree about the double venue, and I also think the rapid pace is counter-productive. I think that some of my statements are being missed and you may well agree in reverse.

If there is one single itty-bitty point I'd like you to consider, please see my response to the quoted material in the last post, the part where I say "yes" and "no." Let's pick up from there tomorrow.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Looking at it again, force almost seems as simple as trying to overide turn order - ie, another player basically trying to take your turn. Bangs don't really fall into that, because the line between GM's turn and players turn is pretty damn clear (BANG - your turn!).

Kinda felt that recently in recent world of warcraft comp game play (if that counts to any degree as AP). A top level character was walking us through a dungeon (no, I didn't really agree so much as just go along with this), when the text comes up "Dismiss your pet" (pets are monsters that assist you in combat). That was it. I asked why and some other party memember even commented with 'someones got an attitude problem'. Basically it irked me because why not just play my character for me? It wasn't advice, it was an instruction as what to do with my turn. Yeah, 'turn' is a little fuzzy in real time play, but I think you get what I mean.
Philosopher Gamer


Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on October 02, 2006, 05:42:25 PMRaven, that's where I lean.  I don't see Bangs and Illusionism as apples and oranges on the same level.  I see Bangs, a technique, like cogs and levers; I see Illusionism, a mode of play, like a way to operate a machine.  It seems to me that Bangs can be used in Illusionist play without much fuss.

Joshua, I think you rushed through reading my distinction, because we aren't leaning in the same direction.

Bangs can not be used in Illusionist play because Bangs, by nature, break the fundamental property of Illusionism: they demand the GM not decide what the situation's outcome or effect upon the game actually be.

The term "plot hook" is an excellently descriptive term of the similar-seeming Illusionist thing: it literally hooks you into the plot. "Look, Old Jed was killed! Obviously, we have to find his murderer and bring him to justice!"

That's why I made the distinction with the very important statement "come what may from it". That's the lynchpin of the whole thing right there. Bangs don't hook you into the plot, they let you create "the plot" (to put it crudely). You can ignore the event or follow-up on it any way in which you desire, "Jed? Whatever." or "Jed?! Noooo! I track down his killers and make them pay." or "Jed? I hear he buried treasure under his house. Now it's free for the taking!" or "Jed? Yeah, I killed that old bastard for kidnapping my wife."

Special note: with the last one, the statement being true or false is unimportant; that's the player's reaction and stance, and come of it what may. The GM might say "Oh, wow, ok!" and run with it, abandoning his previous thoughts, or might say, "Cool, but he really didn't. But now everyone THINKS he did." and follows through with events stemming from the player's desire to have his character be seen as the killer.

All sorts of talk might spring from this (or not):
"Does your character really believe he's the killer?" The answer is the player handing the GM great fodder for the game, all sorts of questions to be asked and answered.
"No?! Oh, he just wants to get a bad rap and use that to get an recruitment visit from the gang he's chasing." More fodder, pushing the game in an entirely different direction.

Or whatever.

There is no plot to be hooked into.

So, Bangs are not simply "introducing a situation" or even "introducing an interesting situation". I know, lots of people think that's what they are; the name sounds like that's what they are; gamer tradition reinforces that's what they are. But all that misses a key component of what a Bang is. It isn't just "Oh wow! Incredible! What an event! I must react!"

Think of it like this: introducing a situation, even an interesting situation, is a component of a Bang -- it's only a piece of a larger object, like the tongue of a shoe and not the heel or laces. Because you have those other bits, the "you don't get to control or decide where this goes" bit, it causes a great amount of fuss in Illusionist play, because Illusionism is all about "This is where it goes".
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards


I need to stomp on one thing right away - Raven, it's really easy to bring in stuff about re-inventing or inventing back-story on the fly, because once you take the red pill about that, it's hard not to proffer it when the opportunity arises. But in this discussion, about Bangs and Illusionism, it's tangential ... and has enough overwhelming scare-power to readers to dissolve their attention to the topic at hand.

