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Author Topic: [Distant Horizon] Rules that support Simulationism  (Read 1869 times)
Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« on: October 16, 2008, 01:28:38 AM »

Normally when I am working on Distant Horizons I do not think too much about Creative Agendas, I just try to make the game so it match my vision for it. But I can not help to think, that what I am trying to do with Distant Horizons, is to make a game that both support the Sim and Nar CA. I am not an expert in GNS, but I feel that I have a good understanding of how to structure rules that support Gam and Nar. On the other hand I am a bit lost when it comes to how to structure rules for Sim play.

So I am interested to hear if there is someone who has some idea of how I could structure rules and game procedures to support better Sim play in Distant Horizons (or maybe just how it could be done for rpgs in general).

Here is a short description of Distant Horizon (from a earlier thread about Distant Horizons)
Quote
Distant Horizons is a game about adventuring and exploring. It is about people who are going out into the world to discover new things, to see places only very few (if any) have seen before, and to overcome the challenges they have to face during their travelings. But it is also about people who can not find themselves at home anywhere, and about how they change as an effect of what they experience in the world around them. And it is the question: at the end of their journey, can they find a place they can feel at home.

The characters are people who for some reason or other have left their home, or have never had a home,  and therefor is in a state of searching which make them ever restless. They may not really know what they are searching for, but if they keep looking they hope they will some day find it.

The setting of the game is not well defined, but it have to be a world with a lot of unexplored areas, the characters then can get an opportunity to explore. I normally imagine the setting as an fairytale like fantasy world, but I really want the group to define their own basic ideas for the world they want to explore.

The game center around what I call the exploration map. This is a map which shows the basic features of the world (or lands) the characters are going to explore. In the beginning of the game the map should be mostly empty, and it will then be filled out during the game as the characters travels around to new places. The players will draw the new places on the map as the characters explores them.
(To get a more complete description, go to the thread I link to above)

Just so you know, my understanding of Simulationism is the joy of exploring and enriching the fiction of the game for its own sake, without any "out of fiction" agenda like presenting you (the player) with a challenges or moral issues. I am not 100% sure this is right, so anyone is welcome to correct me.

There is one thing I want to ask of people before you answer. If you do not feel that you have a good grasp on the GNS theory, please answer with a concrete experience, you will call simlike, that you have had in a game, and thy to explain what happen at the table that produced that experience.

 - Anders

Ref:
Earlier Distant Horizons thread
Frank's summary of the Big Model
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2008, 01:47:47 PM »

Hey, this seems like a pretty interesting game. It also seems like it's not so much a hybrid N/S as low-burn narrativistic, sort of like they recommend playing 3:16: I could easily imagine going into this in a relaxed manner, doing all sorts of little adventures and just having the reward cycles be relatively long - the turning points of the experience would be when my character decides to stay, decides to leave, decides to stay but has to leave, decides to leave by has to stay... so effectively each location-based bit is an extended build-up for the premise-based choices. Pretty solid narrativism, that.

That being said, you could well make a simulationistic game out of this sort of thing as well. One approach I've found fruitful in understanding simulationistic play is the simile of the slot machine: many simulationistic games provide enjoyment by allowing a player to slot in a character (coin) into a situation (slot-machine) and then utilize a set of rules (hit the button) to see what happens in the fiction (wait for the slots to stop). The enjoyment comes from seeing how the semi-controllable process provides new variant outcomes. (Note that there is similar forms of fortune-based gamism, too. The difference is mainly in whether the player is invested in enjoying the process or winning the prize.)

For example, the Finnish adventure roleplaying game called Praedor does this slot machine simulationism really well: the players each create for themselves a colorful praedor, a ruins-robbing adventurer, with all sorts of fancy background descriptors, problems, a social class and so on. Then they're all sent into Borvaria, a magical hell that few return from. The enjoyment of playing the game in this simulationistic manner (it's an awfully incoherent game that supports gamism well, too) comes from seeing how the pansy nobleman and the cynical, alcoholic, one-armed veteran praedor fare when they try to pry valuable jewels from the heads of god-idols or whatnot while avoiding monsters. The game works essentially like a pinball machine: the pay-off comes from operating the Borvaria world-machine and then seeing that oh, fancy that, the ponce came out with a bag of gold while the veteran lost another arm.

