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Title: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 26, 2010, 08:37:30 PM
I ignored D&D4E when it first came out.  I know from experience that the kind of play it encourages isn't what I want from a roleplaying game.  I didn't need to read the game to know that it wasn't for me. 

But then a friend of mine came over and offered to leave the books for me to read.  I thought "what's the harm?" and I was mildly curious about the game, so I thought I'd give it a look.  So I read the books, and I became obsessed.

This was during the time I lived in Japan, when I had very few opportunities for gaming.  I was also discovering a lot of new games online, and new ways of thinking about games.  The tension between being really excitied about gaming, but having very little opportunity to play resulted in me spending a lot of time reading games, and a lot of time posting on the internet about them.

So I read D&D4 obsessively.  Using images scanned from the books, I made a set of tokens for all the low-level monsters in the monster manual, and for a set of PCs.  I was really excited about building encounters for play.  One of the things I loved about the game was the mathematical precision of play.  I liked working out character builds, prepping encounters, planning adventures.  It was the same thing I liked about 3.5, in fact, the abilitiy to really master a complex set of rules, and to turn that mastery into exciting and fun play.

Finally I got a chance to actually play D&D4.  It was a few people new to gaming, and some others who weren't particularly jazzed about D&D.  We played, and it was reasonably fun.  The combat was, as promised, tactical and challenging and engaging.  A thing I noticed though is that one of the players, who hadn't roleplayed before, would basically shut down during all the sections of play that weren't combat, and then "come alive" for the combat part.  Roleplaying was something he didn't know how to do, but combat made sense to him.  It had concrete rules to follow, a clear objective, and no requirement for reference to a shared imagined space. 

On the other hand, another of the players who liked roleplaying but wasn't so excited about D&D would basically shut down during the combats, doing whatever was appropriate for the turn but not really engaging in the outcome.  But outside of combat, she came alive, talking to the NPCs, engaging with the "plot" of the adventure, and playing her character.

We played a couple of sessions over a long weekend, and there were moments of fun but a lot of disconnect and confusion.  The most fun bit was when me and two of the guys just put the tokens down on a gridmap, and I improvised a dungeon for them using the tokens I had prepared.  No story, no SIS, just tokens on the tabletop, dice, and tactics.  I'd add tactical challenges like bridges over chasms, narrow corridors, traps and so on, and a small amount of colour, but there was essentially no SIS.  Everything that affected anything people cared about was on the table, concrete, mechanical.

I wrote a little about this on my blog, here: http://simoncarryer.blogspot.com/2009/06/4e-and-fictional-causes.html (http://simoncarryer.blogspot.com/2009/06/4e-and-fictional-causes.html)

At the time I wrote that, my interest was how D&D4 related to the idea of "fictional causes" that Vincent had been talking about on his blog.  My angle now is a little different. 

D&D4 has no "fictional causes".  Everything that matters to the rules of the game happens in the "real world", rather than in the fiction.  What this does to play, I think is make it so people who care about beating challenges ignore the shared imagined space during combat, and that play outside of combat becomes an inconvenience.  When a shared imagined space happens in 4E, I think it is due to the players caring about things other than beating challenges.

I want to posit that Shared Imagined Space is a pretty fundamental part of roleplaying.  I think that what seperates games like D&D from games like "Descent" or "Warhammer Quest" or whatever is the degree to which play takes place in an imagined "space" - the degree to which we treat the events of the game as meaningful in and of themselves, rather than mattering just as a means to an end.  If you wanted to play a game that was purely about beating challenges, or about competition, you wouldn't play a roleplaying game.  The Shared Imagined Space is useless to you for beating challenges.  What are people playing for then?

I think that people play roleplaying games to explore something meaningful to them, where "explore" means experience and produce fiction, and "meaningful" means references human concerns, addresses a theme, or presents ethical choices.

I want to suggest that "challenge" is a technique, a technique that's enjoyable in of itself, but also one that's useful for developing theme in roleplaying games.  In the "right to dream" thread, I talked about games with phatic theme.  I suggested a few of these: "Can good triumph over evil?" "Can a few heroes, working together, change the world?" "What does it take to defeat evil?"

Notice that in these themes, the question is about the abilitiy of the protagonists to achieve a goal.  Play is not about questioning how the protagonists achieve their goal, or whether their goal is a worthwhile one.  It focuses on the capability of the protagonists in their goal.

I think that Challenge is a technique that's very useful in addressing these themes.  There is an obstacle to the characters' success, and we see, through play, whether and how they overcome it.  In some games this is an empty question.  We're not really interested in seeing the characters fail, so challenge is weakened, it's only the appearance of challenge.  But in other games, the ability of the protagonists to achieve their goal is a meaningful question.  Indeed, their success only has meaning to us if it's achieve against real opposition.  Challenge then is a technique that helps us achieve theme, rather than a goal in and of itself.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 26, 2010, 09:14:27 PM
You're thinking "what about games where there ARE fictional causes?" Doesn't the SIS become the arena in which players display their mastery?

I think kind of yes, kind of no.

After playing D&D4, I got a hankering for older D&D, the kind where manipulating the shared imagined space is vital to your character's survival.  I played a lot of "Labyrinth Lord" which is a re-tooled Moldvay D&D. 

