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Author Topic: the purpose of system/rules  (Read 6305 times)
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2002, 11:02:25 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,

A comment on this thread in general: I'm pretty sure the original post is not referring to what we call Narrativism. In fact, I think this thread would be improved a lot if itsmrwilson would clarify exactly what he means by "narrative-focused games."


Sorry, I don't clarify things. I work in marketing.

Seriously though, my intention, however occluded, was to hear reasons for game designers out there as to why they included rules and what kind of rules. Mike posted reasons on another thread about why/why not to have any kind of rules in a game. What are the grounds, so to speak?"

By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #16 on: September 17, 2002, 10:46:09 PM »

Quote from: It's Mr. Wilson
By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.

Let us suppose that we're going to cooperatively write a story. I read one of these once, an experimental mystery that was created by having one famous mystery writer do the first chapter then pass it to another, and another, and another. The list included Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and several other names that have slipped my mind. Some of the chapters were terrible; the writer had his or her own favorite detective walk through the scene and look around, and then vanish from the book thereafter without having contributed anything to the story.

But that's not exactly the sort of collaboration we have going on here. What's happening here is that each collaborator has his own character, or maybe several characters, and through their interaction they're going to tell the story. So we get to the climactic moment, and as Luke Skywalker veers off and leads Darth Vader deeper into space, Han Solo swoops in and delivers the payload that destroys the death star.

That's not what happened in the movie; and I would not argue that this is a better ending. On the other hand, if Han Solo is my hero character and Luke Skywalker is yours, why should I think it a better ending for your hero to save us and mine merely to get the assist? And it doesn't necessarily have to be the case that we're running these characters independently. Even when I write a book on my own, I find that there are moments when I like one character or another and want him to be the hero, whether or not that makes good sense in the story. If we were collaborating, you and I might like very different characters and see a very different outcome to the story as desireable. Now, we could discuss and debate and try to reach an agreement as to what works best (which is what we would probably do were it a book). But if we have a storytelling game, it makes more sense for us to have a way of resolving the outcome which, because it follows the rules, will help us settle the dispute quickly and fairly.

Now, maybe we want to get rid of the idea that anyone has any favorite character, or that this would influence anyone's perception of what constitutes a desireable outcome in play. But then, there is a degree to which the story which we are telling doesn't surprise us. I just started writing my third novel; although there's a lot that I don't know about what is going to happen in it, I've got a very good idea of how it is going to end. I enjoy creating the stories in the novels; but it is not at all the same experience as creating stories in the game. The game takes twists and turns that surprise me, precisely because there are rules to it that force the unexpected upon me. It doesn't go exactly as I expect, even if I know how I want it to go, because the rules interrupt to some degree--whether by giving control of the story to another player at a critical moment, or by tossing in a turn of events, or by blocking an expected success. And in this, surprise is created.

You see, I might be able to write a story that will surprise you; and you and I together might be able to write a story that would surprise everyone else. But even working together, it is very difficult for you and I to create a story that surprises us--and if it doesn't surprise us, it's going to be boring.

That's why, I think, you need a system.

Now, maybe someone else has a different reason; but this works for me.

--M. J. Young
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simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2002, 03:48:07 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Oops, terminology problem, here. ...


Ok, I see what you mean, my appologies.

Quote
Fang has a point. Systemless play often occurs in well established universes. For example, people play inthe SW universe a lot. ...


This is something I've been boring my frinds with for a while - if a setting has a rich enough set of common assumptions and tropes then that can itself constitute a 'system'.

years ago (around about '94 or so) there was a guy at the local gaming club that ran occasional systemless Star Trek games. It was a series of episodic one-offs very much in the style of the Next Generation series, and many of us played the same chgracters throughout the series of games. No game mechanics were used, the Gm described the situation and you described your actions - then he described the outcome.

It was a bit railroady, but then that's pretty much in the style of the series too. There were occasionaly some real decissions, and you could make a difference to the progress of the plot. After all, command of a starship gives you a lot of resources to throw at a problem, and a lot of options sometimes. However the development of the personality of the characters, their growing relationships and transformations due to their experiences was also very involving.

Star Trek is a good example of a setting that is widely familiar, so everyone knows how it works. So long as everyone is willing to accept the genre conventions at face value, it almost becomes it's own game system.

Take combat for example. Star Trek combat isn't about who's the best shot, or has the best combat skills. It's about why you're fighting, and what that means to you. It's not realy about 'can I kill him?', it's about
'should I kill him?, What are the consequences of my actions?'.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
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« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2002, 02:50:50 AM »

Quote from: itsmrwilson

By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.


I suppose it's because when most writers sit down to write a story, they already have a reasonable idea of what they will be writing about. They may have already imagined several key scenes in some detail, and have an overall story plan. Roleplaying is a social collaboration, and so to compenaste for the lack of a shared story plan of this kind, we need to have some kind of shared 'storytelling infrastructure' that we all understand. Without that, there is little scope for collaboration.

