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Author Topic: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!  (Read 56727 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: July 05, 2003, 04:23:59 PM »

Over in this thread I wrote the following:
Side note: I am disturbed, but not surprised by your suggestion of the dead body in the trunk. It seems to be a typical gamer-Emeril kick-it-up-a-notch k3wl powerz kind of thing to do. I don't mean to insult you or anything, but if a gamer had made Jaws it would not have been a shark but a shark with a laser on its head. Or such is the conclusion I have drawn. Gamers simply cannot have something simple. At least most of the ones I have met, anyway.

I have noticed this before for years now and that recent thread has me wondering what to make of it. Are gamers jaded? Are they really incapable of not having k3wl powerz or whatever? Any other theories? I'm drawing a blank.
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Marco
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2003, 06:26:46 PM »

Well, I got some examples of play posted here with no kewl powerz. And I've played in plenty of games that do have 'em. So I can dig it both ways. Most horror games are without the powers ... supers games, y'know, tend to have 'em ...

I think it's a genre thing. But I do think that more games on the market have cool powerz to get--and I consider that a good thing. If the genre supports it: go all out.

Theories? Well, I'm not sure what the definition of "cool" is but if you look at a list of abilities and go "Cooooooool" that is, I think, by definition, a good thing, no? Like taking a bite of desert and going "Tasty!" So I think, almost by definition cool powers are great. It's when they're 'kewl powerz' that you're no longer in the market.

-Marco
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2003, 07:15:13 PM »

Perhaps a bit of clairification is in order. I did not mean just cool powers, per se so much as something that always brings it to the extreme. In the original thread, Roy suggested spicing up the story of me finding a dead body in the trunk of my car. Unless you work in a hospitol, how often do you see a dead body? I know I don't see one, much less would have one in the trunk of my car. That's what I'm talking about. Something that brings things to the furthest extreme of possibility or even past it.
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Cadriel
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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2003, 08:17:23 PM »

This is actually a part of what I've been thinking of lately.

In a standard roleplaying game, there is a combat system.  This is a lovingly detailed expansion of the core mechanics into an all-out, quite frequently blow-by-blow, rendering of what occurs when people take recourse to violence.  It is taken for granted that resolving combat will take significantly more rolls and more time than resolving any other action.  This is accepted as the standard truth by game players and designers.

This reveals two underlying assumptions in roleplaying games:

1.  Combat is the most interesting form of conflict.
2.  Many problems can be solved by violence.

The first is quite blatant; after all, making cakes and riding bikes are not given resolution systems of their own.  The second is implicit in the first; if combat is the most interesting form of conflict, then the solution to many or even most problems will involve violence.  This grows naturally out of the source material, so the dicussion of the two will meet here.

Basically:  "Violence solves all problems" isn't the kind of message you can push terrifically easily in the real world, where violence tends to be messy and creates nice vicious cycles and what have you.  So, in works where the violence solves the problems nice and pat, it is dressed up in some form - say, supertechnology (whether spy style or sci-fi style), magic, swords, or even just making everything high-gloss like an action movie.  And generally, you're made quite painfully aware that the people who die deserve to die.  They are bad people, and the killing is not dwelt upon in any significant respect.  The killers are painted as the heroes because they kill the right (e.g. bad) people.  This kind of entertainment is known for big payoffs at the moment, and generally merits less afterthought than other forms.  You can attribute it to whatever you like, really.

It is this attitude, this ethos, that I think is the root of both the extreme tendencies of RPGs toward violence and those toward sharks with laser beams on their heads.  I suppose its transitory form works well for an RPG, and the demographic that games seems overwhelmingly drawn from the same pool who enjoy the entertainments I describe above.

If you're not happy with it?  Find people who are into other entertainments, and give them games sans combat systems.  I think it's what has to happen if RPGs are going to be able to show semblances of literary merit and grow out of the rather juvenile attitude I've described.

-Wayne
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jdagna
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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2003, 08:27:12 PM »

I don't always bring things to the absolute extremes, but do tend to push the envelope regularly.  For me, it comes down to "Do you want to have a little ordinary fun, or a lot of over-the-top fun?"

If a gamer had designed Jaws, it would have had a laser on its head, and have been a creation of an evil organization attempting to take over the world (something the players would discover in a convenient clue when they killed it).