I think that yes, in these games the shared imagined space is vital to character survival.  But I also think that in these games challenge is less fundamentally the point of play.  Another way of putting this is that I think that people are less accepting of fictional causes as they're more invested in beating challenges.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Callan S. on March 26, 2010, 11:00:10 PM
Hi,

Quote
D&D4 has no "fictional causes".  Everything that matters to the rules of the game happens in the "real world", rather than in the fiction. What this does to play, I think is make it so people who care about beating challenges ignore the shared imagined space during combat
Well no, what's happened is that you've prerendered the SIS - a bit like 'story before' is pre rendered. You made up a cave - it was an imaginative construct. But then you rendered it to hard details, and played with the hard details. The way you played, all of you, not just them, discarded the fictional element before play began. The model of play you worked from was one that discarded it in advance. Is there no point to step on up, or did you use a poor model?

Imagine this rule - on a square is a fire. How much fire does damage do? Well, the rules say the GM declares it, either D2, D4, D6, 2D6 or 3D6, or even zero!

Now say the players have stepped in fire before and the GM has called it at 2D6 damage.

So, what will happen if they step into the fire square this time?

It's not prerendered. There is no value written down. One can only refer to the previous fictional history. You don't know.

And what if in the fiction you'd just walked through a waterfall? The GM might declare it does zero damage because your drenched. You don't know. You can guess...you can imagine how it might turn out. And so imagining is a vital part of your tactical excercise. Mentioning the waterfall/drenching while at the table, ie contributing to the SIS, may very well affect the damage. And the damage, whether you can safely pass through that square or any other with fire in it, might very well mean the difference between winning and losing!

Of course it's not imagining because your just in luvvy wuvvy with imagining and it's just a wunderful mystical experience. Were out to win! (assuming there's a damn win condition)

It's imagining as a means to an end, rather than imagining for it's own sake. Quite the opposite of your idea 'we treat the events of the game as meaningful in and of themselves, rather than mattering just as a means to an end.'

So, here's a hard question, is there no point to step on up, or is it just a matter of what's holy to you (so to speak) is just a doormat to us (to put it bluntly), and you can't swollow that sort of treatment of the holy cow as being possible?

Don't get me wrong though - in having tactically imagined, one can latter treasure what one imagined as a fond and lovely memory. But it's just a nice memory.

Also some people might indulge in luvvy wuvvy imagining for it's own sake, at certain times in play. It's entirely possible to shift gears on that, as a group (entirely possible to fuck up on that too, but nm).


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 27, 2010, 12:07:54 AM
Callan,

Sorry, but I'm literally unable to discern a point in what you've written.  Can you rephrase?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Jasper Flick on March 27, 2010, 03:53:50 AM
I feel like this thread doesn't have any momentum right now, so I'll just throw in some AP, if you don't mind.

Currently, I'm playing in a weekly D&D4 game, through an online tool. If I'm prompted to describe it, I'd call it a miniature wargame, with some roleplaying elements.

We're playing some official adventure, which the GM customizes a bit. I'm playing for the challenge. I want to see if - and how well - we can beat encounters. I want to test how well the character I created can fulfill its party role. Considering the tactics during encounters, by default all that really matters is what's on the grid. No SIS if you will, just the game state.

The SIS comes into play when decision must be made "off the grid". For example, there's an infinite number of animated skeletons being summoned during an encounter. How do we stop that? Find an altar, pray to the correct god. Use clues to figure out which one. That's based on our understanding of the setting, what's in the books, what our characters know, what happened so far, what's been communicated... all components of Exploration. The SIS is like a distributed database in our heads that keeps expanding and synchronizing, just like our characters keep gaining levels. It's a tool, just like an attack modifier, both equally valid.

Outside of encounters, the SIS informs our decisions. Basically, what encounter to do next, and when, as well as a little "story". Personally I care very little about "story" here. It's totally predictable pulp, just window dressing for the encounters. And that's fine. We mostly use it to color what's happening. What our characters say, how they react to NPCs and monsters. It also colors our idle banter and what kind of jokes we make.

Here's a little anecdote.

I'm playing Piet, a dwarf fighter, who I decided is staunch and kills anything that threatens his civilization, period. Someone else plays Nallie, a halfling paladin. We're in the enemy keep, just slaughtered some goblins. We find a goblin stuck in a cell. Apparently, even other goblins didn't like this one. The goblin pleads to let him go, he'll be our slave and whatnot. Piet goes "it's a goblin, kill it". Nallie goes for talking, gets no useful info, then gives her word to protect the goblin and lets him out of the cell. Promptly, Piet kills the goblin, then gets smacked by Nallie. (Using the combat rules and stuff.)

The anecdote ends there, and didn't have any consequences for future events. It might've lead to some interesting theme, but we aren't in it for that theme, neither for intra-party conflict. It was just a little diversion, which was fun, as long as it didn't take too long.
(As an aside, I recognized the prisoner as a cliche comic foil planted in the adventure, and I hate those. Also, I like the GM for his challenges and not for his NPCs. All the more reason to kill it.)

Quote
I think that people play roleplaying games to explore something meaningful to them, where "explore" means experience and produce fiction, and "meaningful" means references human concerns, addresses a theme, or presents ethical choices.

Producing fiction? Don't really care about that.
Human concerns? I guess my personal concern is whether I created a viable character and can play him optimally.
Addressing a theme? Aside from little diversions, perhaps the human concern qualifies as a theme, otherwise none.
Ethical choices? Not the point of play. Once again perhaps as little short-lived diversions, but unwelcome as focus of play.

So, Simon, is what I described playing a roleplaying game, or something else?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 27, 2010, 11:52:55 AM
Hi Jasper,

I'm not really interested in the question of what is or is not a roleplaying game.  What I'm interested in is the question of what is most useful for explaining what happens in roleplaying games.

