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Author Topic: Vincent's Standard Rant: Power, Credibility and Assent  (Read 40460 times)
lumpley
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« on: October 04, 2002, 07:50:28 AM »

I call the power in a roleplaying game Credibility.  As in, whose statements about what happens are Credible?  If I say that I shoot you, and you say the gun jams, whose word do we take for it?

1. Fundamentally, we evaluate each assertion that each player makes, giving and withholding Credibility on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis.  The power rests exclusively with the listener, never the speaker - no one can claim Credibility; Credibility is only given or withheld.  A roleplaying game is, thus, based on negotiation.  Usually it's streamlined and invisible, but negotiation underlies every game-significant statement.

2. I'm not offering a way to play.  I'm saying that this is how all of us play, every single time.  I'm also not defining roleplaying, cuz lots of things work the same way and aren't roleplaying.  (Saying, "Vince, dude, every conversation works like that" is agreeing with me, not disagreeing.  Roleplaying is a kind of conversation.)

3. It's practical to divvy Credibility up in advance.  One common arrangement is to have one player be the final authority on all matters.  Another is to play by preset rules, usually again with one player as the final arbiter.  Let me emphasize that these are social arrangements, subject to change at the will of the group, and that even so, every statement about "what happens" must be negotiated.  (It just makes the negotiations easy: "I shoot you." "The gun jams [because you gave final authority to me]." "Dang.")

4. All roleplaying game systems apportion Credibility, and that's all they do.  There is nothing else for them to do.  The crunchiest, sprawlingest, simmest game is a contract between the players about whose word to take for what.

5. It is possible to play a fully cooperative roleplaying game with no formal system, including no final authorities on any matter.  You do this by overtly negotiating controversial statements as they come up.  (Like the man says, System Matters.  Playing this way won't necessarily help you meet your goals for your game.)

6. Compare:

"I shoot you." "The gun jams [because you gave final authority to me]." "Dang."

"I shoot you." "The gun jams." "It does? Look at my character sheet, which has 'Gun Maintenance and Repair: 85%' on it.  I think I'd'a noticed any problems.  [We agreed to play by preset rules, so I'd like you to retract your statement.]" "Hm, okay, roll for it [and I agree with you to abide by the results of the roll]."

"I shoot you." "The gun jams." "Dude, that sucks, you're robbing me." "Well, okay, I see your point. But I don't want to die. Let's compromise."

"I shoot you, but [as I don't think you want to die] the gun jams! Dang!"

---

This may be a total nothingburger, noncontroversial, but I kind of doubt it.  I'm interested to see.

-Vincent
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2002, 08:27:15 AM »

One caution here. I think it's somewhat misleading to interpret the apportioning of credibility as always being between different players:

Quote

...whose statements about what happens are Credible?

...whose word do we take for it?

... a contract between the players about whose word to take for what

(emphases added)

Consider the following examples:

- All resolution in Zak Arntson's Shadows. The same player narrates two possibilities and fortune determines which is chosen.

- A typical stated player-character action with a fortune outcome. The player declares an action, and a mechanical process determines which of the range of possible outcomes implied by the stated action occurs.

- A typical fortune in the middle resolution event, in which a player declares an intention, uses a mechanism to make the fortune determination, then narrates the event including concessions and outcome.

In all these cases, the system has determined that a specific player has Credibility, and that player retains sole credibility throughout the described events. But determining who has credibility doesn't determine the outcome. In all these cases, the system determines not just who has credibility, but which of that person's statements or possible statements have credibility. In the first example, credibility is apportioned to one of two specific statements. In the second, credibility is apportioned to one of a range of possible outcomes ("I hit" "I miss" "My gun jams") implied by the action. In the third, a framework is established that the player's statements must adhere to to be credible.

So: "All roleplaying game system apportion Credibility." Yes they do. "And that's all they do." No it isn't, unless the apportioning of credibility is considered to extend to specific statements rather than just specific players at specific times. Apportioning credibility between specific statements or possible statements all originating from the same player's decisions, to determine which become fact, is where most crunchiness applies.

- Walt
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2002, 08:29:11 AM »

Quote from: lumpley
I call the power in a role-playing game Credibility.  As in, whose statements about what happens are Credible?  If I say that I shoot you, and you say the gun jams, whose word do we take for it?

In my work on Scattershot, I've spent a lot of time trying to code this into the Mechanix.  We divide your Credibility into differing levels based on how much they 'move around.'  (More later.)

As for your points:
    1. Agreed.  I just feel that some games could do this more 'visibly.'

    Points 2-5, I agree with too (with Walt's Caveat about "nothing else").[/list:u]
Quote from: lumpley
6. Compare:[list=a][*]"I shoot you." "The gun jams [because you gave final authority to me]." "Dang."

