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Vincent's Standard Rant: Power, Credibility and Assent

Started by lumpley, October 04, 2002, 04:50:28 PM

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M. J. Young

I'm wondering if these concepts should be split.

My thinking is that the game system has authority, but not credibility; meanwhile, it may be that participants have levels of credibility but not authority.

This is what I mean: when we agreed to play This Game(TM), we agreed to abide by the rules of This Game(TM), including all that are in the book and any inherent in the setting or system which are not clearly stated. This gives the rules Authority, in that the rules are the final arbiter of the game.

But when we pick a referee and invest him with the power to run the game, we are in essence establishing him as the most Credible interpreter of what those rules are and mean when applied to play. The rules may instead give Credibility to one of the other players; indeed, all of the players are given some measure of Credibility, as all are able to define at least what actions their characters will attempt. Thus what is happening in the game world is determined by the contributions of whoever has the Credibility to state it; but is based on the Authority of the rules/system/setting/game.

The best example of this to my mind would be the function of the court system as Finder of Law. In essence, the Law exists, in statutes, ordinances, and regulations; but frequently when we end up in court, the question is What does the Law Mean? At trial, the judge is the Finder of Law. When that question is raised, he looks at the law first. (He also looks at precedent, which I'll get to in a moment.) He then says, "This is what I think the Law means, and this is how we will continue." The judge is granted the power to make that decision; at that point, everyone must proceed on the basis that this is what the law means.

If the judge's decision is appealed, the appelate court looks at the law (and precedent), looks at what the trial judge decided, and determines whether or not he was correct; but they don't have the authority to say "This is what the Law Is"; they can only say "This is what the Law Means". If the appeal goes all the way to the Supreme Court (in the U.S.; Queen's Court in Great Britain), you've essentially come to the Most Credible statement of what the Law Means; but the court cannot decide what the Law is--it cannot legally make law, only interpret it.

The place of precedent lies here: whatever decisions have been made in the past concerning what the Law means, the current decision should be consistent with them. In essence, the exercise of interpretation defines the meaning of the law itself, and future interpretation must remain within those definitions. In that sense, the exercise of credibility "creates law".

Bringing it back to the game, it is the referee who determines what he thinks must be happening, based on his understanding of the rules. Once he has decided how the rules (and setting, et cetera) apply, he is as locked into that as everyone else.

But we might say that the rules have Authority because they define how the game is played, and the referee and players have Credibility because they interpret that definition and apply it to the details.

Or maybe I should just go to bed and not get so esoteric at this hour of the morning.

--M. J. Young


Valamir, Pag, maybe Walt,

I'd love for y'all to give examples of game mechanics doing what you're saying they do, cuz I'm drawing a blank.

Or maybe we should focus on my point 1 (credibility is given or whithheld on a case-by-case basis by the listener, never held by the speaker) instead of my point 4.  I think that's where the disagreement actually lies.  A system cannot hold credibility if all credibility is always contingent.

At any moment, in any game, the players can agree to ignore or override or simply not enact the system, and the system gets no vote.  



You've nailed my exact point of divergence, Vince. I agree with the principle of credibility you outline, just not the specifics. Since credibility is always given or witheld by the listener, it doesn't make sense to me to say that a system has no credibility - It has whatever credibility we give it. IMV, credibility is given to a system when a group decides to use it. So, credibility *is* given by the "listeners," but not always on a case by case basis. It can be given in a lump before the game starts.

Once the system has been given credibility in this way, an individual player can't simply ignore it; doing so is a major breach of social contract. The players *as a group* can "vote down the system," but IMO this isn't an example of instant in-Credibility, it's a poorly defined social contract.

Frex: Mike, Bob, and I are talking about what to play in the next indie-netgaming Monday night IRC game. We decide to play D&D. This decision is a single-cell social contract: an agreement to abide by the rules of D&D. If I decide that my character can carry as much as he wants, regardless of encumberance, then the other players can call me out; I've infringed on the credibility given to the system by the social contract. But suppose Bob and Mike agree with me, as a group we "vote down" the encumberance rules. You might see this as the system having no credibility, but I see it as a poorly defined social contract. We think we've agreed to play D&D, but what we've really done is agree to play D&D without the encumberance rules. We've still given the system credibility by agreeing to use it. We've just added a clause that part of the system gets thrown out. The part we agree to use still has credibility.