I accept completely that for your play, challenge is by far the most important factor in explaining why you play the way you do.  For sure, it's the point of play for you.  What I'd like to suggest, however, is that I think it's very unlikely that it's the sole point of play, or that there are not other concerns that motivate you to be playing this game, this way.

If we assert that challenge is the only thing that matters to your play, we're left with a lot of questions:

What are the characters' personalities for?
What is a "comic foil" for?
What is the game's setting for?
What is the game's colour for? (i.e. why are you playing fantasy warriors, rather than just pieces on a board?)
What is the point of organising challenges into a string of encounters, rather than as isolated events?
What is the SIS for?

I think this last question deserves a little more attention. I briefly addressed it in my second post above, but I wasn't very clear.

You suggest (and I think maybe this was Callan's point as well?) that the Shared Imagined Space is also an arena for challenge - that you use things like knowledge of the setting, mastery of the rules, deductive logic and so on to solve problems in the game, and that this takes place in the shared imagined space. 

Granted.  I've seen this in play, and in fact this was a large factor in my Labyrinth Lord play, as I describe above.  I know what that kind of play looks like.  In his blog Vincent talks about "Unreliable Currency".  Unreliable currency what Vincent calls the kinds of advantage you get from manipulating the shared imagined space - where a judgement of the fiction is required to know if a certain rule applies. 

My experience is that as people get more invested in challenge, their willingness to accept unreliable currency is less.  In a game of chess, no one would accept a rule that you could only capture another piece if your piece was attacking from the higher ground.  It barely even makes sense in the context of chess. 

Things only enter the shared imagined space by the consent of the players in the game.  I'm suggesting that if challenge were the sole focus of the game, that no player would assent to things entering the shared imagined space that disadvantaged their character, unless the rules specifically dictated that thing.



Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: greyorm on March 27, 2010, 03:35:19 PM
Sorry, but I'm literally unable to discern a point in what you've written.  Can you rephrase?

I will second that. I started seeing what I thought would be points, Callan, but then found myself totally unable to parse what you were getting at.

(Also, thinking the use of SIS in this discussion is a boogey-man. Yes, Simon's not quite using it right, but I think we all get what he means in his usage, so a detailed discussion of what SIS "really" is might just drag this thread down into semantics hell.)

Clearly, challenge can be an effective technique to generate a theme*. Someone wants something, there are obstacles to getting it, they confront those obstacles, they succeed or fail. This, and how this comes about, the choices made, says something about the character and the wanted-something.

(* Theme is never a question, it is a statement, so that may be throwing some folks off. I'm blanking on what the "question theme" is actually called, but I get your meaning, so we can keep using "theme" here until someone recalls the correct terminology.)

However, this brings to mind the question: since pseudo-challenges only pretend to resolve anything, if actual challenge addresses theme by virtue of resolving what is done and why, then is it ever "just" challenge (ie: overcoming something to overcome it)?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Callan S. on March 27, 2010, 04:30:23 PM
Callan,

Sorry, but I'm literally unable to discern a point in what you've written.  Can you rephrase?
I'm describing a playstyle to contrast against what your trying to say. You might not be able to see it.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Jasper Flick on March 28, 2010, 04:22:00 AM
Quote
My experience is that as people get more invested in challenge, their willingness to accept unreliable currency is less.

What does "get more invested in challenge" mean? Does it mean prefering a known, finite set of rules that can be objectively applied, without room for interpretation? If so, sure! If I want that, I play chess or a computer game. If I'm playing to win, with concrete real-life stuff on the line - like winning money - I don't want to depend on consensus or arbitrary judgment calls. This is definitely not playing a roleplaying game. In fact, it doesn't have much in common with everyday life experiences either.

For my AP, my level of "investment in challenge" is such that I'm willing to accept arbitrary judgment calls, group consensus, unreliable currency, and what have you. In fact, I even like stepping up to the challenge of succeeding when unfavorable - from my point of view - calls are made. This stuff happens all the time in real life too, I can cope with it, no problem.

So no, challenge is not the sole focus of the game. Never claimed it was. "Playing for the challenge" shows my Step of Up priority, but I already illustrated that I enjoy diversions that do not engage priority #1. It's just like you don't "address premise full frontal" 100% during a Story Now session, there is an ebb and flow going on. Other stuff happens, which might be used for more fuel, or might end up being a little break from the intense action. Such breaks are important, but obviously not the main point of any activity.

(Now if you have a serious CA clash (your main priorities are different) then your break becomes another person's moment of action, and vise versa. If a break takes too long or is unwelcome, people "tune out". If this regularly happens in lockstep then you're basically working different shifts. The GM is now dividing his time between different games played with different people. At least, that's my personal experience.)


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: ThoughtBubble on March 28, 2010, 05:01:58 AM
Simon,

Loking at your last post to Jasper, it looks like it's possible for a game to contain theme, but have things in it that the players find more important then that theme.

Given this, I feel like you're trying really hard to explain the Big Model to us. You've added theme as a way of selecting what's important to the Exploration of a given game.

I think this is cool, and I feel like you're on the verge of giving us some really good insight on how to use theme as a method of selecting what gets into the SIS.

-Daniel


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Caldis on March 28, 2010, 06:44:53 AM

The way I see it in big model terms theme is closely tied to color.  Color as one of the five elements of exploration is huge but it is still only one element and while some styles of play may emphasize it others may prefer system or characters or  some other combination  that makes sense to them.