[*]"I shoot you." "The gun jams." "It does? Look at my character sheet, which has 'Gun Maintenance and Repair: 85%' on it.  I think I'd'a noticed any problems.  [We agreed to play by preset rules, so I'd like you to retract your statement.]" "Hm, okay, roll for it [and I agree with you to abide by the results of the roll]."

[*]"I shoot you." "The gun jams." "Dude, that sucks, you're robbing me." "Well, okay, I see your point. But I don't want to die. Let's compromise."

[*]"I shoot you, but [as I don't think you want to die] the gun jams! Dang!"[/list:o]

I'd like to compare these with what we've worked up for Scattershot to see if we're on the same page.  I agree with much of what you wrote and have been struggling with how to take this to a slightly different application than the traditional.  For example, all of these start with "I shoot you," this isn't allowed at all in Scattershot.  Because of the Proprietorship Mechanix, the best you could do is "I shoot at you."

The dice can say that a shot should hit you.  The common agreement of using the Mechanix is that you accept what the dice say (as opposed to what the other player says).  However, most 'dice only' pronouncements aren't that significant; as a matter of fact, there is a 'cut off,' called the Critical Threshold, which designates significant results.  This compells the recipient (the Proprietor of the victim) to narrate detail regarding the significant result.

Here's how the rest of it matches up:[list=a][*]There is no "final authority."  The gun is your Proprietorship so you have final say on what happens to it.  (The same way you can't simply say you shot me.)  Now I could throw an Experience Die into it, formally requesting the alteration, the jam; this is called Challenge.  You can either accept it or decline it (if you accept, you keep the Experience Die), you are the final authority for the gun.  If I want to be petulant and press the issue, it goes to Solomon's Auction and one of us gets Credibility and the other gets the bid Experience Dice.

[*]This looks like how "invisible" systems did it in the past.  Scattershot doesn't require the statement of Persona justification because Proprietorship defines this as the natural 'ownership.'

[*]Another variation based more on social contract.  Do you think I have adequately described Challenge and Solomon's Auction as working this way explicitly?

[*]One thing I haven't seen anywhere else is anything similar to how you get rewarded for this in Scattershot's Genre Expectations Mechanix.  We assume the survival of the 'shot at' character is in the Genre Expectations (like Script Immunity) and your use of a Plot Device to save them nets you a reward.  This was meant to encourage the game going as expected rather than at the whim of the dice (or of Credibility arguments).[/list:o]One thing not mentioned in this exchange is that the 'shooter' is the Speaker (kinda like, it's his turn to talk; all others respect that).

Another is a 'layer' in between gamemaster (Proprietor of much of the setting traditionally) and the Speaker; we call that the Leader.  A Leader crops up a lot when scenes are started.  Often the Leader starts the Precipitating Event that gets the scene going and often moderates the pace somewhat by 'Cutting to the Chase' and et cetera.  The Leader was a necessary addition when it turned out that not having the gamemaster as final arbiter lead to confusion over the relevance and importance (and goals) of differing scenes (especially in Gamemasterful sharing).

That's how we explicitly apportion Credibility in Scattershot.  You seem to have a fine grasp of the concept so would you mind helping us out a little and letting me know if we've missed anything obvious?  (In Private Messages is fine.)

Fang Langford

p. s. Links coming later.

[Edit] Links established.  Many significant corrections.  Added Critical Threshold stuff.  Please reread the whole post carefully. [/Edit]
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2002, 08:55:14 AM »

Could I paraphrase you Walt by saying sometimes the system isn't apportioning Credibility between two players...sometimes it is withholding Credibility for itself?

In otherwords:

Player:  "I shoot him"

System: "no...you mean you TRY to shoot him, I'll decide whether it happens or not"

In a sense all of the various props we use have "Credibility" attached to them.

For instance the System could apportion the Credibility to the dice as in "the dice will decide whether you hit" with a fortune mechanic.  Or it could apportion the Credibility to the character sheet (so to speak) with a Karma mechanic.  Or it could apportion the Credibility to the GM with a drama mechanic.  Or it could apportion the Credibility to the player (or a different player) with a director stance mechanic.

If we lump all of the "non individual person" stuff...like tables, dice, cards, etc. into "system", than the system itself becomes another "player" at the table in terms of who has the "Credibility".


Although I must say, I like the term Authority better than Credibility.  It seems to me we're talking about whose statement we chose to give power to not whose statement we choose to believe.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2002, 09:35:47 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Although I must say, I like the term Authority better than Credibility.  It seems to me we're talking about whose statement we chose to give power to not whose statement we choose to believe.


Heh, I would say that the system has or gives Authority. The extent to which a player accepts that Authority in use is the Credibility of the agent making the call.

IOW, a system might give a player Authority to do something, but the extent to which it is accepted by the other participants would be the action's Credibility.