Bob McNamee

Well, I wouldn't say that the system has no just has less credibilty after the encumberance decision.  Perhaps it does mean that our initial social contract has less credibility.

Or perhaps that we've refined the contract to be clearer about our intent.

OT: What are we doing for the Monday Indie Netgame, continuing Universalis (my vote)? or did someone want tostart something else? (...and if no one shows Mike I'd be up for continuing that Synthesis demo)  {reply to e-mail please}
Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!


Sometimes a flexible approach to system is a feature of the social contract, not a failure or a vagary.  The long-term game I'm playing right now started with: "We have a strong setting, strong situation, characters with potential, and compatible approaches to color.  What shall we do for system?" "Dunno, let's start playing and see what happens."  It's worked just fine.

I'm cool with "systems have credibility," as long as it's understood that it's shorthand for "players' assertions in accordance with system have credibility."


Emily Care

Quote from: M. J. YoungAt trial, the judge is the Finder of Law. When that question is raised, he looks at the law first. (He also looks at precedent, which I'll get to in a moment.) He then says, "This is what I think the Law means, and this is how we will continue." The judge is granted the power to make that decision; at that point, everyone must proceed on the basis that this is what the law means.

Good analogy.  The traditional gm seems most similar to the judge in this case--given the greatest power to interpret and apply the system.  Each instance that system is invoke is a use of someone's power to "judge" an event in game, and the rules and their application to action is constantly subject to human interpretation.

Quote from: lumpleyI'm cool with "systems have credibility," as long as it's understood that it's shorthand for "players' assertions in accordance with system have credibility."

Hmmm....let's see, try this:
System is an explicit agreement among players about what kinds of statements about game elements will be given credibility, and about who holds directorial power.

Directorial power is granted authority to make statements that are held to be credible by all participants, or invoke pre-agreed upon system elements to affect the statements made by others.

Credibility is in the eye of the beholder.  As I see it, the base point Vincent is making is that role-playing comes down to an agreement among the participants that what is said to have happened, happened.  There is group-concensus underlying all roleplaying. It's simply not recognized, most of the time. That's why he said it might be a no-brainer. It's really quite simple--but it can have profound effects on playing, and game design, if consciously taken into account.  

Here, I'll go out on a limb:  

Systems--in all their myriad forms--exist  in order to empower individuals to create and interact in a world.  However, no system is required for any statement made to be credible to all participants.

Systems exist to create a group of statements about world elements that are likely to be credible to the given group. They do so by explicitly limiting each individual's ability to make credible statements. For example, in D&D a gm is allotted nearly all the power to invoke system and create world; so much so that of course players are much more likely to become min-maxers and rules-lawyers out of self-defense. In Shadow, a player makes two equally credible statements, and agrees to limit themselves to not making the final choice on which statement comes to be accepted as credible.  
This is part of the fun. That's why we use systems--to give ourselves a certain experience that is (it is to be hoped) enjoyable.  

Here's the crux: We don't use systems to "make things happen in the world", we're the ones doing that! We just give up all our power, and limit ourselves to only certain options.  For fun! Or so that we can play with others, since often folks can't come to easy concensus about what happens in game.  And, as I said, to empower people to be able to interact in a game.  Not everyone would flourish in structureless gaming.
To get kind of freakish, it's like we are gods in our own little world, and we limit ourselves to only a fraction of the powers available to us.  I think we do it to make it more believable to ourselves.  It's harder to believe in a story you tell yourself, than one someone else tells to you. That explains the traditional apportionment of directorial power (ie giving most directorial power to gm or storyteller).

