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Exploration of System (split)

Started by Walt Freitag, June 03, 2003, 05:43:07 PM

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Walt Freitag

Split from the Beeg Horseshoe Revisited thread:

This topic appeared unresolved but it's tangled among other topics in the original thread. This is an attempted rescue.

Quote from: II agree that "fidelity to a set of rules" doesn't seem to have much meaning, yet if we're talking about the fidelity associated with exploration of system, it's where we end up... The problem is what sort of fidelity goes along with "exploration of system."
Quote from: Mike HolmesI've never understood System as one of the five elements. If system is the means by which we determine what happens in-game, then it's all of play, and encompasses the other elements. So if the system says that color shall be thus and such, and the GM is responsible for seeing that it occurs, color is part of the system.

OTOH, I can see exploration of Mechanics, which is what I assumed was what Ron meant before he rightly defined System in it's larger role.

Ron can you clarify once again what you mean by Exploration of System?
Quote from: Ron EdwardsRolling to hit is a great example of Exploration of System. We have turned to some methodology in order to imagine what is happening in the game world. This methodology necessarily includes all the formal mechanics, but "formal" is often locally defined. In the case of rolling to hit, that local definition just means, "follow the written rule." Most of the time, I think, we can stick with this simple understanding.

However, that simple understanding isn't sufficient. For instance, a rule or method might be in the book, but the group ignores it (e.g. weapon's Speed Factor or whatever the hell it was called in my old AD&D books). That omission is part of System for that group. Similarly, just deciding that "he hits," without rolling or using other formal indicators, is System too, insofar as someone is designated as The Buck-Stopper (the guy who decides).

To say that System therefore applies to all moments of play is perfectly correct. I should also say that System can be highly, highly prioritized, and that's often the case when it's formalized through text, and when, for that group, that text's integrity is a big reason for why they're using it. As you know, GURPS included this idea as a big part of its marketing strategy back in the 80s, and JAGS, EABA, and Pocket Universe all provide (in my view) an improved and even more committed version of this strategy.

Does that help?
Quote from: I...Does that mean all consensual use of System is exploration of System?

Gah. Wouldn't that make any functional play in any system Simulationist? In The Pool, I might know the perfect Premise-addressing thing to narrate, but the die roll says I don't get to narrate; using ( = exploring?) the system apparently has priority.
Quote from: John KimThis doesn't seem right to me. "Exploration" to me implies learning. Thus, for example, if a D&D group goes through a dungeon module, they are exploring setting. However, if after they complete the module, they play it again, there is much less exploration going on. If they keep playing through that module twelve more times, there is really no exploration left.

Now, I can see some games being exploration of system, like say Rolemaster or Champions. Through play, you learn nuances of the complex system which you didn't before. However, I don't think that simply using the system constitutes exploration. For example, a hit roll in Call of Cthulhu is very cut and dried. After your first game (at most) of CoC, there is no longer any exploration of system in rolling for your attack.
Quote from: RonI'm using the definition of Exploration from my essay. This seems to have tripped you up a few times already in discussion, John. It just means imagining stuff in the process of role-playing.
Quote from: Jason (cruciel)Funny thing about Exploration of System...I've got the same confusion over Situation (isn't all roleplaying about what happens?) So, to answer my own question, and maybe yours:

I think what I've forgotten is that all Exploration elements are present in play, saying you are prioritizing System doesn't mean it's your singular focus (like GNS would be), but instead it is saying that the player is committing more attention to how it influences the events in the shared imaginary space. For example, prioritizing Explore:System may be nothing more complicated than devoting more thought to how the movement rules work (System) than what the character looks like when running (Color).
Quote from: MikeExcept that by the larger definition, how you determine Color is via system. How you determine Situation is via system. How you determine setting is via system. I mean, if the system is that the GM is arbiter of the setting as he ususally is, then isn't the GM creating a setting detail like a palace just a use of system?

Better put, give me an example of using the system that's not also one of the other four. I mean if rolling to hit is a great example of exploring system, isn't that just altering situation as well? Or do we mean simply resolution systems, and not system overall?

If the group ignores a rule, haven't they just drifted to a new rule that says that this situation isn't covered by resolution mechanics? That it's covered by GM fiat, or something like that? Isn't that system?