Mike
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lumpley
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2002, 09:39:46 AM »

Quote from: Walt
...the apportioning of credibility is considered to extend to specific statements rather than just specific players at specific times.

Yes.
Quote from: Walt
Apportioning credibility between specific statements or possible statements all originating from the same player's decisions, to determine which become fact, is where most crunchiness applies.

Yes.

Valamir,

I don't believe that systems can have crediblity, because they can't ever really make assertions.  Even Rolemaster's crits depend on the GM saying them out loud, if you see what I mean.

"Let's play Rolemaster!  I'll be the GM." = "Let's play Rolemaster!  I'll be the final authority on all matters, but I'll limit my game-significant assertions to ones supported by Rolemaster's mechanics."

"Okay!" = "I'll readily assent to whatever you assert, provided that indeed your assertions are consistent with the rules."

If the GM asserts something inconsistent with the system, the negotiation stops being invisible and easy, and maybe the players assent and maybe they don't.  But if they assent, the GM hasn't wrested credibility away from the system or anything.

Shadows works the same way, I think: "Here's what I want, here's what my Shadow wants -- dang! My Shadow die won.  Well, what I want happens anyway."  If the other players agree to it, it's fine, I mean it happens anyway, just as I say.  It just means that we aren't actually apportioning credibility by the game rules, we're using some other system.

If we gave credibility to game mechanics, we'd be sitting there in silence staring at a book.

What Mike said.  I think.

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2002, 09:55:09 AM »

To run with Mike's Authority a bit:

The system isn't the only source of Authority.  Genre conventions, story considerations, character integrity are -- anything you can appeal to for support of your assertion.

Seems to me that Narrativism as a game design philosophy is all about bringing system-based Authority and story consideration-based Authority into line with one another.  But that's not really here nor there.

Fang,

Yeah.  I've thought we were on the same page for a while about this stuff, just hadn't said so.

-Vincent
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2002, 10:26:50 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
If we lump all of the "non individual person" stuff...like tables, dice, cards, etc. into "system", than the system itself becomes another "player" at the table in terms of who has the "Credibility".


I could accept that characterization, and I think it's a useful way of looking at designs sometimes. But doing so here would rather undercut Vincent's philosophical point, to wit:

"All a system does is apportion credibility... oh, and is a player that sometimes has and uses credibility."

So I've chosen instead to regard the system as sometimes withholding or apportioning credibility to statements not actually made by players but extrapolated through the system as potential outcomes. I guess that doesn't help much, because now extrapolating such potential outcomes becomes something else besides apportioning credibility that some systems do.

- Walt
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Emily Care
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2002, 11:08:09 AM »

Valamir wrote:
Quote from: Valamir
Player:  "I shoot him"

System: "no...you mean you TRY to shoot him, I'll decide whether it happens or not"


The system requires human agency and is granted authority by the participants to confer credibility.  This credibility requires human concensus. Being able to come to concensus is often enhanced by the use of system elements.

So it becomes:

Player: "I shoot him."

Someone else: "You have to roll for that." Which translates into:  "That action will significantly affect another game element which does not fall within your proprietorship. So although you may attempt said action, the outcome will only be credible--ie acknowledged to have happened in the game world by concensus--based on certain pre-agreed upon quantified aspects of your character or other game elements as they interact within this system of rules we are using."

The system is conferring credibility because thats what folks agreed to do, it doesn't hold any authority to do so that is not given by the players.  The system is an operation performed, it can't take part in concensus.  

--Emily Care

Walter: thank you for not undercutting the philosophical point. :) Your response helped me remember that there's no "truth" here, its just different ways of ordering experience that are hoped to be helpful in discussing and designing games.

edited at 3:11
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2002, 11:44:47 AM »

Well, I agree 100% with the concept Vincent proposed, and I definitely hear where your coming from regarding the people thing.

But I would say that it sounds to me like a distinction that is made primarily as part of a philosophical platform rather than one with practical application.

To me your translation of the "shoot him" line is nothing more than the players granting credibility back to the system.  Obviously the system has no credibility without the players acquiessance...but then it also has no ability to apportion credibility amongst the players without their acquiessance so that point seems rather moot.

So "I shoot him" "no you have to roll for that" is the players granting the first player credibility only if the first player's action is filtered through the game mechanics.  Something to me which is functionally identical to the players apportioning a particular aspect of Credibility back to the System...or more precisely yet, acquiessing to the system (i.e. the rule book) reserving that aspect for itself.

At this point I'll hit a tangent and mention that I work in a bank with Trust accounts for a living.  A trust is a document (more or less a contractural arrangement between a grantor and a beneficiary).  As trustee for a trust...the trust is our client.  The grantor is not the client (they are usually dead) the beneficiary is not the client.  The trust itself is its own entity (with its own tax id number) and its own legal existance.