--Emily Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Mike Holmes

Interesting that Nathan brings up computers. Assuming that CRPGs are RPGs for purposes of this discussion, then the system is either a non-human entity with credibility as I cannot play outside of the framwork presented (if I go out of the way to reprogram the game, then I'm just playing with myself), or it's a human. I don't think that this is an argument for non-human sentience or anything, so I'll go with the first, and support Ralph in this case. At best a computer system is a proxy for the designer.

OTOH, this could simply be proof that CRPGs are not RPGs.  :-)

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


This is easy and not very nuanced.

You've got some players at a table.  Player A says: "Mitch picks up the can of peaches."

Two things can happen.  

a. All the players agree that Mitch indeed picks up the can of peaches.  They all update the situation in their imaginations so that their imaginary Mitch has picked up the imaginary peaches.  The game goes on from there.

or b.  At least one of the players can disagree that Mitch picks up the can of peaches.  Player B might say: "No way!  I get to say what Mitch does."  Or she might say: "Are you mad, mad?  Mitch has already met his Encumberance Threshhold!  You'll give him a hernia!"  Or she might say: "Augh!  You're breaking my SoD!  You've never played Mitch as a can-picker-upper before!"  Or she might raise any of a bazillion other objections, doesn't matter.  What happens is, the game pauses.  Does Mitch pick up the peaches?  Nobody knows!  Everybody's imaginations are stuck in an unresolved place.

So the players need some way to come to consensus and move on.  They might decide to use a GM, they might decide to use mechanics with numbers, mechanics without numbers, proprietorship a la Scattershot, bribes, bullying, rock-scissors-paper, who's whose lovers, who bought the pizza, or plain old everyday discussion, negotiation and compromise.  All serve the same purpose, which is to make sure that everybody agrees that what happens, happens.

Because until every single player agrees whether or not Mitch has picked up the damn peaches, the game is hanging.



That is, of course, absolutely true, and well said.

My only caveat/addition to it would be that the players (in whom the ultimate credibility rests) elect to cede some portion of their credibility to a mutually agreed upon system of arbitration.  That system of arbitration's primary purpose is to decide whose credibility "wins" when there is a dispute over the state of a can of peaches.

That system of arbitration may involve any or all of the following:  Gamemasters, written rules, unwritten social contracts, any of an infinite variety of "mechanicss" often embedded within written rules.

This choice imbues these things with a Credibility of their own (borrowed from the players) greater than they would have without the player's willing acquiessance.  In the case of a gamemaster, it imbues that player with more Credibility than he would otherwise have as an "ordinary" player.  In the case of a rule book and mechanics, it imbues those things with Credibility that otherwise they wouldn't have at all.

However, once so imbued, the Credibility can only be revoked from these things in one of three ways.  1) Cooperatively and full cooperation of the other players to reach a new standard of agreement on the cedeing of Credibility.  2) Disruptively through arguement, force of will, or other techniques designed to reassert a portion of a player's Credibility that he'd previously ceded (Cheating would be one form of this).  3) By walking away and refusing to participate, one can ultimately always get ones Credibility back.

My points above about rules having their own Credibility, is really nothing more than saying that once players have agreed to cede some of their Credibility to a set of rules (and even the Game Master cedes some Credibility to those rules) those rules have and enforce that Credibility on their own.  By this I mean to say that the players, once they have agreed to follow the rules, cannot choose later to NOT follow the rules unless they use one of the 3 methods above.  The degree to which option 1 can be used to quickly and easily alter the players relationship to a set of "endowed" rules depends on the circumstances under which the initial endowment was made.  Some groups will initially plan to "play by the letter", others will take a more liberal approach towards winging it, others will cede to the player elected as Game Master the ability to decide.  But once those parameters are established, changing them is often not an easy thing.  

Further, the actual act of cedeing Credibility and endowing a rules set with Credibility is most often nothing more complicated than sitting down at the table and agreeing to play.  Much dysfunctional play can easily be seen as players differing after the fact on how much or how little Credibility they ceded at the beginning.  Similiarly discussion about Social Contracts can really be seen as a more formalized attempt to identify this process.

