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Author Topic: Is meaningless detail really meaningless?  (Read 14504 times)
M. J. Young
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« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2003, 11:17:09 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
1 Copper Phooka (P)   
1 Copper Morank (M) = 2P
1 Silver Gryphon (G) = 50M = 100P
1 Silver Wyvern (W) = 2G = 100M = 200P
1 Gold Roc (R) = 10W = 20G = 1000M = 2000P
1 Gold Dragon (D) = 20R = 200W = 400G = 20,000M = 40,000P

Oddly, my problems with this are mostly simulationist problems.

I see that the Morank is worth twice the Phooka, and I assume it's twice as large. This would also explain the huge jump from the Morank to the Gryphon, since we conclude that silver is worth about a hundred times the value of copper--thus the Phooka and the Morank are the same size, but different metals, and there isn't anything practical to use between the Morank and the Gryphon because nothing is worth the right amount. We have the same doubled relationship between the Gryphon and the Wyvern, so we assume the same coin size relationship.

But then we get to the Roc and the Dragon.  I can accept that the Roc is the  same size as the Phooka and the Gryphon, and that gold is worth twenty times what silver is worth. The distance between the Wyvern and the Roc is not so bad; I don't have the same desire for an intermediate coin (I really can't imagine anyone carrying around forty-nine Moranks to use to make change). But the Dragon is worth twenty times the Roc, and given my assumptions that this is based on metal values, I'm forced to assume the coin is twenty times as large. Even if I'm using half an ounce for my standard coins, the Dragon must way greater than half a pound. It's an absurd coin; it must be near the size of a saucer.

So I am driven to conclude that the Dragon is not so big, and that therefore the values of the coins are based not on metal content but on convention: the king promises to trade so many of one for so many of another, and this gives them value. It's an extremely modernist view of the matter (I discussed the development and relationships of monetary systems some time back in http://www.gamingoutpost.com/GL/index.cfm?action=ShowProduct&CategoryID=54411&ProductID=63788&publisherid=54849">Game Ideas Unlimited: Cash), but it seems inevitable that the Dragon must be value by convention, not by size.

And if it is, then I'm stuck wondering why there are fifty Moranks to the Gryphon.

I don't think I have a problem with the idea of having your own monetary system. I don't think I've known many referees who didn't--E. R. Jones had a Chrome piece that was worth ten times a platinum, and I've heard of someone using Steel pieces at a high value. You have to learn something about the monetary system of just about any world you enter, if you're going to use it. In most of my Multiverser worlds I try to keep it simple (although for Sherwood Forest we duplicated part of the complicated old English system). My problem is that this particular system doesn't make much sense. There's too big a gap in two places, one of which can only be explained if value is based on weight, and the other only if it isn't.

So I guess my simulationist side is showing.

--M. J. Young
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weeble
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #16 on: February 23, 2003, 07:19:01 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
There's too big a gap in two places, one of which can only be explained if value is based on weight, and the other only if it isn't.

I don't know much about the nature of monetary systems, but I wonder if it's really so odd to have both value by weight and by convention? Phookas and Moranks and such will likely be used and accepted by pretty much everyone. Policing forgery of such coins could well be impracticle - so it makes sense that their value resides solely in their material. Dragons on the other hand will be scarce and only handled by the wealthy in large transactions. These might have been instituted by the kingdom with a value by convention for practicality in trading, and with less of them about, and their usage being more noticeable it would be more viable to crack down on forgery. No?

Weeble.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #17 on: February 23, 2003, 04:52:04 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: greyorm
There seems to be this weird belief floating about that Narrativists are "fudgy," in that the world receives little detail, or that color/flavor is meaningless/unappreciated by/a bother to Narrativists.

And the other side of that coin is that Simulationist are anal with every minute detail spelled out, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem.

That's a bloody good point, Raven. Much better discussion has arisen from this than I had expected. My hat goes off.


"Right," he said sarcastically, "because that's exactly the sort of point that I am likely to try and make."

