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Setting the Mood

Started by Jake Norwood, September 27, 2002, 11:27:08 AM

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Jake Norwood

In our discussion of FVLMINATA in actual play wyrdling identified the use of Tali dice and Latin names for game elements as sample reasons that led him to believe that FVLMINATA is a game that supports simulationist play. I'm not arguing the point that his appraisal may be true, but rather I wanted to see what everyone's thoughts were about color/mood/setting-based mechanics, names, and gimmicks.

In other words, is there anything about such gimmicks that says "SIM" to anyone else? What other games use a large dose of gimmicky mechanics or other elements?

Off the top of my head I can think of:

FVLMINATA (Tali dice, Latin everywhere)
DeadLands (character sheet, terms like "vamoosin'," cards and chips)
Dust Devils (cards and names for stuff)
L5R (names of the five rings--refferring to first edition)

From this early list it seems that games which support sim play (from here on "sim" games) seem to do this the most, although character sheets in lots of games, regardless of GNS goals or tendencies do this anyway (Any sheet Ben Morgan makes, for example, is great and carries the feel of the game it represents). Dust Devils sticks out here, being a vary "Narrativist" game, where the others weren't created (IFAIK) with any GNS goals, but seem to lean in one way or another towards Sim.

Okay, so I'm rambling, but I wanted to get some other thoughts here.

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Ars Magica does this to a lesser extent with the magic system, and well, the title of the game.

Whether or not this is a 'sim' game, so-called, I understand is a rats-nest of a debatable issue here on the Forge.


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Actually, I think "Sim-or-not" is muddying the waters of the issue, and inferring Sim-ness from things like the tali and terminology is, I think, a bit of a leap.

I see the issue as the role of Color of any kind, for any purpose, and the role of tangible game-aids to add or enhance Color. Jake, correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm a big fan of these things, although my main limit is the effort involved. My usual tactic (which was prompted by Everway, and previously by art-heavy Champions games) is to bring lots of pictures and to use them during play. I especially like finding portraits that work well for various NPCs.

When I was running Hero Wars, this was relatively easy because many games provide fairly gritty fantasy portraits, and the Glorantha publishing history alone provides enormous amounts of nifty geography, both naturalistic and map/schematic.

I don't particularly like music during play, with some exceptions.

I like to use evocative dice and similar stuff quite a bit, and so the tali dice are just right. I prefer such things to make an actual difference in play rather than simply be colored a special way or something like that.



Well, Fulminata I've not yet played so I can't say for sure one way or another, same with Deadlands and Dust Devils, but L5R has a lot to push it towards Sim play. Aside from the simple aspect of focusing the stats around the 5 rings, there are several other game mechanics (like Honor and Insight) and a large amount of focused-setting material (the main rulebook and GM's Companion had huge amounts of details on the day to day life in Rokugan) that, to me, leant itself towards setting Sim.

Sengoku, I think it was Sengoku, had a similar effect by giving the Japanese equivalents of all the skills (I can't remember if they did the stats as well or not).

Maybe it's just my slant, because if I can't play Narrativist I'm going Sim, that makes these games seem that way.

Ars Magica does make use of similar techniques to a lesser extent but I don't think there was enough to promote a Sim feel, in my eyes.

As for other games which make use of these techniques... the only one that comes to mind is Feng Shui (the yin-yang dice, the schtick names, limiting the character types to appropriate archetypes).
Alex Hunter
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I think that such devices are indeed useful for sim, but that this is not their only function; or at least it might not be the intended function.  Sometimes they don't aid sim at all, I suspect.

I'm a big believer in visual props, and my particular slant is towards Sim.  To this end I try to limit the extent to which the mechanics themselves and the means that they employ challenge the synthetic vision of the game space.  Or better; to reinforce elements of the sim by bringing them centre stage.  To this end I think L5R's mechanics, even though the rings proper are not called into use that often in most mechanical decisions.  What they do prompt is the apparent contradictions between our conventional associations and those explicit in the five rings.  I feel this helps to keep the alternative mindset more present.  This is one of the reasons I am not a GURPS fan; the very generic quality of GURPS which allows it to be extended to any setting makes those settings feel and operate to similarly for my tastes.

So I have two feelings on this - first that character sheets and dice can and should be considered props, and that ideally they should be in tune with the colour of the setting.  They are physically present and act on us directly.  Second, that the mechanics themselves should be "colourful" and positively draw attention to the setting, or at least that to do so is probably beneficial to sim.  

I had not thought about dice much, the FVLMINATA example is new to me.  But I have previously mentioned my preference for character sheets that look as if they could be artifacts of the game world, or which employ the techniques and styles of the game world and are thus become evocative.  Computer games almost always do this - the interface font will be gothic, or "fantatstic", or historic, or "futuristic" depending on the rest of the colour. Computer games are almost never made in a utilitarian style because we devote so much visual attention to them.  RP is inherently less visual, but I think the principle applies.  If you are playing a game of celtic cattle kings, it is better IMO to trade in cows rather than the GP equivalent of cows.

Edited to add: A lot of these devices are sim-supporting colour in the gamist components.  Gamism of course benefits a lot from colour too, but partly because, I suspect, these players might have Sim as a supporting mode.  As far as I'm concerned, any way to lever colour into the props, the emchanics, the dynamic, is a good thing.
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