I'm thinking that what you see with D&D4 (and much of the earlier edition play I was involved in) is emphasis on system at the expense of color.   There's no drop of the SIS they are still resolving the actions of the imaginary characters in situations but the players are engaged in the system that makes that happen rather than the characters or thematic material that is created.  I believe this also applies to the Right to Dream play in something like Gurps but in a slightly different fashion where the meaning of events may be less important than the development of characters over time and it's relationship to system.

Of course my definition of RPG is pretty broad and things like Descent or Warhammer quest are pretty close to being in.  They arent far off of what myself and a lot of people I knew back in the early 80's were doing with AD&D.  We'd make characters and send them off on the dangerous mission of the week.  Little in the way of personality, even less that had any meaningful expression in game, little in the way of motivations for the characters but plenty of imagining a group of characters wandering into a dungeon for an unknown purpose and seeing what happened.  That was our SIS, we were imagining these characters wandering around in a dungeon looking for any signs of monsters deciding when to attack and when to flee and what spell to use to help us defeat them or escape.  There is a very broad view of theme where all these characters have made an ethical choice to go and kill monsters and loot dungeons but I dont see that informing play very much save that you know you need to make dungeons, populate it with monsters and stick some treasure in there. 





Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: David Berg on March 28, 2010, 09:53:14 PM
Simon,

Re: your 6 questions to Jasper:

I've often found myself asking those to some friends who roleplay much as Caldis describes (lotsa system-contact, little color).  "Why aren't you guys just playing a boardgame?"  (Which they often did!)  The answer, as best I can recall from observing:

You know how when you almost lose a boardgame, but stay in, there's a moment of "Yeah!  Thank God!  Whew!"?  And you know how when you win a teamwork boardgame, you all high-five each other?  Acting those moments out in-character with Dying as the "near-loss" and Cool New Toys as "winning" is fun.  Your imagination lends a sense of epic-ness to the experience that moving pieces around a board usually doesn't.

As far as I can tell, the kind of challenge that lends vitality to conflict in support of theme can exist in all sorts of play.  But the big "C" Challenge of true Gamist play means you can play with as much theme as a boardgame.

Ps,
-David


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Motipha on March 29, 2010, 08:12:08 AM
Perhaps I am just being obtuse, but allow me to rephrase my question.  The title of this essay, as well as the one before (What is Right to Dream for) seem to suggest a reinterpretation of these two creative agendas.  Your point seems to be "While in the GNS model Step on Up is treated as a qualitatively different method of play than Story Now, play that would be classified as Step on Up is fundamentally about theme and premise."  I interpret this as a narrowed argument of a larger point, "For a game to be roleplaying, it must contain theme or premise."  Simon, is that at least close to what you are saying?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on March 29, 2010, 09:04:25 AM
I'll share a bit of D&D 4E actual play that I enjoyed just last weekend:

The characters had infiltrated an enemy fortress by means of an old sewer pipe, and had found themselves in a little area enclosed by boxes and crates.  Someone rolled a decent Perception check and goblins could be heard nearby.

I noticed my character could speak Goblin, so I had him grunt "Hey, get over here" from behind the boxes.  So a few goblins wandered over and the battle was joined.

It's the sort of thing I see all the time in Step On Up play -- this use of player knowledge ("goblins are fairly dumb and also cowardly") to gain a tactical advantage to be exploited.  There might be a roll -- see if you can Bluff these guys into falling for that, or something -- or there might not, but it's all pretty ad hoc, consensus-based, let's Step Right On Up play.  Of course goblins are dumb and cowardly.  No one needs to look into the rulebooks to check that out.

So we're fighting away in there and a swarm of centipedes amorphously swarms through the boxes and crates and starts laying waste to the party from behind.  I doubt there was anything explicitly written down in the encounter about whether they could do that, but there was no need -- of course they could do that.  Everyone's in consensus about that sort of thing.  And if there is a player in that sort of situation who does complain about it, that guy is likely to get the most grief and social-contract-enforcement from the most serious Step On Up players.

A bit later on my guy climbed up on some boxes and performed a diving Death From Above charge on a goblin.  Nothing explicitly covered by the rules.  But everyone thought it was great, and great within that Step On Up agenda.  To be clear about this -- they thought the attempt was great.  The actual result has very little bearing on the appreciation of it -- indeed, it seems half the time spectacular failure is even more cherished.  He happened to do some damage to the goblin, and to himself, and that was also great, but that wasn't the most important part of it.

How do other players know I'm the hardcore Step On Up guy at the table?  Because I also typically self-appoint into a co-DM role.  Pretty much every encounter, I'll remind the DM, hey, that monster over there didn't attack anyone, or hey wait, I forgot to take that ongoing damage, didn't I, and that sort of thing.  And that sometimes confuses some of the other players a bit, and mildly chagrins a few more, but that confusion isn't among the other Step On Up players.  They know sometimes to need to call your own fouls.

As has been pointed out, it's about challenge.  Challenge and honor.  There's no honor in succeeding in a battle because the DM forgot to use Reach 2 half the time.  Intentionally neglecting ("forgetting") to take ongoing damage isn't even conceivable.  Of course Step On Up players are going to metagame against their own characters.  It's one of the easiest ways to spot them. 

I know I risk being horribly misquoted and misunderstood here, but I'll tell you exactly what comes to mind:  "Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt."  That covers just about everything I've felt and seen in the best of Step On Up play.


Cheers,
Roger


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on March 29, 2010, 09:36:03 AM
Sorry to double-post, but I just remembered another event that seems relevant to this line of inquiry.