Joshua, here's my current call: you're posting too fast. And furthermore, you're operating in a between-site mode of posting that I really hate - hate to do, and hate to see happening. It's inimical to thought. If you'd like to continue this discussion, and if you'd really like to see your thread title validated, I'll do it. But confusion cannot be beaten down in an environment of frenzied posting and double-screen performance.

Have this conversation with me, here, slowly. Nowhere else, and not fast. We may go back to one of your play-examples, only one of which we barely managed to touch upon. We may go back to my yes-statement and my no-statement, which at this point I have zero trust that you actually read, in the sense of "to read" that I value. We may dance the hula. The point is, only here, slowly. No more of this internet-bullshit.

If you're up for that, I am.

Best, Ron

Josh Roby

Ron, I'm pretty skeptical of the value of continuing the exercise.  It seems obvious that "Force" is a synonym for "bad" and "bangs" for "good."  When such moral judgements are so embedded in the discourse, it's almost impossible to discuss things rationally.

I mean, how many people have tried to tell me something to the effect of "bangs are different cause you don't know how the player will react?!?" which is pretty much an assumed given and not addressing at all what I was saying?
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Quote from: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2006, 08:28:28 AMI need to stomp on one thing right away - Raven, it's really easy to bring in stuff about re-inventing or inventing back-story on the fly, because once you take the red pill about that, it's hard not to proffer it when the opportunity arises. But in this discussion, about Bangs and Illusionism, it's tangential ... and has enough overwhelming scare-power to readers to dissolve their attention to the topic at hand.

Ron, that was my point. I don't know if I didn't write it clearly enough, or you swept through it too quickly, but what you just said, is what I said or was trying to say.

I was trying to avoid the whole scare-situation you mention by bringing it up-front as a non-issue, because the red pill was also looming large in my mind as a (all too typical) counterpoint/point-of-confusion. "No control? So the players control everything?" "No. They could, they don't have to. Let's just look at how it works when you have authority over the back-story and the player says something that contradicts it."

Hence the statement about truth/falsehood of the player's statement not mattering, because we aren't talking about the player making up setting details or background on the fly. Yes, we could be, but we don't have to be. Whether or not the player does, or the GM does, it doesn't matter. If the GM has authority over the background/the setting elements, that's fine, it doesn't matter. It's a red herring. So let's say we aren't, and deal with that: so the player says, "I'm the killer!" and you didn't expect this, because he's not, what do you do? Etc.

By this, I was trying to show that the Bang functions by the GM not pre-planning or investing himself in the outcome or effect of the Bang on the game. "Jed is dead" is not a Bang if it is accompanied by, "Now, the players have to track down his murderer and discover the clues that lead to this other thing I have set up over here." or even just, "And now the players/characters will be really sad."

And Joshua, "bangs are different cause you don't know how the player will react" is not what I'm saying. I don't know what's happening elsewhere with this conversation, but with me, here, I'm not saying that. In fact, I agree, the statement you provide is obviously a given; but that's not how they're different: Bangs are different because you can't decide how YOU will react (or what you want to react to).

Do you see the difference? Do you see why (as such) they don't work with Illusionism?

(If there's still some problem with what you believe you are asking/arguing and what I am responding to/you think I am saying, obviously we are crossing wires somewhere.)
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards


Raven, please give some room.

Joshua, the choice is yours, as it always was. I'm going to speak harshly for a second. At present, I think you're responding primarily emotionally. I'm pretty sure that my posts are going essentially unread, in any critical sense. Here are two examples.

1. I've described, for example, a form of play in which Force is a fine thing. Yet your latest post insists that my definition is a negative value judgment. What can I make of that?

2. I've also written in detail how your basic point - "the GM must participate decisively in Bang-driven play" - is fully correct. Yet you protest that this very point is being ignored. What can I make of that?

Clearly I am unable to communicate with you at this time, and you are missing the fact that I am fully on your side in this conversation. If we were face to face, looking at a printout of the posts, I could maybe help. As is, I'm pretty sure I can't unless you take a different approach to posting.