Of course, let's look at Jaws.  It isn't just a big shark.  It's a REALLY BIG shark (about double the largest we've seen in nature).  And they don't catch it by hiring a trawler with a big net and a sonar system - they decide to go after it in a rickety fishing boat.  Jaws could have been more over the top and implausible, but it's pretty close already.

People simply want the unusual and interesting in their entertainment even if they have to suspend disbelief to get it.  This is true of everyone, not just gamers.  It's true of non-fiction as well as fiction.

I think if a group is happy exploring more mundane situations, more power to them.  I have run several highly-successful campaigns centering on ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things (like catching petty criminals and defending against goblin raiders).  In most cases, I find it a refreshing change of pace for a while... and then remember why I usually go more over the top.  

Looking at movies, it's the same with dramas.  Name the last blockbuster drama that came out.  I know I can't, but there were these big movies with sharks that had lasers on their heads (and many more that fit the description only metaphorically).
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Justin Dagna
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Comte
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Posts: 129


« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2003, 09:14:19 PM »

Well I think this all depends entirely on the gamers, thier past gaming experience, and what they have done with the hobby.  So in short, yeah possibly.

The problem with this question is that it is huge.  I think it goes back into the evolution of the mainstream RPG's and the way they are desighned and played.  I suppose I will use D&D as an example but only because it is a handy yardstick.

We are going back in time to second edition.  We are going to use the fighter charecter class.  Back in the early days of second edition you were happy with your pigsticker+2.  You swung around your pig sticker things died, and life was good.  

We fast foward a little bit in time to when thouse ultimate fighter handbooks started to come out.  They had charecter kits in them.  Charecter kits added all sorts of things for the fighter to do with his pig sticker.  Still all in all he was still just a guy who could swing that sword around only with options.  

Things remained like this for our fighter for a long long time.  Then one day 3rd eddition came out.  All the sudden the fighter wasn't just a man with a pig sticker anymore.  He had feats.  He could cleave people in half, deflect arrows, disarm foes, and whatever else feats do.  On top of that there were prestige classes that allow your man with a pig sticker to do all sorts of things.  The amount of cool stuff a fighter could do was roughly tripled.  He went from a man who just rolled to hit, to someone who had options.  Lots of options that are all covered by the core rules...his options grow with just about every supliment.  

D&D is the flagship of our hobby, it is the way a vast majority of people are introduced to it, and just about everyone has had some sort of expereince with the game.  Now when we look at the extrodinarly rough time line I just layed out for the warrior we see a gradual increase in power over time with a gigantic spike for third edition.  Then the gradual increase returns.  With the exeption of the lowly bard the fighter is one of the most ignored charecter classes when it comes to source material.  After all the fighter has his pigsticker and his high attack roll what more did he need?  3rd Eddition answered this question by making it so that the fighter could do all sorts of uber cool pretty things.  

Here comes the point.  This increase in power for the fighter has happened to every charecter class over time.  Even the bard.  With the feat/prestige class systems in place charecters are now able to do an impressive amount of damage.  Rangers can do things that I'm sure my game master wished were not possible, and wizards have maximised fireball.  

This isn't to cricise the 3rd eddition of D&D.  I mean thier idea worked, people love the amount of carnage that they can kick out.  Gamemasters are capable of keeping up with variouse tools at thier disposal and most people go home happyish.

So I provided a lengthy example, now it is time for the hard part.  Why the feck dose all that matter.  Well because AD&D is all about being a group of brave heros who are out to save the world.  You play brave and powerful fighters who wave thier pigstickers, wizards who can warp the very fabric of reality, moe the cleric who keeps everyone alive, and a dead bard.  Together you roam the wurld smiting evil, saveing towns, killing wumpuses, and doing the hero thing.  That is what it originaly set out to do, it is what it still dose.  Now an important thing to realize about the life of a hero is that thier lives are exciting.  I mean in most fantasy worlds there are pleasent farm people who have never seen an orc, or raised a sword in anger...while over the mountain range the pcs are out eliminating an underground eco system.  Playing the life of that farmer would be...it would be kinda like playing the sims.  Only pencil and paper style.  