We were getting near the end of the adventure, so we'd been playing for about three hours solid, and the DM set up the last battlemat and described the scene.  He was using generic monster counters, numbered, instead of miniatures.

After three rounds of combat, I finally noticed -- hey, you never told us what we're actually fighting!  Laughter and chagrin all around.  Oh, it's goblins, like we were fighting before.  Okay.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 29, 2010, 10:52:06 AM
Motipha,

Not quite.  Whether a roleplaying game must have a shared imagined space to be considered such is not my focus.  What I'm saying is that, where a roleplaying game does have a shared imagined space, theme and premise and such are a useful way of understanding what motivates a lot of that play. That contradicts GNS (but not the rest of the Big Model) because I assert that the difference between games is one of degree, not category.  Really though, that contradiction is less interesting than what can be gained by looking at games in this way.

David,

I pretty much agree.  But! Why is acting out moments winning after nearly losing in-character fun? What makes that meaningful? I think there's some theme sneaking in there.  As much theme as a boardgame? Maybe.  But I think it's possible not all boardgames are devoid of theme.  They have colour, and that's gotta be for some reason, right?

I think the theory in the past has tended to start with the premise "we're playing a roleplaying game, and roleplaying games have these features, now, why are we playing this game?" I think what I'm doing is taking a step back, and saying "given a group of people who are looking for this experience, why are they playing a roleplaying game? What makes a roleplaying game the perfect vehicle for experiencing that?

Roger,

That's a good example of what's been described as Step on Up play.  I think that last post also neatly demonstrates the point I was making.  To Step on Up to the challenge, you don't need a shared imagined space.  My questions for you are the same as those I asked Jasper.  I'll ask a few more.

Would it bother you if the game's setting changed radically between sessions? Why?
If the GM made your character do something that you didn't want them to, because it led to a neat challenge, is that ok?
What do you think the GM's motivation is in this kind of play? Is it the same as the other players?
Are there "good guys" and "bad guys" in your game (i.e. people it's ok to kill, and people it's not)? How do you know which is which? Would it bother you if this changed session-to-session?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on March 29, 2010, 12:03:41 PM
Some interesting questions here; I'll try to address them as best I can. 

Would it bother you if the game's setting changed radically between sessions? Why?

I think so, yeah.  After a while there's a sense of... home field advantage, almost.  A competence that builds up around the setting.  I find it analogous to "If you were a golfer on the PGA tour, would it bother you if tour events never revisited a course that had already had an event?"  Sure it would; there's tactical value in knowing where the bunkers and trees are -- and that's much the same feeling I find myself with when considering the RPG case.

Quote
If the GM made your character do something that you didn't want them to, because it led to a neat challenge, is that ok?

Ehhh... it would depend.  At first blush, it strikes me as just weak play, like our skills are too awesome for the DM to handle on a level playing field, so we need to offer up a bit of a handicap to make things interesting.  If the challenge was neat enough, it might be permissible or even encouraged, but it'd need to be something pretty special.

Quote
What do you think the GM's motivation is in this kind of play? Is it the same as the other players?

I think it's virtually identical -- they're all the classic Step On Up motivations.  Display of competency and bravado. 

Quote
Are there "good guys" and "bad guys" in your game (i.e. people it's ok to kill, and people it's not)?

Sort of... I think it tends to boil down to people it's interesting (that is, challenging) to kill, and people who are not.  Goblins and orcs: interesting.  Orphans: not interesting, because you can just mow them down.  Kings and gods: not interesting, because they'll just mow you down (potentially by proxy.)

Quote
How do you know which is which? Would it bother you if this changed session-to-session?

To the first -- I'm not sure how to say it any other way than "it's obvious", so maybe I'll just say that.  If there's a failure in obviousness, it's easily rectified and no one minds (in my experience), even when it involves some ham-fisted direct manipulation which would otherwise be problematic:

"As you approach the ruins, a goblin elder approaches you with empty hands..."

"I totally attack that guy!  Woo, a crit!"

"No, no... you have the feeling that you should listen to what he has to say first."

"Oh, okay.  I shall hear from my worthy opponent before disemboweling him..."

...and so it goes, with no harm and no foul.


To the second question, my answer is essentially the same as the setting question on the broad scale of things ("kill goblins, save orphans") but if you're asking about particular NPCs or groups thereof, changing allegiances is fine.  If there's a problem with being suddenly betrayed and attacked by the person(s) who first hired you, it's only that it seems a bit weak and clichť by now. 


To return to the earlier questions:

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What are the characters' personalities for?

I think it might be easier to approach that from this direction:  Where do the characters' personalities come from?  They arise from the tactical decisions they make in combat.  The wizard in the back casting spells, hoarding his Daily abilities, has a different personality from the rogue who is always surrounded in melee combat and getting pounded on -- by virtue of exactly those decisions.  The players care about those character personalities because it has an impact on coordinating the team to maximum efficiency.

If you meant things like "Likes long walks on the beach and the colour blue" then, yeah, that sort of thing has no function.

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What is a "comic foil" for?

Contrast, which is every foil's purpose.  The comic foil is (almost) synonymous with incompetence and ineptitude, which of course provides a contrast to the mightiness of the player characters.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded just how intensely awesome we all are compared to the plebes.

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What is the game's setting for?

It can provide the foundation for Situation, like usual, but often the situations can hang in a sea of abeyance provided by a default generic genre-ish sense of time and space.  In broad strokes it defines the limits of Situation, but extraordinary Situations are not necessarily problematic.  Maybe you hike past the orcs and ogres and find a crashed spaceship.  That could be okay.

