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Author Topic: Beliefs and "Reality"  (Read 1762 times)
Luke
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« on: September 28, 2003, 09:58:42 PM »

So we watched Big Trouble in Little China last night.
The entire movie can be really (really) nicely explained in BW terms. But one of the foremost aspects of the film that struck me was the stating of "beliefs". We are introduced to Jack Burton (Russell) stating one of his beliefs, which is: "Have I paid my dues? Yeah, the check is in the mail." Later he states another: "It's all in the reflexes." (he states another, but i can't remember it at the moment.)

"The check is in the mail" is his diffident philosophy on life. A laconic erst-while john-wayne, blue-collar rebel yell.

The second belief is the one that gets really interesting later in the film. When confronting Lo Pan he hurls his boot knife at the evil sorcerer and misses by a mile. The wizard smiles and retreives the knife ("Nice knife") and promptly hurls it back at Jack and is obviously dead on target--Jack's a goner at this point.

But this is where the player stops play and screams, "WAIT! It's all in the reflexes! It's all IN THE REFLEXES! I'm going to catch the knife and throw it back at him because I know "It's all in the reflexes."

Essentially, he's bartering with the GM at this point. The player is attempting to negoitate his belief into a situation where it changes reality, mechanics and dice. It also is an attempt to save the character (and win the day) through the ultimate and naked use of his idiom.

In this case, Burton's GM (the illustrious John Carpenter, if you will), smiles and nods at the desperation and agrees to the bargain. An Agility test is made, and a trait is called on (if ever there was a time for the Spectacular trait, it was then!) This time Jack's "reflexes" come into play, save his life and win the day.

Why didn't he call upon this belief in the first throw? Because there was no test of the reflexes, the first throw was just a regular old throw and beyond the idiom of his belief. (Whereas had he a "It's all in the wrist" belief, things might have been different.)

Personally, i think this a fine use of beliefs. A last desperate bargain with the devil --"Let my idiom save me, or my soul is yours"-- that turns out to be spectular, successful and gratifying. It also clicked into the scene perfectly, there was no bending the scene to fit his beliefs. Rather, Jack's beliefs fit the moment exactly. This is a very rare thing, and such synergy should be nodded to and given the right of way.


BTW, my first thought on the remainder of  Burton's BITs:

Instinct: Always keep my knife hidden in my boot. (I had others, but they slipped my mind)
 
Traits: Loner, Ineffable Feature: 5 o'clock Shadow, and perhaps Spectacular or Lucky?


I have a whole 'nother set of thoughts on Big Trouble in Little China and the idiom of failure. Jack fails at nearly everything in that movie. But that's for another thread. Let's talk BITs!

-Luke
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Bill Cook
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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2003, 08:16:12 PM »

I've been thinking about these a bit lately.  It looks like you've got 3 distinctions of a category: say, personality.  To me, BITs trend Nar-ish.  Forgive me for broaching GNS.

Am I right about this?  They're basically a color scheme of sorts to qualify a character's humanity.  True, they can serve as a means of settling arguments between player and GM about a character's reactions, motivations, etc, much like D&D's alignment sought to do.  But in a more Nar-ish vein, they're gills to hook, right?

Quote from: abzu
Jack's beliefs fit the moment exactly. This is a very rare thing, and such synergy should be nodded to and given the right of way.


You're arguing for a Karma mechanic (i.e. the relevance of a particular Belief) to trump other factors affecting scene resolution (this case only, belief so rarely making such a specific address,) yes?

I always saw these descriptors as color.  An exercise for the player to find a seat of involvement within the game.  Enforcement of player behavior by arguing what their character would do (not that you mentioned it; it just comes to mind) always seemed mechanical to me.  The idea that a GM should seek player involvement through them is (while obvious, now that it's been brought to my attention) new to me.

In the context of numbers, they're a poor match, IMO.  Although it's been done.  To me, they serve better to initiate exploration of character.  Like when a writer tape records some snatch of a song he hums so he won't forget it and then goes on to complete the writing, never refering to the tape.
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Bill Cook
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« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2003, 08:18:01 PM »

Come to think of it, exploration of character may be a more sim-ist kind of thing.  i.e. "My guy does this cool thing which shows why he's cool."
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Luke
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« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2003, 09:01:37 PM »

Hi Bill,

I just want to say outright, that I am unqualified to speak in/of/on the GNS theory. I have not delved into it, therefore I do not abide by it. I mean this in the nicest way possible: Please don't try to explain it to me.

