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Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 19, 2003, 09:52:29 PM
So I'd like to talk about a particular event in the weekend's "Lord of the Rings" RPG session, and get people's opinions on it.  This was I think the fourth session of the campaign.  It is set during the time of the War of the Ring, and set in the area of Lake-town and Mirkwood.  The PCs are Thallen (a human bounty hunter from Lake-town), Ardan (an elf of Mirkwood and carousing soldier), Borri (a dwarven craftsman, nephew of Bombur), and my PC Gudrid (a Beorning woman, cousin of Grimbeorn and studier of nature magic).  

   There were many problems, but I want to focus on a particular incident regarding my PC Gudrid.  She is of the family of Beorn's wife: so not blood kin of him, but cousin to his son Grimbeorn.  I had that she studied healing arts, herbcraft, and magic from the women of her clan.  She could speak with animals, send an animal messenger, and even transform into animals.  The rules allowed her to change into any natural animal.  In previous sessions I had transformed into a bear and a horse.  However, over email just before this session, the GM had expressed balance concerns that magic was too easy.  I suggested restricting Mastery of Shapes to three forms (as that was her most potent ability), but the GM decided to limit her to only two: bear and horse.  

-----------------

   We had just travelled for a long month, trying to catch a darkly-dressed rider who we believed was headed to Dol Guldur (a stronghold of evil in southern Mirkwood).  We knew he had recovered a ring from among the bones of Smaug, betrayed his partners, and rode off taking only the ring while leaving a horde of precious gems behind.  We had caught up with him the previous day, apparently sleeping beside the trail.  However, when Ardan tried to grab him while asleep, he instantly disappeared and his horse disappeared shortly thereafter.  Two trolls then came out of the woods to attack us.  We eventually killed them, and tried to find tracks of him.  

   After a long day of tracking and various distractions, we again spotted his horse tied beside the trail.  Anxious that he might disappear again, the others started to circle around to try to box him in.  Suddenly I had an idea.  I transformed myself into a black horse which looked like his.  I thought I would try to switch places with his horse, which might confuse him during his escape.  So I walked up to horse and spoke to it.  

   Now, at this point, the GM hedged a bit and said "Gee, I hate to do this to a PC" -- but then he went on to pointedly say "This horse is a stallion".  I sort of shrugged, but others caught the sexual implication he was making.  Another player pointed out that a stallion would have no interest in mare unless it was in heat.  The GM then ruled that "Humans are always in heat, so that stays when she transforms into a horse".  Now, nothing eventually happened from this -- I ended up using an Animal Messenger spell on it to send it away.  However, I certainly felt something was wrong here.  Another of the players also objected to the ruling.  

   It's not like I can say that it's "unrealistic" for a human magician to always turn into an animal in heat.  Nor can I say that it was railroading or deprotagonization for my PC, per se.  Still, it definitely ticked me off and made me feel that the GM had some screwy problem with my PC being female.  The other player who spoke up said that after what happened, she was glad that she didn't make a female PC.  

-----------------

So I guess my questions are:
  • Did this cross some sort of line, and how do you draw that line?
  • Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]
    One thing that I noted about the LotR RPG core book is that not only are all six example characters male, but all of the example players are male as well.  It also makes a point of saying that you cannot play a female dwarf. (?)  I'm not sure that this had any affect on this game, but it's something that I noticed in my review.  

    Now, I definitely don't want to do away with gender roles.  My PC Gudrid here is not a sword-swinging barbarian: she is a healer and magician with no combat skills and no direct combat spells.  (She can turn into a bear, but it takes her a full minute to change and the bear stats are pretty wimpy, so I basically did nothing in 3 of the 4 combats we've had.)  I wouldn't have a problem if someone were to take a romantic interest in her, say.  But on the spot of talking with a horse to rule that she is constantly in heat just crosses a line for me.  

    Any thoughts?


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: clehrich on May 19, 2003, 10:11:33 PM
This is very odd, and somehow creepy.  On the one hand, it sort of sounds to me as though maybe the GM was hoping for some crude high-school "getting it on" jokes.  Given that you are in your 30's, I'm guessing that the whole group is rather too old for that sort of thing unless everybody seems pretty into it, and clearly they weren't.  Could be a basic maturity question.