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What is the game's colour for? (i.e. why are you playing fantasy warriors, rather than just pieces on a board?)

It... definitely does something; I don't think I understand the intricacies of exactly how it does its thing.  Maybe it's the same reason sports teams have mascots, or WWE wrestlers have (extensive) backstories.

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What is the point of organising challenges into a string of encounters, rather than as isolated events?

It seems to make sense to have an arc in challenges.  I think it might be why they have the Superbowl and the playoffs before them, instead of just ending the season, counting up the points, and naming a winner.

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What is the SIS for?

It's for situational awareness.  Are there more goblins coming down the hall, or are these ones all that we'll be facing?  Do we need to worry about werewolves tonight?  Should we camp here, or keep on marching?

The old military saying is "time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted", and that's all about gathering the information to make these sorts of decisions competently, and the only place for that information to flow from is the SIS.  Sometimes a DM will flat-out refuse to divulge this sort of information as a matter of policy, and that will drive a Step On Up player right around the bend.  More common, however, is this sort of exchange:

"So, DM, hey, is the moon up this evening?"

"What?  The moon?  Maybe... it might be.  What are you getting at?"

"Do we hear the howling of wolves off in the distance?"

"Oh, ha, yeah -- the MOON!  Let me tell you about the moon.  The moon is full and bright, my friends."

(On the other hand, sometimes we get players who flat-out refuse to tell anyone what they're trying to get at, which tends to leave a lingering sense of dissatisfaction in the air.)

(On the other other hand, when the players and DM are really keyed into each other, these exchanges can verge on the telepathic, which is an incredibly neat feeling of collaboration.)


Hopefully my opinions on these things help us close in on our subject.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 29, 2010, 01:43:47 PM
Cool.  Roger, thanks for answering those questions.  Your answers make sense to me, and they sound like a coherant style of play.  It's not a style of play that I personally am very familiar with, but I think I've played close to that.

I have two more questions:

First, would it be fair to characterise your responses as generally indicating that the shared imagined space, the things like setting, colour, characters, and so on, as well as in some ways contributing to the challenge (situational awareness, displaying mastery of setting information etc.) also in some way contribute towards making the victories more satisfying? Like, it's pretty fun to win at an abstact boardgame, but when you're winning at killing orcs to save orphans, that is somehow more fun?

Second, how much does your play vary about your answers to these questions? Can you imagine a style of play where you're a little more invested in the fiction of play, and a little less invested in challenge? Have you played that way? Does it vary between players? Do you see those things as competing agendas (non-jargon sense)? What I'm trying to get at is whether it'd be fair to call this type of play one end of a continuum, with "no investment in challenge" at the other end.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on March 29, 2010, 03:29:19 PM
First, would it be fair to characterise your responses as generally indicating that the shared imagined space, the things like setting, colour, characters, and so on, as well as in some ways contributing to the challenge (situational awareness, displaying mastery of setting information etc.) also in some way contribute towards making the victories more satisfying? Like, it's pretty fun to win at an abstact boardgame, but when you're winning at killing orcs to save orphans, that is somehow more fun?

That's a really interesting question.  It's one of those things that, in retrospect, I obviously should have given some thought to at some point, but somehow never quite got around to it.  So, after some thought, I think this has been my experiences:

1.  For largely-traditional reasons, everyone -- the DM, the players, everyone -- thinks that of course an adventure has to start off with "holy crap all those orcs are going to kill all those orphans" and of course it has to end with "yay we saved the orphans from the orcs."

2.  Everyone actually playing doesn't care at all about that when it actually comes up.  The DM will (literally) say "Okay, boxed text, blah blah blah, orphans threatened by orcs, you're hired to kill orcs, they're over in yonder woods."  And the players will almost unanimously entirely ignore him, being busy tweaking out their attack bonuses, chatting about how epic their last game was, or whatnot.  Exactly the same thing happens at the end, except all the players are busy packing up to take off, and the DM is even more perfunctory about it.

Because of #1, sometimes new DMs are not quite up to speed on this, and get irate about it, and maybe try to demand that everyone should pay attention because This Is Very Important.  I haven't seen that phase last very long.  Maybe DMs who keep the faith go on to different games or different groups or something, or maybe they all just come around.

3.  For some reason, and I can't believe I've never noticed before, no one thinks there's something a little messed up about that.  Everyone just knows that's the way things are done.  Occasionally there's one keener who might make note that it was Mayor Helga of Bottledown that hired us to slay the orcs, but there's absolutely no reward at any level for that behaviour, unless it's purely internal to that person.

Now that I take a closer look at it in the cold light of day, it's sorta clear why it needs to be that way.  If Bob the Fighter pipes up, hey guys, some nice orcs totally saved my life when I was 12 and I've vowed never to hurt any of them, well dang.  Now everything is screwed up.  Now you've got big-I Incoherence followed by nightmarish drama.  So nothing good comes out of caring about that sort of thing, except maybe discovering this isn't the game for you after all.

So just to be clear, I'm talking about prepackaged, out-of-the-box character motivation here.  It's very common for the characters (and players) to, through the course of play, develop a real hate-on for a particular monster or villain, and derive intense satisfaction from delivering their terrible vengeance upon him.  But that all develops in the course of play; I think it might be literally impossible to successfully get that motivation into the players by reading some boxed text.

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Second, how much does your play vary about your answers to these questions? Can you imagine a style of play where you're a little more invested in the fiction of play, and a little less invested in challenge?