Quote
I always saw these descriptors as color. An exercise for the player to find a seat of involvement within the game. Enforcement of player behavior by arguing what their character would do (not that you mentioned it; it just comes to mind) always seemed mechanical to me. The idea that a GM should seek player involvement through them is (while obvious, now that it's been brought to my attention) new to me.


Yes, they are color, if by color you mean "non-die-mechanical elements" invented by the players. They are announcements players make to the rest of the group about the behavior, mode and inspiration for their character. By doing this the player provides the group opportunities to hook into his character. And he provides a bit of insurance by saying, "for the time being, I am this" And he can choose to invoke this when and how he likes.

This last bit is the "catch." I firmly believe (heh) that Beliefs can alter a person's behavior in remarkable ways. And I think this goes beyond mere decision making/ethics. History is replete with persons of strong belief who accomplished the unthinkable.

Quote
In the context of numbers, they're a poor match, IMO. Although it's been done. To me, they serve better to initiate exploration of character. Like when a writer tape records some snatch of a song he hums so he won't forget it and then goes on to complete the writing, never refering to the tape.


I don't quite understand what you're saying here.
But the intent of BITs is to provide the player with leverage to overrule or transmorgify certain mechanics.  I am a very traditional roleplayer, I believe (heh) very strongly in the power and responsibility of the GM. Still, I wanted to create a bit of a balance of power on the other side of the screen -- hences BITs.

-L
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rafial
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« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2003, 07:04:08 PM »

Quote from: abzu
Yes, they are color, if by color you mean "non-die-mechanical elements" invented by the players.


Around here, "color" as I understand it means descriptive additions that enhance the entertainment of the participants without having a mechanical impact on play.  Example: in game X my character has an ability that lets him do 10 points of damage to a foe at range.  The "color" is that I have defined it as shooting daggers of ice from my finger tips.

Instincts, by my reading of the rulebooks, have always been a Karma mechanic.  Karma meaning: if the conditions for the ability are met, it works.  Traits are split up, with die traits adding to Fortune mechanice, and call-on traits being more of Karma thing.

I must admit that so far I had viewed beliefs as color for exploration of character.  Although now that I think about it, they do have some game impact, as the players are rewarded with Artha for acting in line with Beliefs and Traits, aren't they?

But the idea of Beliefs as sort of "meta instincts" (the way I understand what you are talking about) is pretty cool...
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Luke
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2003, 09:28:11 PM »

So this all has me thinking about Chris/Bankuei's comments from a while back.

What's to stop a player from writing a patently false belief about their character? Something like, "I am the avatar of my god."
Yeah, yeah, in many rpgs it's true. But in mine, it wasn't.

Yet the player made it true through his staunch belief. Eventually it even translated to a trait, Avatar.

How did he make it true? Through what mechanic? All of them and none. He roleplayed it, believed it, never doubted it, and when the time came for miraculous results he always willingly ponied up artha (and hoards of good luck).

Did it make him superhuman? Yes and no. It didn't give him all Gray stats or anything, but it definitely made him "special." And bigger things started to gravitate toward him. It was the subtle change that the player wanted and one the GM could handle.

It was (and is) a brilliant synergy between a player's design/desire and a GM's storyline. And a fantastic example of what Beliefs can do.

BTW, that Belief was one of the very first to ever exist in BW. In fact, so strong was it, that it existed before BW.

I am not saying that Beliefs are some uber-game-breaking-mechanic, but I do want to point out that they are integral and powerful on many levels.

What do we have without our beliefs?
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Bill Cook
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« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2003, 01:08:09 PM »

My apologies for unwelcome references.  I in no way intend to be instructive.

Quote from: abzu
I don't quite understand what you're saying here.


I meant that, in a general RPG theory sense, aspects of pesonality (i.e. BITs) best serve players to direct character action, limited below modifying dice rolls, IMO.

Quote from: abzu
But the intent of BITs is to provide the player with leverage to overrule or transmorgify certain mechanics. I am a very traditional roleplayer, I believe (heh) very strongly in the power and responsibility of the GM. Still, I wanted to create a bit of a balance of power on the other side of the screen -- hences BITs.


I'm reading that your position is they're grist for player arguments for dice modifiers.
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