So you would think the shark would be enough right?  I mean sharks are scary and stuff.  Somewhere back in our minds we remeber Tharg the warrior, a shark was nothing to him, it was nothing to Edbert the Dwarven Rigger, Quizbit the Jedi, 6 the BESM vampire hunter, anything in the rifts universe, or any of the other main gateways that we use into the hobby.  We played heroic charecters who did heroic things, sharks meant nothing.  We sit there watching Jaws and we think...man thouse pansys if Tharg were around the problem would be solved right quick.  Now when you stick a laser on that shark's head all the sudden Tharg ain't so great anymore.  The same transphers over when we look at modern rpgs.  Driving around in the desert filling up our cars with gas is boring.  NOw if we are running away from land sharks with lasers on thier heads, and their is a dead body in the trunk all the sudden it is worthy of an RPG charecter.  I didn't call off a date to play moe's average life, I wanna kill a dragon damnit.  In theory.  

Somewhere it starts to break down.  The genra of going forth and killing the whumpus is quickly beoming used up.  I mean the dungeon crawl is something that heardly ever happens anymore, people are brantching out into diffrent styles of D&D play and people are more than ever resiting the traditional GM plot lines.  The most recent AD&D game I was involved in fell apart because no one wanted to do the story.  He was honestly confused when no one wanted to go fowards to kill the god of chaos or some such nonsense.  He was postivily enraged when no one felt like going into the dungeon, and he flat out refused to let us hire someone else to do the job for us.  In general the group was extreamly well roleplayed, the problem was that our group never really functioned as a cohesive whole.  We all had fun, we were just being ram rodded into this exceptionaly lame story that no one wanted to do.  A couple of the charecters had the benifit of min-maxing so we could handle just about anything that wandered our way.  Most of the players were first time roleplayers, not hard core narrativists or people that had even experienced better.  They just knew a contrived plot when they saw one that they were sucked in with promisses of being able to do thier own thing.  When you see new players not even bothering with the traditional modle I started to realize that things are starting to change for our hobby.  

Right now we are ramming lasers on the heads of our sharkes because if at first something dosn't work make it bigger and scaryer.  The example that spawned topic actualy works here.  YOu were trying to give someone a suggestion as to how to write better.  Instead, someone can back ignoring the meat of your example and just threw a dead body in the trunk.  It is more of a stuggle to maintain the status quo then because we were jaded.  We are in the phase if something is broke make it bigger.  I think I'll let that be my conclusion.  THe hobby is in a state of transition.  The players are restless, fewer of us are satisfied crawling though a dungeon with our +2 pigstickers to kill the Baddie of the week.  They want more.  

I feel better now.  I've been inflicting random games that are fun but diffrent on my poor players.  NOw they have asked me to run a traditional fantasy game, because they think I'll make it fun again.  I've been randomly worried about this...I don't think I've answered your question but at least I feel better now.

Now a word from my alter ego.  While I was typing this up I was thinking about the movie Jaws.  I didn't like that movie, I had to see it three times before I made it though without falling asleep.  I honestly couldn't understand why people found it to be so utterly terrifying.  I mean I was hardly even entertaining for me, and I like horror movies.  So I was thinking about your laser example and smiling to myself because it is funny as hell and I realized that they did.  They put a laser on the shark's head.  It was called Deep Blue Sea, you remeber that movie?  It came out awhile about had some famouse rapper in it.  Basicly it was people trapped in a sceintifc underwater research faculty with super intelegent, super sharks.  In short it was people vs the uber jaws.  The crowning moment of that movie is when Sam Jackson got eaten.  Funnyest death I have ever seen in movie.  So considering that recently we really have put a laser on the sharks head perhaps our need for complexity is a reflection of our society.  Maybe we are running out of storys to tell and ways to tell them so we stick something in the sharks head a call it new.  

Perhaps it is combonation of the two, extrenal pressures to have bigger and better things, and a revolution of our hobby from the inside out.  Either way I think the only way this question is getting an answer will be through time.  However, I think that time is near.
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2003, 11:03:15 PM »

Hi Jack,

I don't know if I'm taking the right tact on your question -- or "issue."  Because I suspect your concerns are still being teased out as this thread continue... But let me say this.

You've touched on a debate of aesthetics that's been going on a long time.  Socrates wanted to know why anyone should be reading Homer when it was blatently a bunch of lies that lead people astray from dealing with actual, right in front of you, reality.

Cervantes created Don Quioxte in part to mock the romantic conventions that at the time had swept the reading public's imagination.  The whole story is about a deluded man who sees the equivalent of "bodies in the trunk" when in fact life is really just mundane and, more than anything else, less than what anyone would expect life to be.

The twentieth century theater nearly ruined itself by committing to plays that dealt exclusively with "real" life -- dramas about siblings arguing around the kitchen table... and not much else.