Another useful simile for simulationistic games comes from adventure computer games - certain sorts of participationist simulationistic games work by offering the player side of the equation a very computer-gamey play environment. By this I mean that instead of really controlling the flow of play, the player controls the focus of his own attendance: the GM really has most of the power in which scenes get played, what happens to the characters and so on, but the player has complete control over how slow or fast the game proceeds. This is exactly like Lucasarts/Sierra -style adventure games from the '80s and '90s: the player essentially has no control over anything, except that he can decide which room in the game the character goes to, and he can click on things in the game to read closer descriptions of them. And what's best, the GM can adapt to your meanderings, so instead of hitting a wall by going in the wrong direction, you can develop the essentially linear play experience to emphasize the things you find interesting. The point is that the player controls his audience experience, but not really the events of play.

As an example of this sort of simulationism, consider Dread (the Jenga one): the GM has an explicit plot flowchart and the characters are half pre-created to slot into the story, so one might question what the role of the players in the process are. The simple answer is that the players are interactive audience who determine the exact contents of the performance piece. They can ask questions and situate their characters to get different details out of the experience: the difference between getting a short description and a long one is in asking the GM to tell more. The difference between getting the evisceration scene now and getting it later is in letting your character go out alone and failing your Jenga pull. The difference between an event being significant or insignificant is in having your character freak out over it instead of ignoring it.

A third sort of simulationism is based on explicit, shared setting appreciation. This is probably not very relevant for you here, but it's a very common style of game design historically. The idea in that sort of game is to enjoy interacting with other people with the same interests - it's fun to have a geek-off with the other fans of the property and build something together simply by utilizing your respective knowledges of the setting. It resembles Capoeira a lot, as both practices depend on the practitioners knowing the common rules and playing by them - a capoeirista could easily hurt his sparring partner or himself if both dancers didn't know what they're doing and know how to answer the moves the other is making.

An example of this sort of thing is Planescape, which I'm choosing because I've been idly reading through the Planescape books from the '90s lately. Most of the Planescape materials are simply setting fiction written with the intent of familiarizing the players more and more deeply with the workings of the game setting, the city of Sigil. The materials are explicitly written from the viewpoint of the player who wants to play his character better by knowing more about the environment his character operates in. Sure, there is a bunch of adventure hooks and such scattered all over, but most of the time the environment is given statistics based on in-setting logic, not any sort of adventuring viewpoint.

--

Is this sort of discussion useful, or should we look closer into specific techniques of play that are used in simulationistic games? What sort of simulationistic processes are you seeing in Distant Horizons? Any guesses about the reward cycles the game sets up?
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Anders Larsen
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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2008, 11:20:23 AM »

Quote
It also seems like it's not so much a hybrid N/S as low-burn narrativistic.

You are probably right in this characterisation of the game. That you can have a lot of play that could be described as sim-like, where you explore the setting, but there is some over-aching nar-reward too. When I see it this way, I think it is important to have a good support for the sim part. When I played 3:16 I saw it as a very gamist game (I only played it for a few hours, so I did not get the long term idea of the game), and that would probably not had been a very good game if it did not support gamist play very well.

I have not thought too much about a reward system for this game yet, but I do not think of this game as having a strong reward cycle. It is not that you get rewarded any kind of point that you can use to advance your character. But of cause there are some reward of playing the game:

* The more you use a element of the story/setting (Reintroducing NPC, character background etc.), the stronger will your relationship become with that element. This will also have a mechanical effect if you use that element in a conflict.
* The long-term reward cycle is the character's story. How the character begin to realise more and more about himself, and how that affects the decisions he make.
* There should also be a more "fussy" reward for the players, to experience in what ways the GM utilise the story elements the players have provided themselves.

It is the last point I see as being the Sim one.

I like your descriptions of different kind of simulationism styles. I think that the "Praedor" example is the one which come closest in style of what I have in mind for Distant Horizons. I am going for a play-style where the character are plugged into interesting situation, and then players can have fun with seeing how their characters will react to that.

But I am after more concrete technique, if it is possible to describe more concrete technique as supporting sim. For instance is it possible to make an resolution mechanic that will enhance the sim-feeling of exploring the setting? I know this is s big question, but if it is possible to give an example of something like that, it would be nice.

