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Author Topic: What is Freeform?  (Read 3898 times)
John Kim
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« Reply #30 on: August 27, 2003, 11:28:22 AM »

Quote from: lumpley
  Actually, that's my favorite definition so far of all:
A game is "freeform" insofar as its System is based on improvised rules (be they mechanical or non-mechanical) rather than preestablished ones.

That matches my experience nicely, including times when I've improvised mechanical rules, and it incorporates the observed tendency of freeform games to become less freeform as precedents establish.  

Hmm.  I would tend to say that a game which strictly adhered to precedent would be less freeform.  Certainly the games which I would call freeform all lack strict precedent.  

I think the cooking analogy is very apt.  Someone who cooks without a recipe (i.e. freeform) doesn't measure how much sauce he is putting in.  Of course, he still puts in an amount and still has an end product of the meal.  However, when he cooks the same thing later, it will come out different.  He may develop limited instinct about how sauce balances the taste, but it will also vary deliberately since sometimes he may want less sauce and sometimes more.  

This is different than someone who is trying to invent a recipe.  That cook carefully measures the ingredients he uses, and keeps track of it.  When he cooks it again, he may vary the ingredients -- but he does so with measured intent.  Eventually he settles on a recipe which he likes, perhaps with some defined alternates.  

Both of these are improvised in the sense that they are not adhering to a pre-established recipe.  But only the former is freeform, in my view.  

NOTE:  There is a question of approach here.  I am trying to describe my experience of how gamers tend use the word "freeform" in conversation.  It does have meaning, as I recall, say, from the naming of Fudge (which was originally an acronym with "Freeform" as the first word).  On the other hand, one could also approach it as coining a term: i.e. choose a clear definition which may be different than the most common usage.
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- John
Windthin
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« Reply #31 on: August 27, 2003, 11:34:23 AM »

Quote from: Windthin
Actually, I am currently playing in a game where the system is so complex, it's run through a "book" on Excel.


Just to clarify, I don't consider this game I mentioned at ALL boring.  It IS highly complex, though, and I can see the danger of getting too complex.  ::chuckles::
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #32 on: August 27, 2003, 11:38:43 AM »

I think that this description suffers from two problems. It seems to imply that players change the rules a lot, and that they do use mechanics quite a bit. Which means that you always have to attach that rider about "given that it's difficult, people don't make up mechanics".

Further, I think that it ignores motive. I think that people who play freeform do so precisely because they find mechanics to be problematic in play. Not because they want freedom to do what they want, but because they want freedom from mechanics. So, yes, I think that freeformers do allow their rules to change, but, you know what, so do I in my games. I drift the the systems I use all the time. So am I a freeformer?

I think we have two axes here. One is the mechanical axis. The other is represents willingness to change system.

In starting the use of freeform, I never intended to indicate that there was any more or less willingness to change system. Some freeformers are completely unwilling to change their system as they've developed it (though it may drift unintentionally, and may have been established "freely"). But the phenomenon I'm describing does have everything to do with mechanics. What's "freeform" is the use of player whim, Drama, as the primary means of determining results, with as few limitations on that as possible.  

So, I'd reject the definition of freeform as willingness to change, or freedom from established rules. Because that's not the dichotomy we're describing. OTOH, I do think that the willingness to change is an interesting phenomenon, and should get it's own term. If it was Alterable, then we could speak of a Freeform Alterable game, or a Methodical Inalterable game, or the other corners of the area created by the intersection of the spectra.

Mike
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Windthin
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« Reply #33 on: August 27, 2003, 11:56:19 AM »

Hmmm... first off, Mike, I think you take too much upon yourself.  A lot of us here I am certain know the term freeform well.  I know I have all of its facets... I've seen the extreme of those two spectra you listed, utter lack of mechanics virtually and fluidity of change, and pretty darn close to it as well.  This is a topic that was bound to come up, I think, whatever terminology it used to take form

As to your diagnosis... I have to agree.  I know some very strict, die-hard freeform gamers, and the highly-complex game I mentioned earlier frequently sees rules changes, to the point that many characters I had not even a year ago would be unplayable in the current system, let alone two, three, five years ago.