I'd offer simply this: refined aesthetics and concerns about corrupting people through crude storytelling aside, hitting the extremes sells.

I often don't see men who've been pussy-whipped by their wives to commit murder for job advancement then stand on balconies imagining they're seeing a dagger before them -- but Shakespeare was really smart when he committed that "outlandish" scene to parchment.

Walter Kerr, in his terrfic, "How Not to Write a Play," comments that people go to the theater to see the extremes of life.  It's like a car wreck, he says.  We can shake our heads and cluck knowingly at the rubes who stop and look at the disaster, but the truth is, people are drawn to the car wreck because it's an extreme moment of life -- in this case death. The what happened of it, the who was involved, the how will the lives of the survivors be affected simply draws our attention -- because a car wreck is life at the extreme.

Now, plenty of people would prefer life potrayed at its less extreme.  Some of those folks are presented above.  (Though note that Cervantes was canny enough to criticize romantic fiction while esentially folding scenes of romantic fiction into his criticism -- thus creating a best seller.)  Others would be Chekhov, the social realist film makers out Britain.  Zola. van Gogh.  And tons of critics.

But the truth is, especially of dramatic fiction and film (which I hold is the closer model of fiction for RPGs than prose fiction), the Saturday night crowd, packed, bustling and jostling, is looking for something larger than life.  They left their homes, for goodness sake, to find something more than they could find at home.

Two things: First, Comte suggests something which I think is correct.  The stakes keep rising.  Two: when the stakes become ludicrous, the "extreme" becomes hyper-realism, and people love to see things as simple as possible.  It's an ebb and flow. But, for the most part, not an equal ebb and flow.  The extreme sells tickets because the kind of people who go out to join strangers in the dark want novelty and extremes.  (I won't go so far as to say all people want this.  I'm naming a discrete, self-selecting group here.)  And I'd say that a lot of gaming narrative draws from that same tradition.

The gods toying with mortals on the sands outside Troy.  Brother knights unwittingly facing off aganist each other a few days outside Camelot and killing each other with helmets hiding their identities from each other.  Ancient chinese "heroes" who can dance on top of trees while swinging swords.  This is where the money is, always has been.

Why this should be, I don't know.

But why is becoming less and a less a concern for me these days.  I just want to make.  And so I do what my instincts tell me, which is to create the work that appeals to me -- which is at the extremes -- and thus, I assume will appeal to others.

In short, I appreciate your question, and even your concerns, but it's also a moot point.  Broadway's making money right now only because it's reviving outlandish musicals that are decades old.  This issue is larger than gamers.  It's part of storytelling -- has been for some time, and always will be.

Christopher
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RobMuadib
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« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2003, 12:01:58 AM »

Jack

Well, what can I say, part of the attraction of the hobby is reflected in it's Science Fiction and Fantasy settings. Kewl Powers and sharks with fricking lasers on their head get to the gosh-wow feel of stuff. I'd say that Anime and Hong Kong style action are certainly an influence on that stuff. I like to go big with alot of things, and Anime is a big influence here.

So, as for Kewl Powerz, I guess I like the whole idea of speculative imaginative content. I want cool flashy imaginative worlds with awesome sweeping anime style grandeur and great CGI landscape shots, as it were.

As for kicking it up a notch, well RPG's are entertainment primarily. I mean if you want to experience real life issues in non-sensational way, you like have to read stuff called Literature or something.:) Things that are loud and exciting and kinetic are generally more immediately engaging than introspective play based around lengthy character development.  Then we have the fact that most old school action isn't loud, exciting and kinetic enough anymore, so now no one can like get in a fight in a movie without doing some wire-fu and bullet time action, or something., So you get people wanting to kick it up a notch in their games too, turning up the escapist volume as well.

When it comes right down to it, I'd rather be eaten by a fricking shark with a "laser" strapped to it's head than have my head bitten of by a ill-tempered mutant sea bass for gosh sakes. I mean throw me a fricken bone here. :)

best

Rob.
(Who admits his TMW game is all about getting the players to go big and whip out the CGI shots and the huge scale anime grandeur, and speculative imaginative content in the worlds they create. I mean, if all of Middle Earth was like the shire, it'd be pretty damn boring, or something:))
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Roy
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2003, 11:28:37 AM »

Quote from: Comte
The example that spawned topic actualy works here.  YOu were trying to give someone a suggestion as to how to write better.  Instead, someone can back ignoring the meat of your example and just threw a dead body in the trunk.