Another possibility is that he was trying to prevent you from doing something clever by making up a dumb obstacle, but it does seem a strange choice.  I'm suggesting this because you already had him blocking you from using written powers from the game, and given that the bear form doesn't sound particularly powerful I wonder about that "balance" thing.

Knowing you, I'd like to ask one other question: how well does this GM know you, as a player?  If he knows you quite well, he may be somewhat afraid of you, to be blunt.  He sounds like a fairly classic control-freak Illusionist, and you have a habit of challenging the edges of that sort of thing in a way that's difficult to block by ordinary means.  Just wondering whether this may be more about you than about female characters -- could he be trying desperately to keep you from doing anything interesting or unexpected?

As to LOTR, I don't know the game, but it is worth noting that The Hobbit has no female characters -- not one! -- and there are very few in the trilogy.  I don't think that's excuse enough for this extreme gender bias, but you might think about it as a possible reason.

With respect to gender in gaming as a general point of design, I don't see that it's much different from any other medium.  Does it make any difference whether some of the player examples are female, regardless of the sexes of their characters?  Yes -- it reminds everyone more or less subtly that 50% of potential players (hypothetically, anyway) are female.

But beyond this basic point -- rather like using "he or she" instead of "he" -- I really have an ugly feeling about this situation.  Maybe we're both over-reading (although another player agreed) but I just get the sneaking suspicion that this guy to some degree thinks of females as passive sexual objects.  I shouldn't even say that, since I don't know him at all, nor have you provided more than one example, but for some reason it just strikes me that way.


Title: Re: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 19, 2003, 10:42:09 PM
Quote from: John Kim
  • Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]
This sounds like a bearded female dwarfs question, John. Stickly a matter of mileage may vary or personal taste. Possibly an issue for the GM to rules that your character would always be in heat, if you take my meaning.

I doubt that there's anything that game design could do with this situation. I doubt anyone puts a "don't force the player character to have horse sex" rule, Jared notwithstanding.

This does make me wonder about the GM to have considered the whole thing with your character and whether she would be in heat or not in animal form (that must be difficult) and to say "the horse is a stallion" and expect you'll make the connection right away.

Sorry, but jeez.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 20, 2003, 12:48:44 AM
Quote from: clehrich
  With respect to gender in gaming as a general point of design, I don't see that it's much different from any other medium.  Does it make any difference whether some of the player examples are female, regardless of the sexes of their characters?  Yes -- it reminds everyone more or less subtly that 50% of potential players (hypothetically, anyway) are female.  

Well, it seems significantly different from other media to me.  In other media like novels or movies, you can just make strong female characters as part of your story, and not be a pig.  But a game book is there to facilitate other stories or characters, not to express its own.  

There are some dead obvious things like "Don't make all your example players and characters male".  But I'm not certain that that is as far as it can go.  Here on the Forge many people have advocated the idea that a game has (or can have) a Vision / Creative Agenda / whatever of its own -- even though it isn't the narrative itself.  Surely gender issues are a part of that.  Now, mind you, I'm not saying that a different design would neccesarily have done anything to this case.  GM does trump system to some degree (I can run a dungeon crawl using Hero Wars), but system does matter.  

To be harsh, I'd say most fantasy RPGs deal with gender by constantly assuming men and male archetypes in the design -- and then have token egalitarianism by technically allowing women to take any of those roles. Thus you have the busty Amazon warrior, the exotic sorceress, etc.  This stifles any exploration of gender, because once you start to question it, it is clear that these characters just don't fit.  

I think that one ought to be able to do better than this.  I'm mulling over ideas, but I don't have anything coherent at the moment.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Aidley on May 20, 2003, 02:42:31 AM
Yeah, that does seem kind of creepy and off, but I suspect that Clehrich was correct and the response was more about stopping you following your course of action that any kind of reaction to your playing a female character.