Check your logic again, guys. Because I claim that this is likely a problem that some particular Narrativist might have with some particular GM does not mean that I think that these small examples in any way cover the whole of the descriptions of play of these styles.

Get real.

One subset of Simulationism, I'll call it "Precisionism" concerns itself with the creation of detail soley for the sake of the verisimilitude that may be delivered by such plausible, and precise detail. This may be what Jack's GM is going for.

And if so, and if Jack is a Narrativist (which, given things like the design goals of The Wheel, and his other posts I think is probably likely), then this is exactly the sort of thing that will seem a waste, as it has nothing to do with anything resembling "story".

You know, I think that with all the discussion of Sim play producing something like "story" that we forget that there are all sorts of types of Sim play that are not concerned in the slightest with creating anything resembling story. And others that want to produce something like "story" but not at the sacrifice of fine detail. The point is, that to some Sim players, the sort of detail mentioned is not only meaningful, but crucial to play.

If you don't see how, then all that says is that this is not a sub-mode that you'll like. Much less the overall mode.

Is that any clearer?

Mike
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Johannes
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Posts: 64


« Reply #18 on: February 23, 2003, 11:50:42 PM »

I suggest we drop the "meaningless detail" and use a word that has long been used in the field of criticism and literary theory. The "meaningless detail" has been labelled "effet de reel" or "reality effect". (Was it Barthes who came up with the term?)

It stands for a detail in narration that is there beacuse "it's there". Reality effect is a detail added to perfect the illusion of the "reality" of the narrated. I guess the idea is to give the reader the feeling that he's just voyering and eavesdropping real events rather than reading an artificial fictional story. Reality effect is one of the basic stylistic techniques of realist fiction (I mean Balzac, Dostoyevski and the like). How meaningless the reality effect is depends on how much the audience (the gaming group) values the illusion of reality.

Reality effect might be important to narrativists as well as simists or even gamists. However I can most easily see the importance of reality effect in a "anti-narrative" simist play which wants its narrated to be a dream, a virtual reality rather than a verbal construct and plotted artifact (which it always is).  This is of course an illusion but for many (myself included) it's a pleasurable illusion. Reality effect helps to forget the real life concerns behind the game.

I'll later relate this thing to immersion but since it will be a long post and a bit off topic I will not do it here. And yes - I know that immersion is a problematic word so don't tell it to me.
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Johannes Kellomaki
Thierry Michel
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Posts: 177


« Reply #19 on: February 24, 2003, 06:10:52 AM »

I think "meaningless" is appropriate in that case.

What's the point of detailing a complex, multi-metallic system if you're going to have fixed exchange rates anyway ?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #20 on: February 24, 2003, 06:53:30 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
..., the Dragon must way greater than half a pound. It's an absurd coin; it must be near the size of a saucer.

A hockey puck. Yes. Again, I cannot answer why. I also fail to see the purpose of such a coin except that to find it would be pretty nifty. It's currency for purchasing small-to-medium sized countries.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #21 on: February 24, 2003, 07:19:14 AM »

I like that term, Johannes. Reality Effect does convey exactly what I'm trying to get at.  The question is, given players that prefer certain styles, who prefers lots of Reality Effects; enough so that some of them do not ever become actiely involved in the action? I think that's what Jack seems to be against. The idea that a detail would be introduced despite the fact that it seems to have nothing to do with the current conflicts of the characters, for example. This seems to be unique to RPGs, and Herman Melville (one might well ask, "What's with the whole chapter on knots in MOby Dick?")

FWIW, the most complicated monetary system I've ever played with was playing GURPS Swashbucklers. Using real world data, there are charts in the book detailing all the sorts of money being used by each nation, and the weights of each. To make an exchange you have to consider a whole host of factors. One has to look at the weight, and purity of the metals at the time. Then one has to consider the issuing government, and what's allowed to be used by whom. The Spanish, for example, had all sorts of rules on the use of different currencies, and these tended to change when wars were declared. Which happened almost constantly in the 17th century. Add to that the location of the exchange and the scarcity of coinage, and other factors, and currency became a whole subset of play.