I want to address this comment, Comte.  Jack was giving me an example of how to write DIFFERENTLY not better.  He was using his narrative to foreshadow the event of the flat tire.  My point was that the flat tire was boring by itself.  There was no conflict in the scene and you don't have a story without conflict.

I did not ignore the "meat of his example", but I did disagree with Jack's assumption that it was a better way.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com
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Cadriel
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2003, 12:27:49 PM »

Quote from: Roy
I want to address this comment, Comte.  Jack was giving me an example of how to write DIFFERENTLY not better.  He was using his narrative to foreshadow the event of the flat tire.  My point was that the flat tire was boring by itself.  There was no conflict in the scene and you don't have a story without conflict.

I did not ignore the "meat of his example", but I did disagree with Jack's assumption that it was a better way.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


To be completely fair and honest, Roy, I think you've got it backward.  There is conflict in the flat tire.  The flat tire is a problem that the narrator attempts to overcome.  It is objectively narrator vs. flat tire.  Not gripping human drama off the bat, but really...by complicating the flat tire, Jack made a really short story from the situation.

Your example with the dead body in the trunk contains no conflict.  It is a shock, to be certain.  The situation may seem more "interesting," but when it comes down to the wire, "guy finds a dead body in his trunk" is more of a Kicker than an actual scene with conflict.  It opens up possible avenues for exploration, but realistically no more than getting a flat tire would.

The fact that you dismiss the flat tire as boring is indicative of the zeitgeist that RPGs tend to represent:  this sort of "conflict must be whiz! bang! zam!" of a subculture addled by video games, action movies, and the less literary ends of the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres.  I've read it in books on writing fiction, and I disliked it there too.  (See William Noble's "Conflict, Action & Suspense" for a good example...my Amazon.com review describes it as being like having Emeril standing over your shoulder while you're writing telling you to "kick it up a notch.")

The discussion here is whether RPGs really need to be kicked up a notch; you seem to argue that conflict necessarily relies on it.  Yet, to observe how this is not true, sit back and read Romeo & Juliet.  Don't worry about the big overarching conflict of the houses, or the interpersonal duels; they're not really what people remember.  Read the love scenes.  The conflict is understated, but masterful; in Act II, Scene II, Romeo and Juliet both clearly wish to be together, but Juliet realizes that it won't be safe if he stays, and so there is conflict on several levels as she tries to make herself part from him both externally and internally.  Likewise, in Act III, Scene V, Juliet starts off wanting Romeo to stay, but her fear is quickly kindled and she makes him leave.  I would submit that these conflicts are among the most moving in the play, and yet they are not done with dead bodies or explosions or what not.  They're real, heartrending conflicts caused by famously star-crossed love.  The drama is much more palpable, and more interesting, than the various sword clashes that go on.

This is repeated over and over in works that are admired more highly than the sources for roleplaying games.  They have a sense that the gripping drama is often far more subtle, yet with even more devastating consequences, than a bomb going off.  I think it's just that the audience for RPGs is part of the desensitized modern attitude that doesn't recognize that sort of conflict as interesting or even as conflict.

-Wayne
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BPetroff93
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Posts: 114


« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2003, 01:06:58 PM »

I can really see where you are comming from on this one Jack.  Personally speaking I grew up on High fantasy stuff where you are always saving the universe.  I have found, as I get older, that personal level conflicts have more and more appeal to me.  Don't get me wrong, I still want something beyond the ordinary in my roleplaying, and I still enjoy the occasional global conspiracy, but my tastes have changed.  I want things a little more grounded, a little more "real" whether it be in arthurian romance or demonic servitors from dimension Y.  Still, Kewl powers and laser beams are always present.  

Conflict is THE mechanism of story, but conflict does not have to be hand to hand combat, or a shoot out.  I think it is important when designers recognise this and build with other options in mind.  However, I think the reason it is so essential to roleplaying design is that we instinctivly realise that mortal combat is the apex of the escilation of conflict.  That is where the shit hits the fan, the edge, the place where most of us have never gone, and DON'T WANT TO GO.