I should mention... most freeform gamers I know DO state that the reason they engage in freeform is because they do not feel systems, dice and similar means, can express what they want.  They come right out and say they basically don't want those confines.  But they frequently create other boundaries.  I have been for a time now doing some freelance sort of work with a forum on-line that is definitely freeform, but has a large, established world setting and very definite rules about things like magic.

That aside, I still agree with your dual axes.  I get the urge to add a third one, another dimension; you haver fludiity versus immutability, complexity versus simplicity, and whim/drama versus quantities and their companions (dice, ranks, what have you).  It's the need, I think, to separate out the degree of detail from the method used.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #34 on: August 27, 2003, 12:54:06 PM »

I'm not claiming that the term freeform is mine, or that we have to continue to use it in that fashion. Simply that the axis that we have used it to describe here has been, previously, all about not wanting to use mechanics. I started that, and am just speaking historically and locally. If we want to make the term freeform mean something else around here, that's fine; I don't have an attachment to particular terms. The only potential trouble will be with people who have followed the previous discussions here, and have an idea of what the term means. This will be a shift for them. There's a principle that it's bad form to change the local meaning of a term because of this effect.

That all said, I think that the problem here is, as I've said before, that there are multiple meanings to the term. I agree that we ought to, in the name of trying to capture them all appropriately, make a statement that what I've identified previously is only one axis that's identified with freeform.

So I'd redefine freeform as a label for play that has one or more of the three following qualities.

* relatively few mechanics
* a non-directed approach to deciding on system
* a tendency for system to change

I'm not sure about complexity. Though if mechanics are defined as what I'd call Hard Mechanics, then I suppose you could have an all Drama game with loads of soft mechanics.

Meh.

This is getting complicated. If we go with all sorts of potential axes (maybe four now), do we really want to label each and have terms for each end? Someone else wanna tackle this one? :-|

Mike
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lumpley
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« Reply #35 on: August 27, 2003, 01:17:35 PM »

Well, you probably already know what I'd suggest.  Leave "freeform" casual, not rigorously defined, and let's break the axes out into topics in their own rights.

When we play:

How committed are we up front to a particular set of rules?  How willing are we to make big changes to our Systems mid-play?

How do we make decisions about rules?  Who can propose rule changes (including introducing new rules), under what circumstances, and how do those proposals get acted on?

How many of our rules are mechanical?  Of our mechanical rules, how hard are they?

Consider the space defined by those questions.  As we design games, what territory within that space are we trying to cover?  I'm thinking of the do-it-this-way approach vs. the toolbox approach.

This is all stuff to keep talking about, whether "freeform" gets a definition or not.

-Vincent
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #36 on: August 27, 2003, 09:56:13 PM »

Quote from: lumpley
I understood "freeform" to mean that the System is based on non-mechanical rules.  What you're saying now is that "freeform" means that the System is based on improvised rules.  You're leaving unsaid whether the improvised rules can be mechanical or not.  (I suspect you're conflating improvised and non-mechanical, in fact.)

...

Is there some reason that mechanical rules as a class are special at the System level? I don't see it. At the System level I see the effects of individual rules and how the individual rules interrelate, whether they're mechanical or what.

Hence the What is a mechanic? thread. Both of these paragraphs are somewhat dependant on an understanding on that term.

We aren't as far apart on this matter. I am leaning toward using the term method vs. mechanic. I am thinking that freeform refers to not having formalized methods, but I don't believe it's possible to reach agreement about the imagined space without having a method or two. By method, I am naturally refering to roleplaying methods, not really normal social methods, like talking and stuff.
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Cemendur
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« Reply #37 on: August 28, 2003, 02:43:38 AM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I am leaning toward using the term method vs. mechanic. I am thinking that freeform refers to not having formalized methods, but I don't believe it's possible to reach agreement about the imagined space without having a method or two. By method, I am naturally refering to roleplaying methods, not really normal social methods, like talking and stuff.