People who know each other well may be able to do with less formal infrastructure, but only because they have already formed an informal social infrastructure to compensate.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
GB Steve
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« Reply #19 on: October 04, 2002, 04:00:02 AM »

In the discussion about 'what does a system do' my point of view is that if the system is bringing something extra to the game then it's not worth the overhead in metagaming, OOC concerns or just time.

Game, btw, is a term that I use to refer to what happens in the make believe world. It's a bit like the what 'story' means.

For example, the SAN system in CoC is fine for a basic idea but in the games I've played in recently the players have been responsible for just roleplaying their descent into horror. This allows for much more player expression, a wider variety of responses and more finesse. No system was used at all, just personal judgement and, the big one, trust.

I think in many cases systems are a replacement for trust.

Similarly in a recent game of Dying Earth I ran, the players had taglines but they were already playing in the DE style, and were coming up with better lines anyway. The tagline rule (placing your tagline and getting a laugh is the only way to get XPs) was redundant so I just ignored it.

Another case in point was a systemless game I ran about 10 years ago. It was mostly for 2 players but on one occasion just one player. It was a modern magic/horror game.

The PCs had becomed involved in the magic(k) underground (in this case actually based in the London Underground - damn that Neil Gaiman). They had each acquired a magical power that they had chosen and a concomitant geas that I had imposed on them.

One of the players' gift was being able to always be able to get what he needed, his geas was to never refuse anyone who asked him for something. There were no rules as to what these two statements actually meant. This is how they were expressed in the game so they had to be explored in the game. As it was the only question a PC had was, 'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'

Thus the character of the game was actually enhanced by not having some metagaming construct to refer to.

Obviously this does tie in with my predeliction for prizing the character role in the game, but isn't that what rpgs are about? Roles?

GB Steve
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #20 on: October 04, 2002, 05:09:14 AM »

Quote from: GB Steve
For example, the SAN system in CoC is fine for a basic idea but in the games I've played in recently the players have been responsible for just roleplaying their descent into horror. This allows for much more player expression, a wider variety of responses and more finesse. No system was used at all, just personal judgement and, the big one, trust.

I think in many cases systems are a replacement for trust.


That's exactly what I mean by social infrastructure. It's all based on trust, but it also relies on a common understanding of the genre and acceptable behaviour, both as a game player and in-character.

I agree it's much preferable to roleplay things like SAN, but the rules do serve a purpose. When I first started playing CoC, they were a constant reminder that this is an important part of the genre. I've also found taglines an interesting and fun thing to play with, but once you 'get it' the game mechanical aspects should definitely be deprecated.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #21 on: October 04, 2002, 07:09:49 AM »

Simon makes a good point. The rules are informative. They tell the player what they should be doing in the game. If that can be conveyed successfully without rules, then the rules are redundant as Steve points out, except insofar as people just like rules (some people just do).

That said, I think that a bit of framework goes a long way to ensuring that players are on the same sheet to the extent that Trust can exist more easily. Systems have their place.

Mike
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Jeremy Cole
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« Reply #22 on: October 04, 2002, 08:38:40 AM »

Quote
'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'


This is a rule.  Its not written down or defined in terms of 'humanity' or 'power loss' or whatever, but it is a rule.  If this was published as a game, this would be written down, and everyone would say it is a rule in the system.  As non-crunchy as it gets, but a rule.

The same thing goes for unwritten Star Wars and Star Trek, the basic world understanding people have is really a set of rules.  If the GM said 'the stormtrooper hits you', the player's understanding SW would be breached, same as if the GM ignored a rule from the book.

I'm not saying its better to have things written down, but the examples given are not rule-less games.  I just thought it was important to look at these examples as unwritten rules, or loose rules, or crunch free, diceless, but not rule-less.

Jeremy
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #23 on: October 04, 2002, 12:47:35 PM »

I think, to some extent, the system is just a part of the social contract that forms the basis of the game.  Everyone agrees, before the game starts to abide by a certain set of norms, whether they are behaverol, govern how to roll dice, are written down in the rulebook, or are just plucked out of the air.

A good point was made that all conflict is inter-player conflict at the core.  Systems are about how to make compomises.  You can win now because the results are random and I might win later.  Or you can win now because it serves the purposes of the story.  Or you can win a little and I can win a little.  Or we both lose.

Ultimately, there are no fundamental differences between a GM and a player.  They are both participants in the story.  It's just written into the fabric of most social contracts that the GM is given more control over the story than the players are.  This need not necessarily be the case, of course, as umpteen billion games have now proved.  The GM is usually charged with overseeing the application of the social contract and making sure everyone follows through with their agreement, but this needn't be the case either.