Nobody really wants to act heriocally, you just do what you feel you have to do.  Being a hero is SCAREY, adventure is SCAREY.   We want our heroic alter egos to be able to handle it, so we make them badass kung-fu ninja cyborgs.  Of course, they must have appropriate opponants so we have to ramp up the bad guy factor.  A mother of two children, hiding in the closet from a serial murderer and rapist, protecting her children with a screwdriver, hits a little too close to the evening news. Scarey stuff, yes.  Hero stuff.....you betcha.  Relaxing? HELL NO.   Now, a British secret agent hidding from the evil overlord's army of clones in a space station locker....still a little nerve racking so we get our adventure kick, but it hits a little lighter.  A serial killer is just not a threat to James Bond, so they need laser beams.  

At least that's my theory.  Real level threats, are for real level people. Most RPGers don''t want to play real level people, they ARE real level people, and real level people hurt and cry and get scared and usually get killed.  Cyborg ninjas kick ass.....with lasers...against sharks....who are hyper intelligent vampires....

PS: if you want to see what I consider the BEST realistic survial horror flick EVER MADE go see "28 Days Later,"  NOW!!!
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Brendan J. Petroff

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the law, love under Will.
M. J. Young
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« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2003, 03:19:22 PM »

Quote from: I'm sure Wayne was not considering Multiverser when he
In a standard roleplaying game, there is a combat system.  This is a lovingly detailed expansion of the core mechanics into an all-out, quite frequently blow-by-blow, rendering of what occurs when people take recourse to violence.  It is taken for granted that resolving combat will take significantly more rolls and more time than resolving any other action.  This is accepted as the standard truth by game players and designers.

This reveals two underlying assumptions in roleplaying games:

1.  Combat is the most interesting form of conflict.
2.  Many problems can be solved by violence.


The first is quite blatant; after all, making cakes and riding bikes are not given resolution systems of their own.  The second is implicit in the first; if combat is the most interesting form of conflict, then the solution to many or even most problems will involve violence.  This grows naturally out of the source material, so the dicussion of the two will meet here.
But I took exception to it nonetheless. I don't think you can reach those conclusions from that information, and I think it a mistake to let that notion stand unchallenged.

Multiverser indeed devotes an entire chapter to combat. It is not the longest chapter in the book; however, it is longer than the preceding three chapters, which cover introduction, attributes, and skills. So it would seem that we have, by Cadriel's definition, designed a traditional role playing game that sees violence as the most interesting form of conflict and a good answer to many problems.

Yet I don't think we present it that way.

First, although the chapter is entitled "Combat", it is presented as illustrative of the game's core resolution mechanics in action. That is, combat doesn't have a different system from anything else in the game--it is used to illustrate how the system works, in part because it makes for clear illustrations. The same way you resolve how severely you've injured your opponent is the same way you resolve how good a cake you've baked, or how fast or how well you ride the bicycle (to cite his examples). We needed to illustrate how it works, and combat is a means of illustration that works well.

Second, right up front the chapter says that for some gamers play is very much about combat and for others it isn't. Now, you can say that about anything. For some, play is about cooking cakes or riding bicycles, or (to get into some possibilities that are more common) driving vehicles well or flying space ships or working magic. However, combat is far more a common ground than any of these other things. If we are going to cover one aspect of skill use in detail, based solely on that which is likely to get the most use from the largest number of players, that's probably going to be combat. I welcome any suggestions of skill areas which are going to be more commonly used by players, existing or future.

Third, Multiverser specifically attempts to cover everything that can be done in any other game, and there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play. Thus, for the purpose of interfacing with other games and translating concepts from them, a lot of ideas had to be put forward to show how the system works in detail, so that these things could be easily adapted. If someone wants to include weaponless combat styles, or evasive tumbling, or advanced parrying, or quick shooting, or any imaginable combat technique, the game allows that. It isn't just in combat that this is true. If you go into a demolition derby-based setting, you can learn trick driving stunts, all of which can be translated to the game. If you want to do Cocktail, you can incorporate all those fancy moves show-off bartenders use. But the vast majority of such special techniques in games have always been combat-based, and that's where we put the coverage for translation between game systems.