I'm not getting it, Ron.
Quote from: RonThe way I see it, if you have Character, Situation, Setting, and Color, then nothing happens. That's right, even if you have Situation. It's all frozen without System.
Quote from: MikeRight. So either you explore System, or nothing happens. Which means that you are always exploring system in play. How can one prioritize system, if it's always already in use?
Quote from: Ron"Use" and "prioritize" aren't the same things. I'm kind of puzzled, man. All of the five elements are "always in use." Prioritizing them is a matter of which causes which, or which receive more energy and attention than the others - not a matter of which get used at all and which don't.

I was under the impression that the Sim essay was pretty clear about that.
Quote from: Ralph (Valamir)Ron I think the problem Mike is having is that this discussion seems to have inflated system into something that is no longer 1 of the 5, but rather above the remaining 4.

i.e. Instead of

[Social Context [Exploration of the 5 [GNS]]]

it now appears to be:

[Social Context [System [Exploration of the 4 [GNS]]]
Quote from: John Laviolette (talysman)I'm betting Ron would say the same thing about any of the elements of Exploration... if you have Setting, System, Situation and Color, but no Character, you have no play.
Quote from: MikeRon, that's a semantic argument. Forget "Use". Insert your term. How does one prioritize system or give it more energy? If it's always given attention, then how can it have less attention given to it? Try examples. I really can't imagine what you're talking about if it's not resolution systems or mechanics.

For example, do you mean to say that if I am the GM, and am describing the setting, that I'm prioritizing setting then?

Ralph, you are correct that I have a problem with that discussion, and what it entails, but it's based on this current problem in understanding.
Quote from: RonJohn wrote,
QuoteI'm betting Ron would say the same thing about any of the elements of Exploration... if you have Setting, System, Situation and Color, but no Character, you have no play.
And he'd win that bet.
Wandering in the diasporosphere

C. Edwards

As Ralph has said, the Challenge/Fidelity model seems to put System before the other 4 elements of Exploration. The degree to which a System solidifies (beyond internal consistency) and promotes the versimilitude of the other 4 elements in play corresponds to its level of Fidelity as perceived by a player.

This seems fitting to me, but I'm sure there are factors I'm not taking into account. That and a good deal of blood may have been shed in placing System among the other 4 elements in GNS and I'm not aware of the specifics of how it got there.


Walt Freitag

It's the Lumpley Principle that "inflates" (to use Ralph's term) System to be above the other four elements.

System itself can come under negotiation during play, but that's either unusual or dysfunctional. (And whatever determines credibility in such negotiations, it can't be the part of the system that is being negotiated.)

How can system be both the means for allocating credibility to assertions about a shared imaginative space, and an element of the space being imagined?

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


QuoteHow can system be both the means for allocating credibility to assertions about a shared imaginative space, and an element of the space being imagined?
Seems to me the test-question here is whether a legitimate phrase can be found to fit the first part for any of Setting, Color, Character, and Situation, while still keeping the second part.  That is:
    How can Setting be both XXX and an element of the space being imagined?  (etc.)[/list:u]If every piece is necessarily both, then we simply have to set aside this hierarchical model.  If what Walt has proposed only fits System, then it is indeed at a distinct and discrete level.

    Unfortunately, to me all this Fidelity stuff seems to me primarily fidelity
to a conception of in-game reality that I still call Baseline, so I'm not really the person to answer the question directly.
Chris Lehrich


Ok I am chiming in because I have a lot to say about why people play but reading this thread I may (or may not we shall see) have an answer.

It seems very chicken or the egg but strangely more like Chicken or the Chicken.

I think the key here is Exploration of... is DIFFERENT then Choosing.

During Social contract you CHOOSE the System to Explore and indeed how your going to tweak or change it, though this may also happen later on due to the experience of Exploration.

Once In-Game, System becomes one of the Five elements and can be prioritized as such.  Though I would say System is only prioritized in two circumstances:

1) The GM and/or Players are new to the System and want to focus on its nuances
2) The System or Meta-System has changed either internally (GM and or players making changes to Mechanics) or Externally( author(s) making changes via erratta or new essays / products)

One way to think about it is like this:
"Say Clark, lets go up the St Lawerance river."
"Ok Lewis, how do we want to do that? By land or by boat?"
"By boat."

System has been chosen but not explored ie They decide to go by boat but no nuance of the boat trip has been Explored yet.

as always just my 2 Lunars


Ron Edwards


Well, the Gamism essay should be appearing at the Forge today or soon, and it contains a little section on this stuff.

I keep saying, over and over, that the five elements are not a five-headed hydra, and no one seems to be listening. They have distinct causal elements, and I now realize that I need to explain that the causality among them functions at two levels.