Best, Ron

Josh Roby

Ron, I considered just shooting this to you in a PM, but I get annoyed with other folks take things behind a black curtain.  So understand in the following that I'm more than a little frustrated on a number of levels, both with you personally and with the community at large.

Two numbered responses to your two numbered questions.

1. Ron, you may have noticed that there are more than the two of us in this conversation.  So my good/bad summary in the last post should not be assumed to be a firehose hitting everybody.  The general sense that I have had hammered over my head after asking a simple question is THOU SHALT NOT QUESTION THE DOGMA, and let me tell you, it's been really disappointing.  I have been trying, since the beginning to talk about techniques, actual procedures done at the table, and I have got a big heaping serving of manifesto in response.  I know what all these bits and pieces are supposed to do; I'm trying to talk about what they actually do.  Apparently I am off my rocker for suggesting that current game design might not be perfect engineering.

2. As long as "Force" is "the GM reaching over and taking complete control of your character at the moment that you make a significant decision," then sure, Ron, you're totally right.  You're also, I'm thinking, roleplaying with screaming assholes.  Every time I try to engage with your definitions and your game design concepts, I'm told that the concept doesn't apply there, and it in fact is only applicable to a sort of situation which I can only describe as horrific emotional carnage.  Over and over, the body of Big Model theory retreats further away from how I and every person I know plays until it covers only this spare little remnant ofgibbering psychos.  So while I have found a great deal of what you've written to be incredibly inspirational to how I play, when I try to actually talk about it, I'm told that, apparently, the people that I play with aren't big enough dicks to qualify.  What use is all of this if it only applies to people I'm not playing with in the first place?

So there isn't currently a term for when the GM uses his massive authority to affect change in the fiction, frame and contextualize the question of the premise, and basically set play in motion.  This is an essential element of GM-led roleplaying.  Does Big Model just not address it?  I really don't know what part of Big Model addresses any of my play.
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Ron Edwards


Those are good questions. I'd like to remind you that I respect you and have always treated you with my utmost attention. I follow your blog with interest and look forward to Full Light Full Steam. I am not just blowing sunshine up your ass when I say that. I am asking you, instead, to consider that as the unshakeable foundation for this discussion. Your work on that is the reason this site exists.

Now, I think that we need to work together in this thread. You titled it in a way I really like - it says that you trust me to clear up some confusion. Can we work with that? I say "yes" to that trust and recognize it as a responsibility to take your feelings seriously, as well as your ideas. I absolutely promise that I'm not saying "thou shalt not question the dogma." I also promise to consider the questions you just asked as our reason for posting. This is Actual Play after all, and I closed those other two forums in the hopes that this would be the new, real theory forum.

How about a "yes," tentative as it may be, for those two promises? We'll go to the heart of your questions. There's lots of time, days and days if we need it, no need to rush or pump out every bit of reaction as we go. That was my mistake, yesterday, and I'm sorry.

Best, Ron


Hey Joshua,
I've been a fan of your posting since pretty much when you first started posting here.  When I see you've posted to a thread I'll typically read it just to see what you had to say, even if its not a thread I'd previously followed closely.  Many times I've thought about posting to a thread only to decide "no need, Joshua already covered that".

I offer that not as some random compliment, but just as a preface to the following:  For this thread, for this discussion, for these last couple of posts, and for the parallel story games thread....I've no idea whatsoever what you're talking about or what you're getting worked up about.  Clearly you have some items you want very much to discuss, and clearly you're not getting the level of engagement you hoped to get.  But I have to wonder if you're actually laying all the cards on the table on the topic you actually want to discuss...because from what I've seen in these thread...we have engaged in what you've actually said and brought up...asked and answered (several times) and not in a dogmatic or manifesto manner either (I'm rather disappointed to see you go there actually).  Every issue you've raised has been addressed as clearly as I've seen it addressed, so I'm wondering if there is some other issue that you've been prodding around but not explicitly getting to that's what you really want to talk about.