There's... there's a lot that could be going on here, and I think it'd be easy for me to speak misleadingly, so I'll try to be as clear as I can.

On one hand, you have something like Agenda Frequency, which is something like: how often the players are operating within a Step On Up agenda.  It's way too easy to decide, yeah, those guys are into Stepping On Up and their game is four hours of that.  In my experience there's a lot more fluidity going on that is easy to miss.  Pretty much every D&D player I know enjoys describing what happens when he totally crits some monster, and enjoy hearing that same description from others, but it's not a behaviour that strictly fits into Step On Up.

So, in terms of Agenda Frequency, I've certainly seen lots of variation in the moment-to-moment time spent in Step On Up.

On the other hand, you have something like Agenda Intensity, which, when cranked up high enough, brings us to the Hard Core version as described in Ron's original essay back in the day.  He describes that as having no Exploration left at all, which I think matches up conceptually with your ideas about having no SIS at all.

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Have you played that way? Does it vary between players? Do you see those things as competing agendas (non-jargon sense)? What I'm trying to get at is whether it'd be fair to call this type of play one end of a continuum, with "no investment in challenge" at the other end.

So having said all that, I'll try to describe how I've played and what I've seen.

Moderate Step On Up frequency, subordinate Right to Dream frequency, moderate Step On Up intensity:  This is how I'd describe my 'baseline' and where I tend to naturally find myself, all other things being equal, and I think the play I've described in this thread falls in here.

Moderate Right to Dream frequency, subordinate Step On Up frequency, lowish Step On Up intensity:  This is where I'd put my various experiences with "neat settings" in the general sense -- things like Shadowrun, various Star Trek games, Twilight:2000.  It's been common in my experience that, as the novelty of the setting fades, and the sense of competency increases, the intensity of Step On Up increases and it can take over.  I'm not sure this is inevitable per se, but it sure seems common.

All Step On Up all the time, Hard Core intensity:  I rarely see this in "rpg" form except for the occasional con game that's set up like "30th level wizards in a gladiator match, only one can win!" but I see it lots in something else I enjoy (or used to) -- Magic: the Gathering. 


In terms of variations between players... I've got some actual-play anecdotes to write about that, but I'll need to write that post (shortly) after this one.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 29, 2010, 04:01:14 PM
Roger,

Those are some interesting insights. Your characterisation strikes me as pretty accurate to a particular style of play.  Your point about how pre-packaged motivations aren't generally accepted (i.e. you don't start play with a character who actually kinda likes orcs, and conversely you're not particularly motivated by whatever pretext you have for killing orcs), but during play you will actually care about things that aren't strictly Challenge-related (you get a hate-on for a particular NPC).  Does that sound right?

I like your description of "agenda frequency" and "agenda intensity", because that fits with my understanding of play as well.  Some parts of play are more meaningful than others, and not all parts of play are meaningful for the same reasons. But I suspect that it's not entirely consistent with how GNS is imagined in the Big Model.  That's why I don't think it's a useful way of describing play.

I'd be interested to read an Actual Play post about your gaming.

I have one more question for you (and anyone else reading):

Imagine that you sit down to start a new game, and the GM says to you "Hey, let's play a game about a team of brothers who fight together.  You can all make up a brother, and the game will be about tracking down your father, who's gone missing.  You've got clues as to his wherabouts, but that'll lead you through some of the most dangerous places in the world. You'll meet other family members along the way who might be allies or enemies."

Is this:

a) Cool
b) Crappy
c) Irrelevant

Can you explain why you chose your answer?


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Caldis on March 30, 2010, 05:57:37 AM

The problem with Agenda Frequency and Intensity is that CA doesnt look at the minute to minute play, it doesnt care how intense the Agenda is in any particular moment it's an understanding of what the group is gathered to do.  So yeah you can have intense moments caused by overcoming obstacles in a game that dont signal a Step on Up CA. 

As to your last question I think it's hard to say with the material given so I'd mostly say it's irrelevant.   Sounds sort of like Supernatural so maybe it could be a good game but it also has a bit of that lame railroaded plot feel to it.  Hard to  tell much based on that description.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on March 30, 2010, 07:54:12 AM
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I owe you (and everyone else) a half-decent Actual Play writeup by now, instead of these little tiny contextless scenes; I'll spin up an AP thread when I have the chance.

Imagine that you sit down to start a new game, and the GM says to you "Hey, let's play a game about a team of brothers who fight together.  You can all make up a brother, and the game will be about tracking down your father, who's gone missing.  You've got clues as to his wherabouts, but that'll lead you through some of the most dangerous places in the world. You'll meet other family members along the way who might be allies or enemies."

It's... hrm.  It's one of those red flags, I think, that tips off the astute guy who wants Step On Up all the time that this isn't starting well.

What it reminds me of is those subversive and/or clueless people who pick their fantasy football leagues based on how pretty the uniforms are, or the length of the players' names.  That might not be as illustrative an example as I hoped.

So what's that pitch about, really?  It's almost all about Character, with some Colour-of-Character.  That's not usually where someone who is selling you a Step On Up experience is going to start.  It's like if someone starts telling you that you need to go see this awesome movie because the cinematography will blow you away -- some people will be swayed a lot by that, and others hardly at all.

There's a very similar case with a very different result that I want run past you:

"Hey, let's play a game about a team of ninjas who fight together.  You can all make up a ninja, and the game will be about tracking down your master, who's gone missing."