So basically, the system vs. no-system vs. lots of system vs. minimal system discussion is all about trust, as it has been mentioned.  How much can you trust everyone to abide by the social contract?  Do the tenants need to be written down?  How clearly does everyone understand what they've agreed to?  How much freedom are individuals willing to give up for the good of the story?  Or, more often, how much freedom are players expecting (and maybe even WANTING) to give up to the GM?  How much responsibility are people able to handle?  How much can you trust people with the responsibilites that have been assigned to them?

This, in my mind, is what we do when we create games: we write social contracts that allow people to tell stories.

If you think of it that way, the ultimited options of how that can be done become quite clear (and included everything from computer RPGs to LARP to collaborative storytelling to playing make-believe).

Thoughts?

Later.
Jonathan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #24 on: October 04, 2002, 01:12:43 PM »

Hi Jonathan,

Absolutely. This is precisely what Vincent's driving at in the concurrent rant thread: all of the process is social and human; rules are means by which we apportion who gets to say what, when.

That also matches with GNS, in which the largest or most all-inclusive portion of the model is the social interaction level among real people.

The only quibble I have with your phrasing is the use of the term "story," which as I've explained in my essay is far too proprietary and vague for people to get much out of, when comparing views. I'd substitute "in-game content" or "imaginary events" - in which case even role-playing for which "story" is almost entirely irrelevant gets to be included in your construct.

Best,
Ron
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GB Steve
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« Reply #25 on: October 04, 2002, 01:28:46 PM »

Quote from: nipfipgip...dip
Quote
'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'

This is a rule.  Its not written down or defined in terms of 'humanity' or 'power loss' or whatever, but it is a rule.  If this was published as a game, this would be written down, and everyone would say it is a rule in the system.  As non-crunchy as it gets, but a rule.

It's not a rule. It's a social norm for the game world. It doesn't tell you what happens if you break your geas. It just says 'try not to', and it says this to the PC not the player.

System rules are metagaming constructs. We're talking about different things here. It's about as much a rule as the real world "That shalt not steal". That doesn't tell you anything about how the world actually works, it just makes a recommendation as to your conduct. The character may have still broken the norm, that's not something that you can do with a system rule. PCs don't have direct access to the rules.

Game world social norms are always better expressed through the game rather than in a rule book, if possible. I mean you'd probably need to read some background as to how the game society functions but if things are played then you get something that seems much more real to the players.

After all, if you are in a real new situation, you hardly ever get a handbook saying, 'These are the rules, follow them and you'll be fine'. You get maybe some explanation but it's mostly by trial and error and through observation that you establish what you think the rules are.

Jonathon:I don't see why PC conflict has to be Player conflict. In fact the opposite can be true. The players may be using the PC conflict to serve the needs of the game. This happened in the Delta Green game I played recently at GenCon. The players recognised the conflict that would arise between the characters and played on this to make the game work. And it did, excellently.

That said, the rules do formalise the way the game world functions to avoid player conflict, to make sure that the physics of the game world work in an equitable fashion. If you have the trust between the players and the GM that everyone will be treated equally then the rules become less important. That said, if you run the kind of game where inter PC conflict is common, or if there is some element of player competition, then rules do provide a common framework that can avoid nastiness between players.

Then you get rules lawyers ...
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Anthony
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« Reply #26 on: October 04, 2002, 11:30:19 PM »

I think one reason for rules that they are a valuable aid for the weaker player.  Maybe in your gaming group everyone is a great person who plays amazingly and in that case, yah, the rules might be useless.  Personally I happen to like some rules no matter what, although I find myself attracted to simpler systems these days.

Generally a simple set of rules can help a novice player get a handle on what they can and cannot do.  No rules and things can be indimidating and the player won't do anything, or they can go hog wild and be unintentionally disruptive.  Now if the rules get too complicated they tend not to help much.  After all the player is trying to get a handle on this here roleplaying thing, and all these strange terms and ways of rolling dice and what exactly does this mean here? adds a real barrier to entry.  But for instance Over the Edge has a great set of simple rules you can explain in a few minutes but give some grounding on what could be done.  

As has been mentioned before rules also help even out the quiet and louder players.  Yes the louder and more boisterous players will get more play attention time, that is a fact of life.  But rules can be effective.  The quiet player gets a chance to use the rules to use a skill, or make some sort of attempt, and then the focus is on them.  It gives them a chance to speak, to be heard, and hopefully do more than just roll the dice and say "aie, I failed!"  Similarly when a player is being loud and wont dorp sometihng, having some rule that says, no you didn't do it, please be quiet and let the other players do stuff is an effective way to move on without hurting feelings.
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Alan
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« Reply #27 on: October 05, 2002, 04:41:13 AM »

Hi Forgers,

Even when we think a game has no rules, it does.

