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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 141 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Hackmaster: The Postmodern RPG  (Read 18522 times)
Bill_White
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Posts: 202


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« Reply #15 on: December 13, 2003, 04:33:47 AM »

Bravo!*

This is the thing about post-modernist critique of anything:  ultimately, it either can't sustain its ironical detachment ('Take this seriously, I'm begging you') or it devolves into pure reflexivity ('What am I actually doing?  Are we actually doing something together?').  I think you may have reached that point.

But while it lasts, it produces some interesting insights.  I especially liked the idea that the notion of HackMaster as postmodern LARP makes nobody happy.

* I use this phrase to indicate my awareness of your post as performance, as well as argument.
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eyebeams
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #16 on: December 13, 2003, 11:15:05 AM »

Quote from: Bill_White
Bravo!*

This is the thing about post-modernist critique of anything:  ultimately, it either can't sustain its ironical detachment ('Take this seriously, I'm begging you') or it devolves into pure reflexivity ('What am I actually doing?  Are we actually doing something together?').  I think you may have reached that point.

But while it lasts, it produces some interesting insights.  I especially liked the idea that the notion of HackMaster as postmodern LARP makes nobody happy.

* I use this phrase to indicate my awareness of your post as performance, as well as argument.


There are plenty of earnest uses of postmodernism. Actually, as someone with a pretty extensive education in critical theory, I would say that most postmodern treatments are serious.

I'll also point out that games -- and everything else -- devolved into pure reflexivity for years before postmodernism came on the scene. It's Descartes, for example. What postmodernism specifically does is say that there's no teleology that we can really put our complete trust in (unlike Descartes, who eventually finds it in mind and God).

Where it ties into postmodernism as a broad social movement is that people have an unparalleled amount of access to our cultural trappings, where in the past we relied on a relatively narrow segment of society (one that could find consensus in a particular end, much of the time) when it came to interpreting and justifying our stories and cultures (and sweeping other ones under the rug). Now that force is much less prevalent. What we do have, however, is a movement toward trying to reinterpret culture in something with more convincing modernist trappings, in the form of "third culture" ideas that there should be explicit scientific underpinning for the humanities (which requires some tendy Platonic folderol, but that's a different issue).

Proponents take things in this light and then claim that their conclusions are unimpeachable, but  you wouldn't understand why because you're too ignorant. It reminds me of some of the statements made by certain (though not all) D20 proponents about the value of the system, the rationality of the maket, network externalities, wank wank wank.

A game with real postmodern intentions, on the other hand, requires the Gm to take a lot of the workload, because the real problem is maintaining continuity between sharply shifting perspectives (such as the "gamer/psychotic" business of Powerkill).
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Malcolm Sheppard
Rob MacDougall
Member

Posts: 160


« Reply #17 on: December 13, 2003, 12:50:28 PM »

Hoody-hoo, indeed.

I echo Bill White's compliments to the chef of this sticky little meme. Particularly the fact that it makes everyone unhappy. Calithena, your (& Col Hardisson's?) idea of HM as pomo rpg also spawned a little bit of discussion (by me and others) over at The 20 by 20 Room.
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2003, 02:32:28 PM »

Thanks indeed, Rob. You might want to link to the Kenzer thread from your site as well, or instead of, the Dragonsfoot thread; the conversation there is particularly juicy and includes HMPA and HMGMA officials endorsing at least Colonel Hardisson's original version of the claim.

I amuse myself with the thought that if none of this was remotely intended by David Kenzer and his crew, as Clark Peterson believes, I have realized another postmodern trope in perpetrating this thread in the first place: the critic-as-artist....

As to credit, I'll take some of it, though Colonel Hardisson and that fellow Kalvin who runs One Die to Hack Them All were core inspirations, and of course some indeterminate amount goes to David Kenzer and his staff. Perhaps the best analogy is to a not infrequent situation in maths: Colonel Hardisson got the breakthrough result in a special case, and then I proved the theorem in its full generality.
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Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #19 on: December 19, 2003, 11:53:54 AM »

Quote
One issue has to do with Social Contract/Creative Agenda issues. Let's say you have six people sitting down to play HM. One wants a parody, two want to play crunchy D&D, and three want to LARP as gamers. (They are gamers, though. Another bit of postmodernism in the design.) In theory, all these people could play together, and with luck, they might even work it out, though there's a million ways this unstable situation could break down. But it's very logically puzzling: arguably the three are playing a different game from the two and the one isn't really playing a game at all! And yet they're all at the same table and engaged in the same social activity. Very puzzling.


I had to look up didactic and postmodern, so I probably don't get what you're saying, but it seems to me that you're making more of this than there really is.

Six college buddies get jobs and join the working world.  A year later they decide to go back to their favorite college bar.  One of them gave up bar-hopping a long time ago, but goes along to laugh.  Two of them look forward to getting stinking drunk.  The other three are going mostly to pretend they're college students again.

Where's the puzzling part? Six people, seemingly participating in the same social activity, are all actually participating in different ways.

Actually, I would argue that's the norm for most social activities, including games.  I have friends who game so they can be with their buddies, friends who game because they really like gaming, and friends who game because they remember it being a pleasant activity.

Sorry if I'm out of line.  I don't usually read or post to these forums, but I felt compelled to respond to this.  It seems to me you're making much ado about nothing in this case.