That perks up my Step On Up instincts in a much different way.  That pitch is really a lot more about Situation and Colour-of-Situation than it is about Character, at least to me.  I think that's obvious, but maybe it isn't, so let me know if I need to go on more about that.

So the brothers-pitch doesn't really whet those appetites, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a complete failure.  Does it look tempting for Story Now or Right to Dream play?  I'm finding myself thinking that it kinda doesn't, for reasons which are probably off-topic for this thread.  But it does look like an interesting line of inquiry -- how pitches are related to the agendas.

In the final analysis: irrelevant, but its irrelevance is also worrisome, in the way that an irrelevant movie trailer doesn't inspire confidence about the final product.  If that makes some sense.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: David Berg on March 30, 2010, 08:10:52 AM
Simon,

Good point that boardgames have color too.  Conflict and human concerns and themes aren't completely out of the picture, but I think they play a different role in boardgame play than in most roleplay.

In a typical (for me) RPG, the in-fiction events will (1) immediately make human sense in themselves, and then (2) resonate outward to impact my real self with an impression that I might describe as "thematic".  Example: my character executes a prisoner.  I then go, "Whoa, not sure how I feel about that.  Executing Prisoners is fraught."

In a typical game of Monopoly, the game actions will (1) be purely mechanical in themselves, and then (2) acquire human sense with reference to the game's color.  Example: I trade in some paper for some green plastic near-cubes, and put them on my board square.  Then I say, "Big investment in a new hotel!  You land there, you'll owe me big-time, sucker!"

Maybe this is the same distinction between "engaging theme" and "phatic theme" that you made in the Right to Dream thread.  But it seems at least possible to me that Monopoly is effectively "color that never becomes theme", adn that this might be characteristic of some Step On Up roleplay too.

Ps,
-David

P.S. Not related to this post, but related to other parts of this thread:  For an earlier take on where boardgaming meets rolelaying, see my old thread on the Swashbuckler boardgame (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25754.0).


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Simon C on March 31, 2010, 09:46:41 PM
Sorry I let this thread slip for a bit.  Real life.

Roger,

Am I right in thinking that it's a red flag because it signals that there might be content that conflicts with what you enjoy most about the game? Like, you never want there to be a question of whether you should kill somebody, just whether you can kill them, right? The ninja formulation avoids that because there's no connection to family, right?

Imagine that the pitch came from someone who you trust "gets it" about what you want.  The family thing would just be about adding intensity to the challenge, like, you're not just working as a team, you're working as a family.  Is that less alarming? More alarming? Less relevant?

If the brothers thing is totally irrelevant, I'm thinking that I'm at least partly wrong in thinking that theme is relevant to all play.  Not sure though.

David,

Yeah, I basically agree.


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on April 02, 2010, 01:04:14 AM
Hi Simon,

Chiming in a bit late here, Iíve been really busy all week. I would like to comment on a few points, even though the thread has moved on a bit and I certainly donít want to derail it.

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My experience is that as people get more invested in challenge, their willingness to accept unreliable currency is less. 

Thatís a neat observation, kind of resonates with the whole concept of winning and losing in Step On Up. The other way Iíve observed people dealing with this is insisting on a very strict, almost dogmatic moral code for the GM to adhere to (ďa GM doesnít want anythingĒ), and to bring in an element of chance for any and every decision. Both of these concepts feel so alien to me, theyíve got me wondering if thatís the real divide, if all Challenge Iíve enjoyed in any of my role-playing was actually only ever spice to a Sim game, and Iím not even capable of Gam? Or are these guys just the Hardcore? Sometimes I feel the same way about Nar.

Iím very much in the same vibe as you concerning investment in the SIS, but then, Exploration is part of any role-playing so I used to take that for granted. At any rate, Iím not sure I follow you on what gets people invested in the SIS (human concerns, ethical questions). In particular with old-school D&D, I think what gets people invested in the SIS is a sense of wonder and an excitement for adventure. You visit exotic and spectacular places, you encounter creatures of myth and monsters youíve never heard of before, you wield medieval weapons and the forces of magic, and you set out on thrilling and dangerous adventures.

Now I suppose you could call that a ďthemeĒ, in the broadest sense of the word. And you could probably focus it more: What kind of adventures, what kind of foes, what kind of challenges? And you could call that ďthemeĒ, too. Human concerns and ethic questions will be present in the SIS, just because they always are, and they may emerge to mean something, but I suggest that they are a very secondary concern even if looking solely at what makes the players invested in the SIS in s typical game of old-school D&D (or D&D 4 for that matter).

-   Frank


Title: Re: What is Step on Up for?
Post by: Roger on April 05, 2010, 10:51:52 AM
Am I right in thinking that it's a red flag because it signals that there might be content that conflicts with what you enjoy most about the game? Like, you never want there to be a question of whether you should kill somebody, just whether you can kill them, right? The ninja formulation avoids that because there's no connection to family, right?

It's not really an issue of conflicting content, per se -- more an issue of a lack of information about the things I care about.  Specifically, I don't get a good feel for the Situations out of a pitch like that.

Quote
Imagine that the pitch came from someone who you trust "gets it" about what you want.  The family thing would just be about adding intensity to the challenge, like, you're not just working as a team, you're working as a family.  Is that less alarming? More alarming? Less relevant?

It does sort of come down to a trust issue; if I had a pre-existing level of trust there, sure, I might go along with it.  Something like a traditional mafioso game would sound like fun, and those sorts of Situations hardly make sense without a heavy layer of family.

There's just rarely any good reason to be knowingly coy about it, in my experience, is all.