 - Anders
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2008, 07:49:24 PM »

Freaky how similar the goals you describe are to my game in development, Eleanor's Dream. It's about adventuring in the dreamland and growing up, and has all this stuff about interactions with the denizens strengthening relationships and so on. It's also interesting that I thought of my game as a sim/nar hybrid until I discussed it at length with Ron Edwards in Stockholm, at which point he basically said that he wasn't seeing any sim elements in it. I had to reluctantly agree; although I was putting a lot of attention into

Also consider Trollbabe here, it's a finished game with some very similar aesthetics and goals.

Anyway, concrete technique: if you want the players to pay attention to the weather and the season, have these matters influence the situation; perhaps the length of day, rain and sleet affect the safety and comforts of travel. If you want strange customs and cultural details to be created and used, formalize it and provide some small benefits for being considerate of the cultural mores of others. In general, if you want the players to focus on some particular facet of the setting, provide rules that allow the players (not necessarily characters) to interact with the setting in those terms. The weather only matters in a rpg if it influences the situation elements of play in a concrete manner.

Also note that there is no general "exploring the setting" in a comprehensive manner, there are only different ways the setting manifests itself in playing through rpg situations, and those setting profiles are what the players can explore and interact with. So by choosing the procedures play goes through you also choose the sort of setting exploration the players do.

Also, about reward cycles: all enjoyable games, by definition, have some sort of payoffs and expectations thereof (the reward cycle is composed of players knowingly striving towards some sort of payoff). They are not necessarily mechanical, and often have nothing to do with making your character more powerful.
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David Berg
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« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2008, 01:00:39 PM »

Anders,

Most of my past play experience has been in Sim games, and I am currently trying to design one.  Let me just open this post by saying that I do not intend to speak for Simulationism The CA, but rather for the subset of it that I particularly enjoy.

The point of playing is to contribute meaningfully, moment to moment.  For me this means:

1) Permission to contribute -- narration techniques and responsibilities are clear.  Everyone at the table has participation options that are sufficient for fun.  I know what I can say.  I know when I can open my mouth, and this is frequently enough (for me, nearly constantly) to keep me engaged.  (My personal taste is to provide tons of color for every place & event imagined.  In-game developments come slower in real-time, but are more vivid.)

2) Inspiration to contribute -- characters, locales, brainstorms, mad libs, lists of setting cultural customs, requirments, rules for interacting with other players' statements, and on and on and on.  This game uses different colored dice to prompt specifics in narrating task resolution.  This game generates colors and words pre-play to be picked at random during play and applied to setting description.

3) Having my contribution valued -- thus, "meaningful."  It's easy to observe the opposite -- one player says something that they find entertaining (e.g. character speech revealing backstory) and the other players zone out and wait till it's over.  When contributions are valued, it often goes unremarked, with play remembered mostly as "smooth" and "flowing" and "just plain fun."  Reward systems, appreciation tokens, group buy-in to a theme (a la Eero's Capoeira), explicit in-game or metagame goals, inspiration (as #2 above) provided along very specific lines, etc.  This is the one I find hardest to engineer -- in my gaming, this has usually been resolved 100% socially, with no reference to rules or texts.

So, if you want to structure rules and procedures to support Sim play, that's what I'd shoot for: Clarify who can say what and when, inspire contributions appropriate to your vision of Distant Horizons, and provide some context for group agreement on when someone's made a good contribution.

Having read your game description, I know what would hook me: the desire to find out "What's out there?"  A map is an awesome opportunity to snare curiosity and set up a nice cycle of questions and answers.  I recently discussed doing that in my game here.  So, my attempts to inspire and validate contributions would be based on strong, colorful, inquisitive interactions with the new and mysterious.

"Utilise the story elements the players have provided themselves" sounds great.  That's one of my favorite ways to have my contributions validated.  What kinds of story elements do you want them to provide?  How will you help or inspire them to do this?  How will the GM then utilise these in such a way that the players know it?

Hope this was useful,
-David

P.S. Eero, the structure of the story progression made me see Eleanor's Dream as "probably Nar", but I'd happily use the dreamer-dreamworld interaction as the basis for some good Sim.  Smiley
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Anders Larsen
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2008, 11:13:03 AM »


Quote
"Utilise the story elements the players have provided themselves" sounds great.  That's one of my favorite ways to have my contributions validated.  What kinds of story elements do you want them to provide?  How will you help or inspire them to do this?  How will the GM then utilise these in such a way that the players know it?