"OK, we've got a mountain of doubloons, but we can't take our English crew to port in a Spanish town or they'll know it's stolen. So, lets sail for Tortuga, and hope that the buccanneer merchants there don't rake us over the coals trying to purchase cannon, shot, and powder with our newfound Spanish booty." (As a town run by pirates for the most part, one could usually pay in whatever sort of coin in Tortuga. Still, you had to figure out what the cost for things would be in doubloons or whatever.)

I got way into it. At one point we realized that, after a fight with lots of casualties, that nobody on the ship had anything resembling advanced math skills*. In order to make an exchange at the next port (English for Spanish, at Port Royale, IIRC), we abducted an educated merchant and forced him to give us a fair estimate of what the exchange we wanted to perform should entail before letting him go. So currency detail here drove play.

Interesting how the real world ends up being way more complicated in detail than any fantasy world system. For those sorts of players who like to have things be as close as possible to being as detailed as the real world, this sort of thing is crucial. Far from meaningless, detail like this becomes the point of play.

Mike

*It's interesting in playing "Pirates" games, that the whole crew becomes a skill set. You're always looking to bring in people with new skills so that you can handle whatever you come up against. I think it was our carpenter or cooper or someone who had had the math skills. When we replaced that position, the new guy didn't have math. So we hired an ex-tobacco farmer at one point because he knew tobacco, of course, but also because he knew math (apparently it's somehow important to tobacco farming or something).
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #22 on: February 24, 2003, 07:24:23 AM »

Heeding D&D tradition, most fantasy currencies are vastly devalued from their real world counterparts. This is so that players can find chests full of gold, and still not have so much wealth that any same person would retire.

So one assumes that he hockey-puck sized Dragon was very valuable, but perhaps not moreso than real world gold coins. Perhaps less. What can you buy with, say, a Phooka? If it takes 10 Phooka to buy a loaf of bread, then the Dragon is not ridiculously valuable.

Further, in fantasy one wants often to surpass the real world in the magnitude of certain things. Perhaps the world is quite grandiose, and Dragons are used to purchase nations regularly. Jack?

Or, perhaps the GM just hasn't thought all this out. Nobody's perfect.

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #23 on: February 24, 2003, 10:43:55 AM »

Well, whatever you ment to say, Mike, didn't come through -- and as you know, what you mean to say doesn't count. You said Narrativist with a big N, and no qualifiers following, hence I responded to the statement that Narrativists would find such an item.

And given your own logic, it has nothing to do with being a Narrativist anyways, only (perhaps) a subset of such, but since we have no shared defined subsets to discuss the issue around...

Jack's response was the same: mentioning the flip-side of the bad stereotype coin to uphold my point about the inaccuracy of stereotypes. "Yep, coinage is a Simulationist thing" is a statement that if anyone makes I also say bah!

My main problem: GNS gets thrown around way too much as the be-all-end-all in the discussion of problem issues; unfortunately, half-the-time GNS does't make a whit of difference to the problem being discussed, at least top-level GNS, and certainly doesn't solve the problem.
This IMO is one of those cases.

Rather than waving hands and invoking the grand triad as the meaningless answer, the actual reason why the coinage issue was so distrubing, and what specifically about it was so disturbing, should be explored -- in plain English. GNS can be fitted in after this if necessary.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #24 on: February 24, 2003, 11:19:12 AM »

Quote from: greyorm
Well, whatever you ment to say, Mike, didn't come through -- and as you know, what you mean to say doesn't count. You said Narrativist with a big N, and no qualifiers following, hence I responded to the statement that Narrativists would find such an item.
That's crazy. I said, in it's entirity:
Quote
Conflicting play styles? Sounds like Sim detail annoying a Narrativist to me. Any chance that's close?

Lets look at that in silly detail so I can find out where I said what you're saying I said.

Keep in mind the context, I was responding to Jack. I said, "Sim detail". I think the only reasonable translation of that phrase would be, "detail that a Sim player would find interesting". How did you parse that part? And they I mention "a Narrativist". As in Jack. As in some one player who might because of his preference for Narrativism have a problem with Sim detail.