The first, primary level is the creative one among the real people. Which element(s) float the people's boat? Hell, if we're talking about Vampire 1st edition, I can tell you right now that it's the Bradstreet illo of the raging chick (Chapter 4, if I recall correctly) that does it for me - pure Color. Could be any of them, or any in combination.

The secondary level is the imagined, in-game-world one - the created, rather than the creators. At this level, it goes like this:

Characters exist in a Setting (or, if you will, the Setting contains Characters) - the interaction between these two things creates Situation. System introduces the time axis. Meanwhile, Color affects and glues together all of the above.

Think about it this way: you have to end up with the second level, period. It doesn't matter how the real people get to it, though - start with any emphasis of one or more of the elements in terms of most interest (recognizing that all five have to be there), and you can get to that second level with no problem through character creation and actual play.

I have no idea whether the above stuff actually helps anyone understand anything. But it seems to me that weird little sidelines and assumptions keep creeping into the discussion, especially when "prioritize" gets used in a sense which seems more like its use with GNS specifically, so I thought I'd share.



It seems reasonable and correct to claim that all exploration is an exploration of system. Of course the same can be said for exploration of setting. There is a definite lack of litmus test to distinguish the two. In both cases they are global sets of constraints, they can be violated or not. But the choice to say that a given constraint is present in system or setting, seems hollow. What is important is play constraints.

Even more broadly the relationship between character and situation seems equivalent, except with a definite leaning towards locality. Then color appears to be the most local of the bunch, changing view to view.

The question of exploration should not simply be confined to a set of catagories like this. Rather there seems to be a definite space of explored contexts. Readilly I can see two axes: locality and exceptionality.

For example, the context of setting, as most people treat it, is highly global (low on the locality axis) and exceptional. System on the other hand tends to be much more standardized, rather than exceptional.

The major reason I see this idea being important, is that system is simply a point on this space, you can easily place the "origin" there and explore both the closer and more distant regions, there's nothing in the space that needs be context other than system. However we can do the same with setting, or any other well known point in the space.

In the interest of hypo-test: this suggestion does imply that there should be a recognizable point at high locality, but high stanrdization. I'd strongly place experience in this area. Individuals routinuely explore this portion of context space when they become concerned about their actual experience  (which is as local and as standard as it is reasonable to find) matching the game elements. So the real question is, do people explore the conext of their own experience in RPGs? And if so do they do this differently, or at least with discernably different priorities than other well known contexts?

Based on my observations, I would have to say yes. But I wouldn't be posting here if I didn't want to hear alternative views on the matter.

   -Mendel S.

Ron Edwards

Hi Mendel,

Parse, please.

Are you replying to some aspect of my post, or to some element of the summarized points Walt provided? I can't see how your point applies at all, so I figure I'm missing how it relates to the framework or points in action.




Well, my original intent was to illustrate that considering system to be pre-eminent was both valid and non-unique.

I supose what ended up meaning is that while on one hand you can put key points at the more pupulated portions of the exploration space. On the other hand you can put emphasis on one point in the space. But ultimately the space is still the same.

Towards the end I realized I was suggesting something that would require some degree of test, and so attempted to place an implication of this theory that is distinct from the existing ones, in order to provide a reasonable way for people to claim the theory is either accurate or hogwash.

I apologize if it seems out of place, but I was merely intending to bring up an alternate perspective on matter which the majority of posters had already mentioned.

   -Mendel S.


QuoteCharacters exist in a Setting (or, if you will, the Setting contains Characters) - the interaction between these two things creates Situation. System introduces the time axis. Meanwhile, Color affects and glues together all of the above.

This is the part that's causing the hiccups I think.

Ok, I understand the Characters + Setting = Situation idea, I don't think I'm seeing it as being as profound as you do, so you might want to elaborate on this more.  It seems pretty mundane to say that a situation is people in a place doing stuff.

But the "System introduces the time axis"...means nothing to me.  I'm not comprehending what that means at all.  If we're going to adapt, and informally it looks like we have, the Lumply Principal as the description of what system is...I don't see where "time axis" is involved at all.

Seems to me that System ala Lumply is all of the various ways and means that: characters get established and recognized, setting gets established and recognized, color gets established and recognized and situation gets established recognized and resolved.  It thus seems to me to be operating on a level that encompasses the other 4 in the same way as the other 4 encompasses GNS.

I kind of see this.

System ---> Character + Setting + Color = Situation ---> resolution (according to GNS decision priorities).