I am thinking about a mechanic that centers around "story elements" written on pieces of paper. Story elements can be NPCs, events, places, objects, feelings/moods and other stuff like that. Both the GM and the players can create these elements, and they can later be used in the resolution mechanic. Another advantage with these elements is that you can have ownership of them, which means that it is something that are very important to your character. But ownership can be challenged and threatened.

The most important phase in the game where the players creates story elements is when the characters are ready to travel to a new place on the map. The players each write down a story element of something they what to see at that place. The GM should then use those elements when he creates the new place. If the GM can not find any way to tie all the elements together and still make something interesting, he have say so as soon as possible, so the player can make a new element. The elements will normally be very concrete, so the players will know when their contribution is used (liken an NPC or a certain object).

I have tried to play with some ideas for how to implement some of the techniques you describes:

* The players can (in some cases) add extra aspects to the story elements - also elements created or owned by the other players. In this way you can both add extra color, and show interest in other peoples story elements.

* You get some reward when other people use an element you have created (I am not sure I like this one).

* Descriptions from the environment can be used in the resolution system. If something happens in a forest on a rainy day, and you play character who are used to be in a forest in all kind of weather, he can use that to get an advantage over people who are not used to such conditions. A culture may also have certain descriptions that you can use in the same way. Like maybe "strongly religious", "proud", "born warriors" and so on. The players could also have the possibility to add descriptions to the environment they can use.

(This actually look very much like aspect from Spirit of the Century.)

Is this something that looks interesting from sim-play point of view? I have not thought long about all this, so you are more than welcome to come with suggestions.

 - Anders

(Eero, is it possible to get hold of Eleanor's Dream somewhere?)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2008, 01:33:04 PM »

You can probably find a playtest document for Eleanor from the game design forum here if you search last year's worth or so of my posts - I introduced the project in length here at some point. Since then I've let the game rest for nearly a year, and am only now going back to it with reneved strength. Ideally it'll be finished this coming spring; I kinda want to get the grant money I've been promised for getting the game done, so I have an ulterior motive for getting the game done this side of the singularity.

More about the rest later...
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David Berg
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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2008, 09:16:13 PM »

Anders,

That sounds like a fun dynamic.  I definitely see enough potential to give it a shot! 

I bet its smoothness will depend in part on how you organize play phases -- "When we stop portraying our characters and write down story elements," for example.

I think one key to eliciting usable contributions will be constructing prompts.  That is, when it's time for me to contribute a story element, what am I referring to?
- other people's elements, already introduced
- other people's elements, not yet introduced
- the needs of the story (as I see them) right now
- the needs of the story (as I see them) long term
- what logically makes sense to me, based on what's been established in the fiction
- a specific genre
- a written suggestion
- a written requirement

And on and on, or combinations, etc.  I think it might be useful to get everyone on the same page about some things, and maybe divide responsibilities for other things.  Like, maybe you've got some list of story elements that includes "antagonist", and if no one happens to volunteer one by a certain point, you assign "come up with an antagonist" to someone.

As for getting on the same page, this thread has some good examples of the kind of stuff I like to consider.

As for rewarding people for contributing or using story elements, I can't think of an elegant way to do it, but I agree that encouraging strong interaction with the environment is ideal.  My inclination would to be to either reference very specific, limited-use character strengths ("good at climbing wet trees"), or find specific ways to interface with one of a very small number of broad things that define a character ("outdoorsy").  As for how to reference them, maybe descriptive character elements could produce prompts for story elements?  Like, when I write, "good at climbing wet trees" on my character sheet, I also write "something wet and tall" on a scrap of paper for the Story Element Springboard pile?

Feel free to redirect me if I've missed something important in focusing on these details...
-David
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Anders Larsen
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« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2008, 02:13:27 PM »


Quote
I bet its smoothness will depend in part on how you organize play phases -- "When we stop portraying our characters and write down story elements," for example.

I have an idea for how to organize the story of the game into phases:

* Planning to explore a new place (the players here create story element for the new place they want to explore).
* Travelling to that place (The player can use travelling time to strengthen their relationship to various story elements).
* Exploring the place, and the problems they find there (the players here use the various story element in conflicts and adventuring)
* Resting after an exhausting adventure (The players can get rid of their characters' stress and finalize troubled relationship with elements)
This cycle will continue until the game ends.