One branch of anthropology that looks at culture as a collection of unwritten rules or guidelines for different social interactions in different contexts.  The details of the rules in a given context depend on the values of the cultural group and the purpose of the interaction.

In particular, an RPG is a subset of a kind of social interaction called a "game" which sets out to create excitment and tension in a social "safe" way - usually by creating a fictitious conflict.  A game has some basic assumptions and objectives: that participants are there to have fun, that every player has equal opportunity to play, and so on.

Central to the play of an RPG is the creation of shared imaginary events.  Rules, both written and unwritten exist for negotiating who gets to add content, when, and what kind.

In the example in a previous message of the game where Sanity is player "without rules" - well, rules actually do exist, agreed on by social negotiation, they just haven't been made explicit.  

The rules (written and unwritten) of an RPG shape the social interaction of the players, the player's relationship to content, and the style and kind of content.  Players will usually discover that they enjoy the results of one set of rules over another.  

To reproduce these results, an RPG author has to write down all the key rules, including those that have been "unwritten" up to that point.  An elegant set of written rules presents only those rules that "frame" the game enough to give it the distinctive elements developed by the designers.  The frame has to leave players enough room to play a field, while also providing the tension that makes the game fun.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #28 on: October 05, 2002, 07:26:10 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The only quibble I have with your phrasing is the use of the term "story," which as I've explained in my essay is far too proprietary and vague for people to get much out of, when comparing views. I'd substitute "in-game content" or "imaginary events" - in which case even role-playing for which "story" is almost entirely irrelevant gets to be included in your construct.


But "story" is such a great word!  It's one of the most beautiful concepts in the human imagination.  Okay, until I go read your GNS essay (which I've been planning to do for weeks), I guess I don't have any grounds to object to the less evocative "imaginary events" substitution.  Maybe I'll have to start a new thread about how we can reappropriate the word "story"...

Quote from: GB Steve
Jonathon:I don't see why PC conflict has to be Player conflict. In fact the opposite can be true. The players may be using the PC conflict to serve the needs of the game. This happened in the Delta Green game I played recently at GenCon. The players recognised the conflict that would arise between the characters and played on this to make the game work. And it did, excellently.


I think we're talking about two different things.  I suppose I'm not talking about conflict in the "emotionally-invested disagreement" sense, but more in the literary sense.  I'm talking about the conflict that drives story (or, if Ron insists, "imaginary events"), more of a "tension between story elements".  Now, if the players can easily agree on how the tension will be resolved, then the social contract doesn't really need to deal with that conflict (as in the Delta Green example you gave, or if the GM is describing the tension between two NPCs).  This, in effect, isn't really conflict at all.  However, in a RPG, more often you have some tension between one player & another player (often the GM, who is basically just an empowered player), which is not so easily resolved.  

"Can this character really climb up a cliff?"  The character's player thinks he probably can and wants to try.  The GM, on the other hand, doesn't want the characters to be able to climb cliffs all the time, at least not without having to go through some hardships, but also doesn't want to tell the players that it just won't work.  This is inter-player conflict.

This is when the social contract steps in (the system, the rules, the game background, etc.) and helps govern how things are worked out (roll dice, spend coins, bid traits, etc.).

Obviously, the "emotionally-invested disagrement" brand of conflict is one that most RPGs try to avoid, by having the social contract make everything seem fair and just, so people have no reason to get angry.  Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that player atagonism could be cultivated in a way that's incredibly beneficial.  Think of games like Diplomacy or Paranoia, where everyone knows the other players are out to get them.  Thinking about Jason's Incarnate game has also made me believe that a game with strong Player-GM atagonism would be great as well, as long as it was constructed in a supportive way.

Later.
Jonathan
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Emily Care
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« Reply #29 on: October 10, 2002, 11:12:47 AM »

the following is edited for conciseness:
Quote from: Alan

Even when we think a game has no rules, it does.

In particular, an RPG is a subset of a kind of social interaction called a "game" which sets out to create excitment and tension in a social "safe" way - usually by creating a fictitious conflict.

Central to the play of an RPG is the creation of shared imaginary events.  Rules, both written and unwritten exist for negotiating who gets to add content, when, and what kind.


So a game may be mechanicless (have no written rules) but by definition it has rules, so it cannot be systemless.

The third paragraph is an excellent summary of the "Vincent's Rant" thread about credibility that Ron mentioned earlier.

Quote

To reproduce these results, an RPG author has to write down all the key rules, including those that have been "unwritten" up to that point.  An elegant set of written rules presents only those rules that "frame" the game enough to give it the distinctive elements developed by the designers.  The frame has to leave players enough room to play a field, while also providing the tension that makes the game fun.


I'd like to quote this paragraph over at the System and Credibility thread.  What's the nettiquette involved in that?

--Emily Care
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