To look at it another way, what if the situation had been reversed, and a trasnformed male character had drawn the attention of a female animal - would that seem creepy in the way?


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 20, 2003, 04:23:36 AM
See? This is what happens when dudes play chicks.

- J, "I'm just sayin'..."


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Balbinus on May 20, 2003, 06:36:15 AM
I think there are a number of problems here.

Firstly, your GM is running the wrong game.  LotR, if we're talking the Decipher version, quite consciously discards play balance in favour of emulating the source material.  To try to suddenly reinsert it is bound to end badly IMO.

Far more seriously, your GM has issues which sound frankly odd.  The always on heat thing was either a joke in very poor taste, a sign of extreme discomfort with female characters or a very clumsy attempt to block player creativity (or a mix of all three).  Whichever, I would be very uncomfortable in your game, the GM is arbitrarily messing with character concepts and in a rather unpleasant way.

The big warning for me is the "I hate to do this to a PC" comment.  The answer to that is obvious.  Don't.  Why is the horse a stallion?  Because the GM made it so.  Why are transformed magi always on heat (a very peculiar judgement IMO), because the GM said so.  It's all GM fiat, there is no stallion objectively existing forcing the poor GM to screw over (no pun intended) your character.

This isn't a system problem IMO, nor with all due respect to Jared's peculiar obsession with the subject is it a problem with people playing PCs of the opposite gender, the problem is a GM who appears to have issues with women and issues with characters not behaving as he wishes them to.

Out of interest, were the other problems in the game compatible with the theory that the GM was uncomfortable with player creativity outside the bounds of his scenario?


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on May 20, 2003, 06:55:49 AM
John,

I'm going to admit I've gotten spoiled by the cross-table communication at my games. Still - why didn't you just ask the GM, "Hey - take a break for a minute. This scene is seeming strange and uncomfortable to me, and I was wondering why you're taking it in this direction."

If you can't do that, it seems like a bigger problem than this GM's particular sexual hang-ups. (I'm not saying it's your problem, by the way. Would this GM have responded well to that?)


Title: Re: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: jrs on May 20, 2003, 07:29:02 AM
Quote from: John Kim

So I guess my questions are:
  • Did this cross some sort of line, and how do you draw that line?
  • Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]
First, only you and your game group can say whether a line was crossed.  That is dependant on your comfort level and whether you as a group could discuss it, as Clinton suggests.  From your description, it appears that at least one of you was able to indicate to the GM that his call was inappropriate.  I agree with Balbinus, that the GM's statement, "I hate to do this to a PC", is the main issue.  It indicates that the situation is definitely not in the player's favor, when it fact the player could have used the set-up as an opportunity to play Loki to Svadilfari
  • .  

I'm not sure how game design could specifically prevent this from happening.  I mean, do you need rules to say that it might not be a good idea for the GM to tell a player that his character has an erection and will not be able to concentrate on anything else until he deals with it?

Julie

  • Very briefly, Svadilfari was the horse of a man who bargained with the gods that he could build the gods' stronghold in one winter.  When the gods realized that the man would succeed primarily through the strength of Svadilfari, Loki turned himself into a mare to lure Svadilfari away and prevent the bargain from being kept.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 20, 2003, 07:38:45 AM
Hi John,

Some of the following mirrors others' responses ...

Damn, but I wish this all happened a few months ago; I would have asked your permission to include it among the many testimonials in Sex & Sorcery.

What you've got here is the issue of Denial, Dysfunction, and Function when it comes to including anything about sexuality, gender, or (bluntly) horniness in the in-game world.

Denial = uh-uh, none of that, our characters aren't about that, there isn't any of that, where's the foe, where's the puzzle, where's the story, where are we going next. Basically, Ken & Barbie do a fantasy game.

Dysfunction = using sexual innuendo and/or graphic events to mess with one another as real people, ranging from the GM going "snuffle snuffle" when a dog encounters a passed-out female player-character to the infamous "the orc bandit leader rapes you four times that night" scene. These examples are taken from actual play.