Quote
As for getting on the same page, this thread has some good examples of the kind of stuff I like to consider.

This is very interesting. It give me a good idea of what you find important. Unfortunately you describe something there that do not fit my vision of Distant Horizons, and that is what you call Functional Conceit (I normally call setting physics). I like Distant Horizons to work more on a story level. So for example a sword does not have a high mechanical value just because it is sharp and well balanced. On the other hand, a sword that is tied to an interesting story like: "Was owned by a ancient hero and is destined to kill the evil witch king," has much higher value in the mechanics, even though it may be a heavy, rust infected piece of scrap metal.

Do you think that this will be a problem when trying to get the feeling of simulationism? Do you feel you need to have a proper emulation of the setting physics?

On the other hand, some of the other thing you mentions, like Taboos, Conventions and Motifs are very interesting, because they help to keep the setting consistent, and I can see that could be important in Distant Horizons.


After having thought about all this for a while I got an idea for a resolution mechanic, that may have a sim feeling, but still doing what I need a resolution mechanic to do in this game. I can see ways of making this mechanic with both dice and playing cards, but I will explain the dice version.

Story elements are the basic resource in the mechanic. All story element can have aspects, that further defines them, and give them more mechanical strength.

The characters have some story elements tied to them, that are called background elements. These are small stories that describe what experiences the character has. This can be something like: "I lived in a forest for a year by myself, to hide from the people who was after me", "I guided travelers over the mountains in all sorts of weather", "Most of my early adult life was one battlefield after another, fighting for the king". These background elements both indicate some skills that the character has, and an environment the character is used to.

To the different story element there are tied a type of dice. Background elements have d8, while other story elements have d10 or d12. An element also has a numeral value that shows how strong it is (how important it is in the story). When you use the element, the value is how many dice you get of the certain type.

In the start of a scene where the resolution mechanic is used, the player decides what element(s) he will use, and the GM decides which element(s) the character are up against. The player should express a intention his character has. This is not really a "stake" as in, for example, PTA, but an in-character goal like: "I want to get unseen through the gate" or "I will fight through the guards to free the girl" or things like that. From the elements that are chosen, both the player and the GM get a number of dice of different types. They should normally have about three to six dice each.

When the scene progresses it is run much like a traditional game: the player says what his character does, and the GM narrates what happens. Normally, in such a case, everything the character do succeeds (as long as it does not break the believability of the fiction), but in the resolution system the GM can set up obstacles by narrating what opposes the character, and throw a die which rolled value gives the difficulty of the obstacle. The player explain what he do to get past the obstacle, choose a die from his pool and roll that. If the player's roll exceeds the GM's roll, he will get past the obstacle, and he can continue until the GM sets the next obstacle. If the player do not exceed the GM's roll, some minor setback/consequences will happen to the character, and then he can roll a dice more from his pool, and add it to the one he rolled when he failed, to see if he now get past the obstacle. If he get past, he continue to the next obstacle, if not he again suffer some setback, and have to roll one more dice form his pool, and so on.

If the GM run out of dice before the player, the character succeed, but if the player run out of dice while the GM still have some obstacle dice left, the character will fail in what he is trying to achieve, and will suffer the consequences.

The player can, during the scene, drag in other elements to get more dice, but that should of course has some consequences - but I am not sure what.

I think this need an example:

There is a story element with the name: "Mansion with dangerous magical object". One of the character want to get into the mansion and steal the object. The character has the background element: "Have survived my childhood on the street, only depending on my thieving skills."

The player get dice from his thieving background, lets say its 4 d8s. The GM get the dice from the mansion (which opposes the character), lets say 3 d10s.

Player: I sneak up to the house, and try to find a place I can get in.

GM: You see no guards, but as you look at the house you find it proper secured and locked (this is an obstacle so the GM take a die from his pool (a d10) and rolls it. he get a 3, which is then the difficulty to get into the house). 

Player: I find my lock pick kit, and use it to try to open the door (He take a die from his pool (a d8) and rolls it. He get 7 so he overcome the obstacle).

GM: You get the door open and get into the house.

Player: I begin to search around to see if I can find anything that look like a magical object.

GM: As you sneak around in the house you hear a voice saying "Is someone there?", and footsteps from a room nearby (The GM take a new dice from his pool and roll, and get an Cool.