I agree and I have just formulated my agreement and the outline on the  "What is a mechanic?" thread.
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"We have to break free of roles by restoring them to the realm of play." Raoul Vaneigem, 'The Revolution of Everyday Life'
lumpley
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« Reply #38 on: August 28, 2003, 07:20:29 AM »

Jack, this:
Quote
I don't believe it's possible to reach agreement about the imagined space without having a method or two. By method, I am naturally refering to roleplaying methods, not really normal social methods, like talking and stuff.

Is plain nonsense.  Of course it's possible to reach agreement about the imagined space with only really normal social methods like talking.  That's what we mostly do.  I do it all the time.

I'm all confused and irritated, and maybe it's me.  Let's give it a couple days, what say?

-Vincent
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Emily Care
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« Reply #39 on: August 28, 2003, 12:33:35 PM »

Vincent, sorry to post so soon--I'll be away for a bit, and I feel like this specific conflict has been spoken to in the other thread:
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I don't believe it's possible to reach agreement about the imagined space without having a method or two. By method, I am naturally refering to roleplaying methods, not really normal social methods, like talking and stuff.

Applying terminology suggested on the "what is mechanics" thread, normal social methods such as "talking and stuff" are just that, methods by which dramatic resolution is arrived at.  They are not "mechanics"( what Jack calls "role-playing methods") because the steps involved are unlikely to be consistent from one instance to another, and the range of outcomes may be not clearly delimited.  The mechanic that may be involved, however, would be determining who gets to talk.

I think that's a very useful way to describe the difference between types of gaming techniques.

--EC
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #40 on: August 28, 2003, 11:03:51 PM »

I'd like to hit the <BACK> button a bit.

Forget what I said about freeform. What I've described is something, and if we call that freeform or not makes not difference to this conversation at this point.

Freeform, as it has been traditionally discussed and defined, is being able to do whatever you want in play. The common phrase is "if you say it, then it happens." The problem with this, as many detractors have noted, that, well, if you say it, then it happens. This can wind up being a roleplaying stone soup. Like throwing some of everything from you refridgerator and cupboards into a pot. It can lead to such odd situations like a British secret angent and an 18th century vampiress dancing in the corner while the barbarian sips camomille tea and plays Tetris on his mobile phone. Suddenly the hard-boiled detective arrives on a magic carpet covered with ants.

This is obviously Drama and such situations may have their own absurb charm

Jack, I'm holding your hand.

But there are other problems with this style of play

Jack, I'm licking your face.

Such as when someone says something that should be reacted to, but is not.

Jack, I'm setting your hair on fire.

It is sort of like the old Let's Pretend Yes I did-No you didn't arguement

Yes I did.

No you didn't.

To keep every instance of freeform play from devolving into this is where Drama really comes in.


Note: I separate out "talking and stuff" from roleplaying method because in the perspective on roleplaying thread someone mentioned that the English language must be a part of roleplaying and while deciding on a common language is important in roleplaying, it is important for communicating for nearly every other possible social application, and thus not very helpful for our discussion
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #41 on: August 28, 2003, 11:14:58 PM »

Quote from: Emily Care
The mechanic that may be involved, however, would be determining who gets to talk.

I'm actually thinking that the mechanics are not only about who gets to talk but about what you say when you do talk.

Example: my Elfs game has been going swimingly. I have been mostly running it as Freeform only refering to the rules occasionally and even then only as inspiration rather than rules. My players have been enjoying the freedom involved because I'm permissive. I let them do almost anything within reason. "Within reason" is the sticking point. I let them attempt any action even ones that would require specialized skills. No problem. Why not? But once the wife said "I fly up and do ..." and I vetoed it because she could not fly. Elfs can only fly the way rocks do. Thrown.

Anyway, this is what I'm talking about.
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