Not buying it. You came back and attacked based on some knee-jerk reaction regarding some issue to do with Narrativists being categorized incorrectly. And I'm supposed to just accept your point and not correct the perception? Do you still think I'm equivocating?

Quote
And given your own logic, it has nothing to do with being a Narrativist anyways, only (perhaps) a subset of such, but since we have no shared defined subsets to discuss the issue around...
It has everything to do with being Narrativist. That indicates that the player prefers some styple of Narrativist play. And it's this preference that causes the dislike of Sim detail. How can this be so difficult?

Quote
Jack's response was the same: mentioning the flip-side of the bad stereotype coin to uphold my point about the inaccuracy of stereotypes. "Yep, coinage is a Simulationist thing" is a statement that if anyone makes I also say bah!
Does it strike you that the first and last sentences of my three sentence post were questions? I was asking if this was in fact the case. Something that only Jack can relate with any accuracy. To which he responded, quite to my satisfaction:

Quote
Maybe, maybe not.

Then, suddenly there you are calling me the racist version of a GNS theorist. As though I were perpetuating a stereotype, when I was merely asking a question of an individual.

Quote
My main problem: GNS gets thrown around way too much as the be-all-end-all in the discussion of problem issues; unfortunately, half-the-time GNS does't make a whit of difference to the problem being discussed, at least top-level GNS, and certainly doesn't solve the problem.
This IMO is one of those cases.
And IMO, it sounds like exactly the sort of problem that can be looked at with GNS analysis. What, now I can't even ask if something might be a GNS problem? I'm pushing stereotypes if I do? As if I believed in GNS stereotypes. You have me confused with somebody else. I've in fact been an advocate for precisely the points you've been trying to make here, and I can't believe that you don't know me well enough to know I'd never do that.

Quote
Rather than waving hands and invoking the grand triad as the meaningless answer, the actual reason why the coinage issue was so distrubing, and what specifically about it was so disturbing, should be explored -- in plain English. GNS can be fitted in after this if necessary.
Huh? So, to you GNS is just garbage, apparently? I mean the above sounds quite dismissive. In what way did my query prevent Jack from responding in any way he likes (in fact he has responded in his own manner)? What damage was I doing?

I suggest that you start a new thread, and put this notion out in more detail. If there's really a problem we need to discuss it somewhere other than here.

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #25 on: February 24, 2003, 12:47:26 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
That indicates that the player prefers some styple of Narrativist play. And it's this preference that causes the dislike of Sim detail.

Exactly! This is precisely the problem with your statement: as I pointed out, this is not necessarily a "Simulationist detail." And hence why Jack's dislike of it is not necessarily a GNS issue.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #26 on: February 24, 2003, 01:04:37 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
Quote from: Mike Holmes
That indicates that the player prefers some styple of Narrativist play. And it's this preference that causes the dislike of Sim detail.

Exactly! This is precisely the problem with your statement: as I pointed out, this is not necessarily a "Simulationist detail." And hence why Jack's dislike of it is not necessarily a GNS issue.


Which is why I asked, which is why I asked, which is why I asked if it was "Sim detail". I said that's what it "sounded like to me". Not that it had to be a Sim detail. Would question marks on all three sentences have made it more clear than just two out of three?

That all said, I turns out that my guess was right concerning the Sim detail thing. Or, rather, I've seen nothing from his description since that would convince me that it's not a "Sim detail". I guessed right it seems. In fact, I stand by my entire assessment of the situation. Until Jack gives me some information that says otherwise.

But at no point did I say that all coinage systems are Sim. Or that all Narrativists can't handle any sort of detail. Or anything remotely like that. You state that I was being unclear, but it's you who've simply decided to read in non-existant prejudices in a three sentence post. You've pinned upon me a label that won't stick. You've made your point, but you've done it at my expense.

To quote the Reverend Jesse Jackson: "I deny the alligation, and I deny the alligator!"