Player: (The player already knows that he can not exceed that with a d8). I find a corner with shadows and try to hide there (he take a die from his pool and roll 6 - not enough).

GM: An elderly man come out of the room and looks around. "I am sure I heard something," he mutters. Then he begin to walk down the hallway toward where you stand - he will be able to see you when he get closer (the GM don't roll a new dice - his 8 still stands).

Player: I silently back away to get around the corner before he sees me (The player take one more die from his pool (the second one for this obstacle - his should have some consequences) and he rolls a 4 and adds it to the 6 he rolled before. Now he exceeds the 8 from the GM). 

(At this point both the GM and the player has only one die left in they pool. So the GM can only make one obstacle more).

GM: You sneak around the corner and he walks past.

Player: I go from room to room, continuing my search for the Magical object.

GM: You come to a room where you see a glowing crystal, but it is placed behind an advanced security system (the GM roll his last d10, and get 4).

Player: I carefully work my way past the security system (roll his last d8, and get a 6 - he succeeds).

GM: After long times work, you finally get your hands on the crystal, and it is no problem for you to get out of the house with it (because the GM has no die left, the character complete what he intended without any further problems).

There could of course be added much more details both in the descriptions and the rules. But I hope this give a basic idea of how it should run.

Here are some ideas that could be added to the mechanic:

* Sacrifice a dice to add an aspect to an element (add "lots of shadows I can hide in" to the mansion).
* By utilising an aspect the player can get extra dice.
* You may only have three tries to get past an obstacle
* You GM should try to escalate the situation when the character fail his first try (you can not sneak around anymore, you have to fight your way through)

Anyway, I am not sure I will use this in Distant Horizons, but it is at least a concrete mechanic we can talk about.

 - Anders
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David Berg
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« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2008, 04:13:22 PM »

I'll come back later and give this a more thorough look.  For now, I just want to address one thing:

Do you think that this will be a problem when trying to get the feeling of simulationism? Do you feel you need to have a proper emulation of the setting physics?

No no no!  Danger!  "Setting physics" and "modeling realism" and "Simulationism" bombards the mind with "those obsessive gamers who just sit around doing nerd math instead of roleplaying"!  By Functional Conceit, I really mean whatever the physics of the gameworld are, including "they are whatever suits the story at any given moment!"

Find the edge of, "Well, we couldn't allow that to happen", and you can probably define your Functional Conceit.  Here's an easy one: I bet your gameworld has gravity.  It's convenient; a familiar frame of reference that helps keep people comfortable in their knowledge of what their characters' options are.  Will gravity ever get turned off for story purposes?  No.

I would assume your Functional Conceit is something like: "Nothing obviously impossible by real-world physics ever happens (though "kinda iffy" is fine) except when magic's involved, in which case all bets are off."  But even if it's, "Anything goes!  Oxygen may spontaneously become gold if I want!" that's still worth noting, and making sure the players are aware of.
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2008, 04:17:04 PM »

Oh, also, I lump any consequences of action into Functional Conceits -- not just physical, but moral and metaphysical when applicable.  "Karma always comes back to bite you," if that's what really happens in play, would qualify.
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Anders Larsen
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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2008, 09:55:53 AM »

Ok good. So by Functional Conceit you do not mean something that should necessarily be emulated in the mechanics, but more a agreement between the players to keep the believability of the fiction. Like the agreement to keep in genre (If you have decided on playing a serious social drama, you do not make a silly character that are only good for slapstick humor).

But, yes, if you have a game where the player are going to contribute to the setting and the story, it is necessary to have a good common understanding of how the fiction works. I expect that in Distant Horizons there is a phase before the actual game start, where the group talk about the basic concepts of the setting, so they can better agree on what is right for the setting when they are in the game.

 - Anders
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2008, 10:20:58 PM »

Anders,

That example with the mansion might come in handy for later mechanics discussion, but right now all I care about is how "mansion with dangerous magic item" becomes a cool Story Element.  As a player, how is this any more rewarding for me than if I just went up to the GM before the game and said, "I want more magic loot, and today I'm in the mood to break into a mansion"?

My gut says that equating individual Story Elements with missions is bad.