As far as Force goes I don't think its what you're really trying to get to.  It sounds like you've got an important concept that you're trying to articulate and you've grown attached to thinking of that concept as "Force" and are now running into trouble when it turns out that "Force" doesn't mean what you thought it meant.  So perhaps its best to just shelve this whole notion of "Force" (which actually IMO is a pretty straight forward concept) and get to talking directly about the actual concept that piqued your interest.

Is it possible that what would really be the productive conversation to have is about the role of GM input into narrativist play; what the GM's job is; and what techniques a GM can use that allow them to actively participate in the creation of thematic loaded story without blocking the players from doing the same?  That seems to me to be what you're really eager to discuss in the Story Games thread yet getting perpetually sidetracked into Force and Illusionism.  

Ron Edwards

I support your points fully, Ralph. I hope you can see that I'd really like it to be just me and Joshua for a bit. Only for a bit.

Best, Ron

Josh Roby

Clear and rational discussion?  That's not a flavor of discourse I turn down.  So yes and yes.

So here's what I'm wondering after:
Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on October 02, 2006, 02:36:42 PMWhat I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.  Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game?  Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?

And for contextual reference, here's a snippet of Sorcerer that is part of what led me down this path:
Quote from: Sorcerer p77-78In order to get to the Bangs if the players are being dense, or if the GM is letting them flounder around, the GM should begin to ask leading questions or remind them of things they might check out.  Every group is a little different in terms of how much prompting they need...

The really fun part is the final Bang.  It's especially easy if your Sorcerer game is on the violent side.  Envision a climactic set piece, stealing shamelessly from any movie or comic or book you like.  ...(examples, gargoyles, motorcycles, etc)... The nice thing about well-planned set pieces is that they are the only times during the run when all the characters have to be in the same place at the same time. ...

Bangs are well and good, but how to get to them efficiently?  The GM's most crucial role during play is to dictate scene transitions: in other words, to say, "All right, everyone, you all get out of there and go home.  The next morning..."  The way to pace right is to know exactly what each scene is supposed to acheive.  If the point is merely to get some information across, don't make the characters wait and suffer for it, and do end the scene once they've got it.  If the point is to get across town, there's no need to throw in a bar fight along the way.

Which is all nifty advice.  I can see how none of this is "Force" if Force is taking away thematically significant decisions from the other players.  But this is some level of power disparity, and to my eye the contextual power that the GM has far outweighs the power of the players to freely address the premise.  The largest part of the GM's power in such a schema seems to me to be the power to determine what is and is not a thematically significant decision.

To rope this back into actual play, in the FLFS and TSOY examples, the GM is using some powerful tools to present complicated, weighty, significant decisions to the players.  Which is awesome.  In FLFS, the GM (me) decided when to escalate the situation, which determined when the significant decision took place.  In TSOY, the GM (Judson) used some 'leading questions' as Ron suggests to get me to the second half of the tough decision.  If the GM is using these powers to determine now is the time to make a thematic decision, not beforehand and not after, how is that not a little taste of totally productive Force?
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Ron Edwards

Hi Joshua,

Spot me one thing ... whatever it is (and I can answer that, I'm holding off for a minute), it ain't "Force." I can't get to the good part of the conversation if you keep phrasing your question with Force in it. You have said,

QuoteI can see how none of this is "Force" if Force is taking away thematically significant decisions from the other players.

Great! That means we have thrown "Force" out the window for purposes of the discussion. It's gone. We're not talking about it. We're talking about the other thing which I can break down for you, but for me, every repetition of the term "Force" drags me back to the beginning and undoes everything we've communicated about. I was all set to answer your questions about GMing, but man, that "Force" just re-appeared in your last line of the last post, and I see red again. At this point, it's like a sharp stick poking me.

"None of this is Force," you say. Good. It's not. We agree. Let's talk about the thing you want to talk about, and we'll never say Force again in this conversation. "The thing" is something else.

I'm not stalling. I am totally ready to answer your questions, fully and without any ambiguity. But the air must be clear.

Everyone else, shut up, for God's sake. Can't you see Joshua cannot stand to have more than one person answering at once, at this time?

Best, Ron