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #27 on: February 24, 2003, 02:59:56 PM »

Mike, I saw what I saw, I read what I read. You don't agree. End of story. You're not under investigation here, and your defense and detailed explanations of your posts is unnecessary.

Let's get back to discussing Jack's problem, shall we? And whether meaningless detail is really meaningless?  Let's define that word, however: "meaningless." Because, ironically, its meaningless to me how it stands.

Jack?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
clehrich
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« Reply #28 on: February 24, 2003, 05:28:12 PM »

Okay, hang on a minute.

Seems to me that what's happening here is a kind of mirroring effect, with a lot lying just below the surface (behind the tain, technically).

Here's the setup:

1. As far as coinage per se, it appears that most agree it can be plot-driving and constructively useful.

2. Most also agree that it usually is not; it's pure color.  Which is not to say it's a bad thing as color --- only that it does not drive plot.

3. Most also agree that this particular instance seems annoying.

4. Note: As far as I can tell, Jack has not yet specified whether "meaningless" means (A) not constitutive of stories/plots/etc.; (B) color; (C) obstructive color; (D) otherwise annoying.

On one side, my sense is that Mike has some of the following concerns:

1. Many Sim games do make extensive use of fine detail, often for reasons of color.

2. Some (or many) Nar-preference folks disdain such use of color, on some grounds or other.

3. Therefore, Mike is worried about whether this question of "meaningless detail" masks yet another GNS-stereotyping attack by Nar-preference players against Sim-preference players.

On the opposite side, I think greyorm has some of the following concerns:

1. There have in the past been dismissals of valid general theory questions on pseudo-GNS grounds, the claimed argument being, "this is just a GNS preference so shut up (you annoying people of X GNS preference)."

2. Mike has made his own preferences fairly clear, and appears (to greyorm) to be preparing to draw yet another line in the sand between Nar and Sim.

3. Therefore, greyorm is worried that Mike's remarks about Sim vs. Nar are a misuse of GNS in order to seal off debate.

Okay, now it seems to me that you basically agree in the abstract.  Both of you are concerned about the misuse of GNS as a system of stereotyping and labeling, especially with pejorative (or downright insulting) intent or effect.  Both of you recognize that, to the extent that this question of "meaning" is a question of GNS, this thread may mask or prompt typical annoying inter-preference bashing.

So to clarify and re-orient greyorm's last question:

Jack:
What exactly do you mean by "meaningless"?  Granting that this system does indeed seem annoying, what in particular is it that you consider symptomatic, and of what is it a symptom?
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #29 on: February 24, 2003, 05:56:59 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Jack:
What exactly do you mean by "meaningless"?  Granting that this system does indeed seem annoying, what in particular is it that you consider symptomatic, and of what is it a symptom?

Jeez, I feel like this whole discussion has gotten away from me. I was kind of hoping for the discussion to move past this monetary system for a number of reason.

* I really didn't want to dwell on one particular example and was hoping for a few other examples to come up

* By the time my friend had started up this campaign, my interest in play with this group in general had waned to the point where I was ready to quite. As such, I really didn't deal with the money at all. That is, the group got, say 50 M each for some reason, I didn't write it down. The group had to chip it a couple phookas to pay for something, I didn't write that down. Continuing to ask me about this game is kind of silly because I really wasn't playing anymore, for a number of reasons and I had already covered this in Actual Play.

* Most of what I had been saying about this monetary system comes from the wife, then, who continues to play. I'm not sure where her preference lies in GNS. Possibly exploration of situation and character. I had asked and she said she has the most fun shopping and have some kind of party or celebration in the game. Moreso than any plot, although she enjoys that too.

In an attempt to shut the door on the coinage example, I think it's meaningless because it is just color but color that requires effort out of proportion to the effort it requires. The wife has complained to me about how difficult it is to use the monetary system. She would forget what coin was more valuable than what if it wasn't written on her character sheet. AFAIK there is not the at least interesting monetary system Mike outlined above. In effect, this system is pretty much the same as the typical coinage from D&D, only made more complicated for no particularly good reason other than to make the money not just the typical gold, silver, etc.
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