I don't think it has anything to do with encouraging violent solutions or thinking combat is the most interesting form of conflict. On a personal note, I find that the most common form of conflict in a lot of the games I run is debate--my players often like to argue philosophy, politics, religion, or values with the characters in my worlds, far more often than they will draw weapons. Also, when I play, I always seek a non-violent solution before a violent one. In a current confrontation I'm playing, I am attempting to escape an aggressor rather than attack. In the last situation, a villain was threatening the life of an innocent; I attempted first to deceive him into believing the police were almost upon him before (when that failed) using force to drive him away. So my personal experience doesn't support the notion that Multiverser players (including me) find combat either more interesting or the better option (although clearly some do).
Quote from: Also, consider what Brendan J. Petroff
Nobody really wants to act heriocally, you just do what you feel you have to do. Being a hero is SCAREY, adventure is SCAREY.
Now, the Multiverser system allows referees and players to compress or expand action significantly. If you're trying to make a cake, I could roll to determine how well you measure the ingredients, break the eggs, mix the batter, heat the oven, time the baking, depan the cakes, and spread the frosting--the game certainly provides the tools for me to do this. However, unless we've landed in Celebrity Bakeoff World or Betty Crocker Championship Cooking World, there's not enough at stake to be worth that kind of effort. I'll roll against your cooking skill, and determine how well you did.

Combat, though, is dangerous. It always means something is at stake. If that something concerns the player characters, then the players are suddenly interested in the details of their abilities--did I hit him, was I able to use my dodging ability to get out of the way, or my parry to deflect his blow, can I roll with the punch and so reduce the injury, will my mental force field protect me from his invisible kinetic force weapon, and a thousand other questions each of which is there because the player has something at stake and he wants to protect it. Thus, as long as the player has something at stake and is involved, detailed rolls are something he, or at least most incarnations of him, wants.

In contrast, it's quite common in Multiverser play to resolve overall combat situations of mass combat, even entire battles, with a single roll. Where the players are not involved, the detail is not so important. I've got a guy right now assisting a couple hundred men defend a castle against a few thousand undead. When he's involved directly, by acting or by telling others what to do, detailed individual actions are checked. As to the rest of the battle, a single general effects roll determines from hour to hour whether it is going well or ill, and to what degree.

In conclusion, I don't think a detailed combat section necessarily means your game is about combat or necessarily encourages violent solutions. I'm not saying it never does so, but the presence of such a section is not sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion.

--M. J. Young
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Cadriel
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Posts: 61


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« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2003, 05:15:42 PM »

M.J.:

Not being familiar with Multiverser, I can't comment on it specifically.  But what I'm getting from your post is a lot of up-front, clearly stated intent.  This is all well and good, but I'm talking about an idea that permeates many games even though a lot of designers quite explicitly don't write systems in order to encourage violence as the most interesting and effective form of conflict.  A number of your statements indicate this tendency (pardon me if this seems terribly out of context):

Quote
That is, combat doesn't have a different system from anything else in the game--it is used to illustrate how the system works, in part because it makes for clear illustrations.

Quote
...and there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play.

Quote
Combat, though, is dangerous. It always means something is at stake.


I understand that you don't think that violence solves many problems, and that in your individual play experience there are not violent solutions to many prominent conflicts.  This is a great account of your own experience, and I seriously think:  more power to you for going that route.  But I'm not sure that your philosophy of gaming is typical, even of people playing Multiverser.

Those three quotes I pulled from your response, I think, reveal a lot of the common attitude among gamers.  From the first, we get a basic truth:  combat is rather readily grasped by roleplayers.  Most of us have gone through D&D or something similar to it, and so whatever else we've done with RPG mechanics, we've doubtless seen something made dead by way of the rules.  Fighting is an immediate, visceral reaction; it's one of the most primal things we can do, and it's a very straightforward, immediate form of conflict.  Hence, showing a fight is a very good way to showcase what a system can do.

From the second, we start to see a lot of the "most interesting form of conflict" attitude coming through in the form of an assumption.  You've assumed that, in a fight, the options are incredibly plentiful, and that there is more to do in a combat than in any other situation.  Yet, in just about any actual fight (regardless of circumstances, and using "actual fight" to mean where the chips are down and it's serious), people either react on a pure instinct level or go to rote training.  The actual circumstance will be over in a flash and an adrenaline rush; if it's a fist fight or similar, you'll just be going for whatever you can get desperately; if it's a gun fight, you'll spend most of your time trying desperately not to get shot.  The kind of combat that RPGs go for is quite similar to what is choreographed for an action movie, and I've found that it often comes off rather dispassionately.  That this is the case seems to me to be quite substantial evidence that most RPGs consider violence to be the most interesting form of conflict.

The third quote, though, is what drives it home:  combat means your life is on the line.  This, I think, is a blatant statement of why RPGs lovingly detail combat and make it central.  It's an immediate, visceral reaction, and brings the drama home right away.  But here's the irony of the whole situation:  it's a trap.