That leads me to two final points.  One:  Seen in this light Universalis can be seen as nothing more than a system for overtly regulating Credibility, where Credibility is NOT ceded to a Game Master, or even much in the way of rules, but rather is measured and spent directly in the form of Coins.  Coins in Universalis are simply unites of Credibility.  Not surprising that I immediately took to your comments on Credibility Vincent.

Two.  This entire discussion really addresses one of the Larger Role Playing Boxes that Ron often refers to.  It really screams for being written up and posted as a formal article on the site as perhaps the first rigorous definition of that larger box we've had here.  Given the tie in to Universalis I mentioned above...I'm strongly tempted to make this an Essay for our web site.

Mike Holmes

Quote from: lumpleyBecause until every single player agrees whether or not Mitch has picked up the damn peaches, the game is hanging.
Hmmm.  Just to be clear, sometimes a particular person will not agree, but a general consensus forms and the game proceeds. At which point that player has two options, accept the consensus, essentially, or refuse to play. Actually, I've seen yet another thing occur, a definite dysfunction, where a player will continue playing but will only respond to his version of the events.

For example, Bob says that his character picks up a can of peaches. The GM rolls for it and says that Bob's character has failed. Bob says that this is absurd, and rejects the GMs  result. The players all say that their characters look for another way of retrieving the sacred peaches, accepting the GMs credibility. Bob, OTOH, declares that his character opens the can of peaches and eats them, rejecting the GMs credibility, and accepting only his own.

This, of course, leads to a sort of split universe, wherin Bob is the only authority in his version of the world, and the other participants are authorities in another world. At this point, I suppose that it could be said that Bob is no longer participating in the same game as the other players.

This seems less than ideal, of course. So I assume that your description, Vincent, only pertains to ideal play? Or at least play in which a single authoritative set of events is maintained?


P.S. thnking about it, in Primeval, each player tells his own version of the events, and it's a contest to see which the GM selects as being accepted as a story through the ages. Doesn't mean that this is a consensual reality, however.
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Le Joueur

Quote from: Valamir...the players (in whom the ultimate credibility rests) elect to cede some portion of their credibility to a mutually agreed upon system of arbitration.
It's just a quibble, but (while I really like and agree with the concepts in your post) I think you've mangled Vincent's Terminology.

Way back at the beginning, Vincent defined 'Credibility' as concerning "whose statements about what, happens."  As far as I'm aware, systems make no 'statements.'  They may pronounce a truth value (which is what I think you were getting at), but have no interjection of their own.  In that case, we'd be talking about the body that grants Authority to a person whose statements then have Credibility.

Universalis is therefore a system for granting Authority based on payments for Credibility.  Players cede the Authority to the system to decide whose statements have Credibility.  The system makes no statements on its own, therefore these cannot be given Credibility.

Really, not a big deal; I was worried about confusion between Credible statements and the Authority to grant Credibility.

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!


I would agree with you Fang in that I think it is a quibble, although for these purposes I have no problem seperating Credibility from from authority to grant Credibility (I think MJ suggested this earlier) if that makes the concept easier to doesn't really to me but YMMV.

I wouldn't agree with the logic you use to support that, however.  I believe that systems DO make statements...quite frequently.

Player:  I shoot the bad guy
GM:  Roll to see if you hit
<roll> "nope you missed"

The question becomes:  who said "nope you missed".

Well obviously, the physical act of speech not being possible for a bound pile of wood pulp, the GM actually vocalized the words...but I would contend that in this the GM was merely translateing a statement being made by the rules.

This is not a case of the following, as your interpretation of Credibility (and Vincents initial thoughts in the first post would imply) of.

Player says "I shoot him"
GM says "No you miss"
System decides whose version happens.

The GM in this example (and indeed one would argue for all cases in which the GM's role is as impartial referee) has no particular desire for the PC to either miss or hit.  The GM is merely reporting the results as determined by the system.

In other words, the system most definitely made a statement.  That statement was "you missed".  The GM merely translated that statement from numbers/charts/etc. into speech and vocalized the effects to the other player...but it was the system making the decision.

Walt Freitag

QuoteAs far as I'm aware, systems make no 'statements.'

Ah, but they do.