I'd be more interested if (1) I contributed "dangerous magic item", someone else contributed "haunted mansion", a third person contributed "vengeful widow", and then (2) in playing through other scenarios aimed largely at other story elements (e.g. "evil ninja prince" and "elf enslavement plot"), we encountered connections to those ("ah, the dangerous magic item once belonged to the prince we just killed, and was somehow connected to his plot"), and only after all that (3) we came across a mansion and entered it to discover that it was haunted by that vengeful widow we've heard about, guarding that magic item we've also heard about.

Those types of developments and interrelations may not be what you're going for, but I think you need some stronger interaction with the Story Elements than "okay, now we do this one".

I have an idea for how to organize the story of the game into phases:

* Planning to explore a new place (the players here create story element for the new place they want to explore).

...unless "now we do this one" really is the point of the game, in which case please ignore my rant.

* Travelling to that place (The player can use travelling time to strengthen their relationship to various story elements).
* Exploring the place, and the problems they find there (the players here use the various story element in conflicts and adventuring)
* Resting after an exhausting adventure (The players can get rid of their characters' stress and finalize troubled relationship with elements)

Perhaps what I just proposed is to take the point of the Travelling phase and mesh it with the Exploring phase.  So you'd eliminate the Traveling phase, and the Exploring phase in cycle #1 doubles as "strengthening relationships to various story elements" for the elements in cycle #2 (or #3, or #4, etc.).  I think this would give more bang per play time... unless you have some really cool idea for the experience of playing through the Travelling phase.

Ps,
-David
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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2008, 03:37:51 AM »


Quote
I'd be more interested if (1) I contributed "dangerous magic item", someone else contributed "haunted mansion", a third person contributed "vengeful widow", and then (2) in playing through other scenarios aimed largely at other story elements (e.g. "evil ninja prince" and "elf enslavement plot"), we encountered connections to those ("ah, the dangerous magic item once belonged to the prince we just killed, and was somehow connected to his plot"), and only after all that (3) we came across a mansion and entered it to discover that it was haunted by that vengeful widow we've heard about, guarding that magic item we've also heard about.

Ok I think it is beginning to make sense to me. That having the story element you contributed, used by the other players (or GM), and then connected to other elements to make something interesting. As I imagine Distant Horizon right now it does this, but more as an incident of other rules and procedures,  and not so much as a thing in itself.

I hope this does not sound too demanding, but could I ask you to describe a small actual play example where you experienced this, and what happened at the table that brought this into play? I think that will give me a much better understanding for how to structure rules and procedures for it.

Quote
Perhaps what I just proposed is to take the point of the Travelling phase and mesh it with the Exploring phase.  So you'd eliminate the Traveling phase, and the Exploring phase in cycle #1 doubles as "strengthening relationships to various story elements" for the elements in cycle #2 (or #3, or #4, etc.).  I think this would give more bang per play time... unless you have some really cool idea for the experience of playing through the Travelling phase.

Actually the travelling phase has given me some problem, because I am not sure of how to make it interesting. It is just that travelling is normally a big part of the fiction I try to emulate, so I felt it should be there. But seeing the travelling phase and exploration phase as one could certainly be a solution - I will consider it.

 - Anders
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2008, 11:05:20 AM »

could I ask you to describe a small actual play example where you experienced this, and what happened at the table that brought this into play?

Unfortunately, I have never played with players contributing Story Elements.  In terms of process & structure, the closest I've done is introducing my own story elements when I'm GMing.  Here's an example:

While investigating a cursed spot in a town that kept summoning monsters, the PCs came across a cultist trying to drive away the townsfolk so he could study the curse undisturbed.  The PCs beat him up and went through his backpack, where they found a drawing of a magic ritual.  An NPC told them he'd seen the drawing before in the town of Werville.

So, by the time the players were done saving the town from monsters, I'd given them the beginnings of connection to:
1) a cult
2) a magic ritual
3) Werville

In the next scenario, they learned a little more about the cult and the ritual while chasing away a hermit who was polluting a stream.  By now, they're primed to care quite a lot when they finally do encounter the cult, or find out how to do the ritual.

(This example probably isn't even the best possible one I could dream up, but it's recent so I remember it well.)

As for travelling: well, if you like fiction that includes it, then what happens to make the travel interesting in that fiction? 

I like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the characters travel a ton, but they do all their travelling off-screen except when they're being chased or having brief moments of comedy or character development.  Accordingly, if I were running a Last Crusade RPG, I'd skip over most of the travel and go straight to "And you arrive!"
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