When you make combat the centerpoint of the whole equation (with the unstated assumption that combat is inherently more interesting than anything else), it means that...well...the combat system - even if it's just an applied version of the standard engine - had better earn its keep.  And most RPGs deliberately emulate genres where it can.  James Bond doesn't reason with the villain of the film, at least not successfully; he kills the man.  It's okay, because the villain is clearly demonstrated to be a bad guy.  In all of Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship never gets together a group to chat with Sauron and his minions.  We know Sauron is EVIL and the guy's got to go.  So it is with so much of action movies, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.  The villains are either not human and therefore kill-able, or are humans so bad that killing them is not a bad thing.  Because this is where RPGs take their cues, it seems only fitting and natural that a lot of the time, the solution is to kill the problem-causer.  Which is, ultimately, saying that violence can solve problems.  (I realize that there are exceptions to this.  However, the fact remains that in any form of source literature for RPGs, there are substantial works wherein the problem is solved by somebody dying.)

Frankly, I'm bothered by this.  I don't think it's necessarily a sound moral basis, and I think that it's perpetuated by treating combat as the most interesting form of conflict (even if you don't realize you're doing as much).  Drama, for centuries, has been questioning whether violence really solves anything at all; as somebody who's more than a little bit into theatre, I guess the fact that RPGs flaunt the "sure it does" answer bugs me more than a little bit.

Please, don't take this personally; I'm glad you brought up problems with my statements, and I hope that I've made them clearer for you.  I know that responding has made them clearer for me.

-Wayne
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Marco
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Posts: 1741


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« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2003, 07:24:48 PM »

The problem I've always seen with inter-personal systems (a debate mechanic, say) is that debate is all based on content.

The content of a combat can be boiled down to a series of blows of some effect.

The content of a debate can be boiled down to the argument of each side.

For the argument to be engaging to me, you have to present it.

A hypothetical system could do something like "I attack a straw man." Roll-roll-roll "67. I convince the jury." "He appeals to practical consequences." Roll-roll-roll "32. They're not swayed." And, you know, that'd be okay--but if the focus of the game was on some kind of philosophical question, I'd only really be satisfied with the *players* debating that.

And I think that's how most people feel (if you have players who'll do that sort of thing).

So combat works for the low-level-of abstraction breakdown. Dialog I'd have problems with being satisfied with a mechanic.

I'm not saying it can't or shouldn't be done (I've always felt the fixation on combat systems was fishy but that's just me)--but I think I'd feel left out in the cold if the point of the game was to address a philosophical issue/win a debate and the closest we came to it was rolling dice.

-Marco
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Roy
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Posts: 153


« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2003, 07:51:25 PM »

Quote from: Cadriel
To be completely fair and honest, Roy, I think you've got it backward.  There is conflict in the flat tire.  The flat tire is a problem that the narrator attempts to overcome.  It is objectively narrator vs. flat tire.  Not gripping human drama off the bat, but really...by complicating the flat tire, Jack made a really short story from the situation.


Ok, I'll give you the point that there is a very weak "man vs. environment"  conflict inherent in a flat tire.  Conflict doesn't have to be "whiz! bang! zam!" to interest me, but it does have to contain something that grabs me emotionally.  You can dismiss my comments if you like, but I'm certainly not in the minority here.

Quote from: Cadriel
Your example with the dead body in the trunk contains no conflict.  It is a shock, to be certain.  The situation may seem more "interesting," but when it comes down to the wire, "guy finds a dead body in his trunk" is more of a Kicker than an actual scene with conflict.  It opens up possible avenues for exploration, but realistically no more than getting a flat tire would.


The conflict wasn't inherent in finding the dead body.  The conflict came into the scene when the cop pulled up to help the character.

Quote from: Cadriel
The discussion here is whether RPGs really need to be kicked up a notch; you seem to argue that conflict necessarily relies on it.  Yet, to observe how this is not true, sit back and read Romeo & Juliet.


Not all conflict has to be over the top, but for an interesting story it has to emotionally engage the audience.  If it doesn't, your audience loses interest.  I chose to add pop to the scene to grab my audience's attention and set up a question in their mind that they would want to find the answer to.  

I'm going to bow out of the discussion since it really doesn't interest me enough to continue.  Have fun discussing the topic.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com
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