I mention this as a way of shedding light on the idea that considering the game book as another "player" i.e. interested party is a natural thing to me.  The distinction between the living people involved and the book of rules is not a distinct one for me...because I treat a book of rules (a trust document) as a person every day.

So from my perspective, it doesn't violate the essential truth that is at the heart of Vincent's discussion that role playing systems are nothing more than methods of apportioning credibility.  I am perfectly able to ascribe having some credibility apportioned to what you are obviously viewing as an inanimate object.  To me that inanimate object carries just as much wieght as a living breathing person because thats the field I'm in.  

Actually it usually carries more weight than a living breathing person which possibly also accounts for my willingness to design rules where the rule book says "THIS is the right way to do it and you shall obey me because I am the rule book".

Anyway...just a little background to put things in perspective.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2002, 12:55:27 PM »

Quote from: lumpley
Shadows works the same way, I think: "Here's what I want, here's what my Shadow wants -- dang! My Shadow die won.  Well, what I want happens anyway."  If the other players agree to it, it's fine, I mean it happens anyway, just as I say.  It just means that we aren't actually apportioning credibility by the game rules, we're using some other system.


Not to derail the discussion, but this is one of the most important aspects of game design: Recognizing that, as designer, your control of play is solely based upon your presentation. It's up to your design to act as a guideline for the group with the intent that the group plays the game as you intend it to be played.

Your design assigns credibility as well as you can, and the actual participants take over after that.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2002, 12:55:53 PM »

Valamir,

Interesting perspective on non-human entitities holding power.  Thanks for the insight!  Yes, inanimate entities in the form of trusts, corporations and game systems do end up holding more power than the human agents.  In society this is supported by rule of law (and force of arms); in gaming, by social agreement (and pressure).  

Quote from: Valamir
To me your translation of the "shoot him" line is nothing more than the players granting credibility back to the system.


Yes, it is circular.  What's important to me is that although the participants are the final arbiters of what is credible, since they are using a system, their power of granting credibility is projected onto the system.  This creates the illusion that the mechanics make some thing "true" in game.

 Due to the nature of roleplaying, nothing in the game exists if participants don't grant it credibility. The power that system itself holds is to shape the outcomes that are held to be credible.  In using a game system, we choose the flavour of our experience.

A practical applications of this is to empower gamers to give themselves and eachother the power to confer credibility, directly, instead of requiring the intermediary of system.  I'm starting to feel like Martin Luther. :) It points to a broader pallete of mechanics available than is in current usage.

Running out of time, or I'd think up some examples.  Hope that clarifies my interest better. Thanks!

--Emily Care
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2002, 01:46:34 PM »

Good stuff Emily.

Yeah...It sounds to me like what we're talking about is the basic theory of government that power ultimately comes from the people who consent to be governed.

Only in this case its the players consenting to be governed by the game rules.

That consent vests the government / game rules with real power.  Through the mechanisms of legistlation / social contract we can alter the parameters of that government, but otherwise we are agreeing to abide by its dictates...including who or what has the Credibility to make a declared action stick.

So we have:

Power of the Players ---->  being handed over to the game rules ----> being reallocated by said rules back to the players.

That reallocation may (often) include unequal allocation to the player granted the title of Game Master.  Further it usually involves reserving some (often much) of the Credibility for itself in the sense of requireing players to filter their statements through mechanics before receiving the Credibility they seek.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2002, 03:09:05 PM »

I agree with Vincent.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2002, 06:42:54 PM »

It seems to me that the system should be placed a level higher in the hierarchy of this discussion. The agreement to abide by a particular system is a prerequisite to play, and a major part of the social contract. IMO, a theoretical discussion of credibility or authority can only take place with this structure firmly in place.

The claim that a system has no inherent credibility looks false to me. Game systems are not static or passive. They don't rely on humans to make them real on a moment-by-moment basis. I like to compare them to executable computer code. The players make the decision to run the program (use the game system) during the initial stages of negotiation. ("Hey, you wanna come over and play D&D? I got a new dungeon!" "Yeah! Sure! Sounds like a blast!") Once the program is started, it runs by itself.

This isn't to say that the execution is always seemless. There can be bugs in the data ("What? Who says this sword weighs 60 pounds?") or errors in the algorithms ("So, I can keep buying this stat up, then back down, and get as may creation points as a want. Hehehehe....). The players can interrupt the process ("No, you don't really die here!") or kill it ("This sucks! Let's go play playstation!").

So, IOW, the decision to use a particular game system is implicitly awarding default Credibility to that system. That the system has Credibility is a given whenever you're talking about instances of play. It was given Authority way back when you first decided that you were going to use it instead of Vampire.
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