[Pulls out 1e AD&D Players Handbook, opens a page at random...]

"A score in excess of the adjusted base chance indicates the thief has slipped and fallen. (Your referee will inform you of what amount of damage has been done from the fall.)"

When this event transpires, the player, presumably, made the credible statement that the character was attempting to climb the wall. The GM is explicitly ceded credibility by the system to make a statement concerning what amount of damage has been done. But who made the statement that the character slips and falls?

One could answer, "the participants collectively, by virtue of having ceded a portion of credibility to the system via their social contract at the outset of play." My alternative answer, earlier in this thread, was "the individual player, by means of projection of his statement (of intention to climb the wall) through the outcome-selection filter of the system."

And the gamemaster? It's certainly traditional for the GM to be ceded credibility to override the statement "the thief slips and falls" or replace it with a different statement. But if the GM does not do so, does it make any sense to regard "the thief slips and falls" as originating from the GM or resting on the GMs credibility, just because he could have done so? I'm not convinced.

In the end it might just be easier and more meaningful to say, "the system did it."

- Walt

[edit: cross-posted with Valamir, and we seem to have made extremely similar points. Sorry about the redundancy.]
Wandering in the diasporosphere


Valamir, I especially agree with your point about dysfunctional play.  

I kept meaning to mention Universalis specifically, but never quite managed to.  My (partial) game Before the Flood is another game that specifically and overtly apportions Credibility.

But I think my terminology might have come pre-mangled.  I mean I've been pretty sloppy about it.

I'd like to adopt Fang's use of Authority and Credibility.

Mike, I think your split game is an interesting case of "the game is hanging."  Play proceeds without consensus, sort of; eventually, it'll be resolved or the game will crash, right?

Or I suppose that as future events make the can-of-peaches issue less relevant, parallel histories might develop.  The game goes on, moves on to next week's crisis, eventually the game group just laughs about it without ever resolving the difference.  Bob always maintains that Mitch ate the peaches, others always maintain that he didn't, and ultimately, so what?


Valamir again, and Walt (as it happens),

Player: I shoot the bad guy.
GM: Roll to see if you hit.  [Roll indicates a hit.]  Nope, you miss.
Player: Dude!  I saw the roll.  Are we playing by the rules or not?

The GM makes the statement.  The game mechanics are an Authority that any player can use to support or refute statements.

Player: I shoot the bad guy.
GM: Roll to see if you hit.  [Roll indicates a miss.]
Player:  I hit anyway.  That cool with y'all?
GM and Other Players: Sure.  We hate that guy.

The reason that "Roll indicates a miss" isn't an assertion is that the system has no real vote in whether the shot hits or misses.  In my example 2, the system isn't a holdout player who needs to be convinced, it's an Authority the players agree to ignore.  You can't treat a real player that way.

Edited in: Although, outvoting one player and going on over her protests, leaving her to mutter and gripe and finally give in because it's not worth blocking the game for, is a perfectly valid and pretty common consensus-building technique.



I see what you're saying Vincent, and as I mentioned to Fang, I have no real issue with labeling it that way...but I would caution you in the presentation of your examples.

I suspect you're embedding a bias towards willingness to over ride rules as written into your thesis.  I'm thinking that this natural tendency in your own gameing (caveat: conjecture by me based on my sense of your play from various posts) to prioritize player desire over rules dictates might be leading you to demphasize the importance of the rules ability to make statements.

I know of and have played with groups who would not only disagree with your assertion that the rules don't get to vote, but vehemently declare that ONLY the rules get to vote.  That once you decide to play, you agree to abide by the rules and at that point players have ceded almost ALL of their Credibility to the Rules and GM, with players no longer making statements but rather asking permission.

Just a note of caution that would be careful how much you overtly demphasize the importance of rules.  From my perspective the rules have exactly as much Credibility (or Authority if you prefer, my initial reaction was to replace the term Credibility with Authority anyway) as the players imbue them with, but once so endowed, the rules can be their own entity to be abided by as sacred writ.

In other words an initial rather than ongoing transfer of power.