Does that make sense, or am I missing some key concept?

Mike Holmes

So it seems to me that you're saying that "prioritization" only occurs in the text, but that all play is "balanced" between all these because the all occur constantly?

If so, what does it matter what the text prioritizes? If not, what does "prioritize" mean in this context (or substitute any term that speaks to relative importance)?

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Ron Edwards

Hi Ralph,

What's being missed is that we have to be discussing real play. A character sheet is not an Explored Character. A notebook full of pages or a shelf full of sourcebooks is not Explored Setting. The five elements exist only as shared, imagined constructs in the communicative space among people.

Hence, System is what provides motion and time to the imaginative construct. Without it, as I said in the quoted passage above, the other four elements are "frozen" in that imagined space.

Perhaps I should clarify my position on the entire issue still further. Anyone is free to consider any of the five elements to "encompass" the others. I can make a case for doing so for any one of them, without strain. I am not saying you can't privilege System the way you and Mike are doing; I'm saying, "So what?" and shrugging, as the same point applies to each of the others.



Quote from: Ron EdwardsHi Ralph,

What's being missed is that we have to be discussing real play.

granted.  It makes a big difference and is sometimes difficult to grasp, but I think we're up on that part.

QuoteI am not saying you can't privilege System the way you and Mike are doing; I'm saying, "So what?" and shrugging, as the same point applies to each of the others.

Ok...well, I hate to throw down the glove, me.

I'm unable to perform the mental gymnastics required to say that setting, situation and system are all contained within Character.  All contained with system makes sense to me.  All contained within one of the others...doesn't.  If you can make the case for it without strain, please do so.

In fact, given your equation of Character + Setting = Situation; I don't think its logically possible for that to occur.  I'm a little rusty on my sets math, but I'm reasonably certain that if setting and situation are both parts of the set Character, that you can't add Character + Setting  to get situation.

Walt Freitag

Play provides motion and time. System alone won't do it. Nothing happens until I pick up the die and roll it (or take the conch and narrate, or whatever).

Ron, aren't you using "system" as one-of-the-five-elements to mean "system put into effect by players," or simply "play"? If so, then from then on it's tautology. Of course play is a necessary element of play. Of course play encompasses, and is encompassed by, all the other elements of play.

But you're right about not needing to inflate system-meaning-play above the other elements. We don't even have to elevate play itself. None of the other elements are meaningful without play. But that's true of all the elements relative to each other too; they're all required, as you've been saying.

play = players x system
play creates, and introduces change to,
situation = characters x setting
color connects all
x = "acting within a"

All seven elements are required for any of them to be fully realized. ("Players" in this concept means "people who are playing right now," not the more common usage meaning "people who have been known to play from time to time.")

Four (color, situation, characters, setting) are imagined (explored) elements. Four (color, play, players, and system) are real. Color exists in both the real and the imagined; I don't imagine the picture in the book, but the picture in the book contributes to my imagining the color of the imagined characters, situation, and setting. Any or all of the seven can be creative draws on the primary level.

Perhaps only the four imagined elements are being explored, or perhaps all seven are being explored. But I see no basis for picking out system as an explored element without also including players and play.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Ron Edwards

Oh, man ...

OK, Ralph, let's see. Bear in mind that these are possible approaches that you or I don't necessarily cotton to - my only claim is that they're possible, and that I've met people who swear by them.

1. Setting "makes" character; characters and situations are imagined as aspects of setting or they don't work. System and Color proceed from there, as you have to have components before they can do anything, and according to this outlook, both of these reference Setting in order to "fit."

2. Character - as above, just reverse the setting/character part. This outlook claims that setting only matters insofar as the character's psychology or makeup in some way gets justified. Similarly, System is considered to be "character in action" and that's it.

3. Color is arguably the best grab-factor in the process, and one might logically say that the glue actually provides more structure and context than what it glues together. ("I like green women with big breasts; OK, there's this planet, see, and ...")

4. Situation - well, as people will see in the Gamism essay, Situation is the "central" node of all five elements, imaginatively speaking. It's not hard to see that being extended a bit further into the role of "inclusive" given a preference for play that absolutely demands Situation in your face (e.g. much Gamism).

All this is secondary to my big point, which I hope you didn't miss, which is that it's OK to privilege System as Mike has described. I'm not arguing against doing that.

Walt, that was a real honker. I'm still blinking, so let me mull, K? Anyone who wants to respond to it, please do, because it's easier for me to understand something when it's coming from two or three angles rather than one.