-Jeff

Edit: Some minor typos, like I really stand a chance of catching them all... :-)
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Bill_White
Member

Posts: 202


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« Reply #20 on: December 22, 2003, 02:40:16 AM »

I think Jeff's comments deserve a serious answer.  I read him as saying, "Different people get different things out of the same social activity."  This is true; but what his example of the college buddies going out and visiting their old haunts after graduating (and Calithena's postmodernistic "reading" of Hackmaster) illustrate is that the "same social activity" in question may in fact not be the same for each participant--different people have different ideas about the activity's purpose, what counts as doing the activity, and what the potential desirable and undesirable outcomes might be.  The guy who's trying to reconnect with his old buddies is going to be annoyed when his friends get stink-o.

At this point, Jeff says, "That's right:  that happens all the time.  So what?"

This:  Notice how the "multiplexity" of the social activity you've described (where different people think they're doing different things together at the same time) potentially leads to bad outcomes (i.e., one buddy is pissed off at the other one).

In our everyday lives, we learn how to deal with the multiplexity of social activities intuitively, in the act of doing them.  But we're not perfect at it, so sometimes bad social outcomes take place.  The more sophisticated our understanding of what happens in social life, the better able we are to navigate and negotiate our way through their complexities.  This is true in the case of going out for drinks with friends, and it's true in the case of running or playing in a game.

Now, to bring this back to the domain of RPG theory:  The paragraph that Jeff quoted from Calithena said something like, "I see Social Contract [as an RPG-theoretic concept] being implicated here."  I think he's right:  He's suggesting that players can have vastly different conceptions of what they're up to and still have a good time and be able to sustain satisfying play over the length of a campaign.

My understanding of the notion of Social Contract, however, is that (a) it encompasses the shared understandings of all the players about the game and how to play it, and (b) it drives or at least constrains all the other design and design-in-play decisions made over the course of a game.  If "curing" dysfunctional play is a design goal, the designer is encouraged by the notion of Social Contract to remove all incoherence from the game design.

But Calithena is saying, "Wait a minute, there's another way to go:  look at the complicated but satisfying play [social] experiences that Hackmaster makes possible," and giving a postmodernistic interpretation of how it's able to do that.  (Note that it's purely speculative, though:  Calithena hasn't actually talked to any HM players to see if they in fact have such interestingly complex play experiences).

To sum up:  The "so what" of this thread is that because social life works the way it does (as Jeff suggested:  complicatedly), our theories about how to build a little piece of workable social life (i.e., a role-playing game) should mirror how we know it works.  Thinking about HackMaster as a postmodern RPG helps (a very little bit) do that.
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Daniel Solis
Member

Posts: 411


« Reply #21 on: December 22, 2003, 06:43:47 AM »

I don't have much to add on this subject except my own experiences.

I was in one of the first official Hackmaster Association sanctioned groups, the Hackdragon Horde, and we played pretty regularly for about two or three years straight. Along the way, we picked up and dropped off many players but a core group remained, despite constant dysfunction.

The GM in question seemed to be running a campaign with a gamist slant, but was really trying to stretch it out into narrativism. Unfortunately, these attempts to broaden his range resulted in frequently repeated plot devices and complaints from the players.

For their part, one player was purely die-hard "do the most damage in a single attack." Another player was cut from the same cloth, but she was very much in denial about that. She would often be the one who suggested the GM stretch his dramatic storytelling skills and be the one to complain the loudest when he threw in an often-used plot device. I was never really interested in doing the most damage in a single attack or being entirely effective in combat. I looked at Hackmaster as a joke, to be honest. The GM agreed with me on this point and tried to include some comedy into every session, but out senses of humor were too different for either of us to fully satisfied.

I was the first core player to drop out of the game, followed by the gamist-in-denial. I don't know why she left, but I quit because it just wasn't fun anymore. My expectations of play weren't being met and it seemed like there was an argument about the rules every single session that would completely halt play. I couldn't afford to spend six to seven hours of every weekend doing something I didn't enjoy when I could be working in the studio. So, I left.

The die hard player remained in the group until the campaign ended a few months ago. Despite continuing arguments between him and the GM concerning details of the rules, the campaign continued seemingly without a truly disruptive incident.

Would all of us have continued with the game had we all agreed on it being a postmodern RPG from the start? I doubt it. The problem stemmed mostly from incompatibility of personalities. Still, I'd not be opposed to giving it a good ol' college try.
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Meatbot Massacre
Giant robot combat. No carbs.
John Kim
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Posts: 1805


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« Reply #22 on: December 22, 2003, 04:32:05 PM »

Quote from: gobi
The die hard player remained in the group until the campaign ended a few months ago. Despite continuing arguments between him and the GM concerning details of the rules, the campaign continued seemingly without a truly disruptive incident.

Would all of us have continued with the game had we all agreed on it being a postmodern RPG from the start? I doubt it. The problem stemmed mostly from incompatibility of personalities.

Hmm.  I wonder if this isn't actually the post-modern aspect in action.  It seems to me that the supposed post-modern aspect of the game is to recreate entertaining play similar to "Knights of the Dinner Table" comics.  In other words, rules arguments are supposed to be a part of HackMaster play.  If the post-modern hypothesis is right, it is designed to make such struggles interesting.  The game did apparently go on for 2 or 3 years "seemingly without a truly disruptive incident".  

Then again, I've never played HackMaster (though I have read KODT) and I have no idea about the group in question.
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- John
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