Function = including sexual material as in-game material in such a way that it serves the imaginative, creative purpose at hand, which necessarily means that the sexual or semi-sexual interactions among the real people have to be engaged in a way which I can only call "real" or "adult" in full knowledge that these terms aren't precise.

Speaking over here from my armchair, I peg your GM as doin' some Dysfunction in this instance. What it's "about," I don't know. His comment "I hate to do this to a PC" is of course bullshit; if he truly "hated" to do it, then he wouldn't. I'd be awfully interested whether, if your character were male, he would have confronted him with a mare in heat.

However - I betcha that if called on it, he'd have all manner of excuses. "It's realistic." "Real stories have sex in them." Blah blah ... all of which boils down to issues of story-control (perhaps you guys were being tactical regarding this NPC in a way he didn't like, e.g.).

The way to disperse such blather is to think in terms of aesthetics and goals. Here you guys have this situation concerning hard-core Middle Earth material, like the ring in Smaug's bones and Dol Guldur and whatnot. Your character fits that perfectly, as does the nephew of the canonical dwarf. See what I mean? Your characters and the ostensible point of play are all firing on the same cylinders, to celebrate the richness of Middle Earth material and perhaps do some "underbelly" role-playing with canonical material.

And then here comes all this stuff about equine pheromones and (God help us) a stallion-esque ramrod of steaming pink, and who knows what extremes of nudging and winking about what your character "has to do." It's not the decency or properness or "appropriateness" of the imagery that bugs me, though - it's the sharp-left-turn from the shared aesthetics of play.

Does anyone remember all those suspense thriller movies from the 1980s and early 90s, in which the detective is tracking the killer and he's not sure whether the girl he's met is connected to the killer, or maybe is the killer, and all that crap? Jennifer 8, Sea of Love, Knight Moves, etc. Right in the middle of each one, there's this kind of red-light sex scene which has, frankly, nothing to do with the story. It's just a soft-porn sequence, thrown in for the ratings and for its own sake, and perhaps to cover the fact that the actual story is a flaccid mess.

That's what this anecdote reminds me of. I'll betcha a copy of Sex & Sorcery that your-all's tactics regarding this NPC were out of the GM's comfort zone of control of the upcoming events. I'll betcha he even had plans for that horse in the upcoming scene, or at the very least, anticipated that you'd ask questions of the horse that he wanted to keep secret for some future-planned revelation. The entire point was to keep "the GM screen" up in terms of information exchange - so he threw a big wall at you, purposefully spiced with the hard-to-port-ensign innuendo, in order to back you up and head you off and keep you bloody away from his control of what was going on.

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: ADGBoss on May 20, 2003, 07:48:24 AM
Again not knowing the GM in question its hard to put a finger on what exactly is the problem here.

I would ask three questions:

1) Does he do this to other players ie does he treat the female player badly in gerneral or just female PCs?

2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? Always fertile is not necassarily always in heat and what if your character is a cold fish or can't function that way? I mean there are enough variables to warrant a role... also of course if the Rider knows his horse, maybe he would have noticed the uh difference.  However if you could explain the rule for it to those os us not having LOtR, when you said a horxe just like his horse, why did you not also become a stallion?

3) Were you the only character who had to have "balance" added?  

Creepy

Sean
ADGBoss


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Balbinus on May 20, 2003, 07:59:07 AM
Quote from: ADGBoss
2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? Always fertile is not necassarily always in heat and what if your character is a cold fish or can't function that way? I mean there are enough variables to warrant a role... also of course if the Rider knows his horse, maybe he would have noticed the uh difference.  However if you could explain the rule for it to those os us not having LOtR, when you said a horxe just like his horse, why did you not also become a stallion?


This I suspect is a side issue.  I would guess that Ron is right and that the guy would have said "it's realistic" or made up some lame excuse.

I also agree with Ron that this is most likely a story control issue, albeit here a story control issue that may have inadvertently flushed out some other problems present in the group.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Liz on May 20, 2003, 09:17:11 AM
I was there too and this is my take on it:

Before this happened, some of us had been making tacky "I mount you... hahahaha" jokes.  Which was funny at first but may have also gone over the line, because we kept doing it in a kind of escalating series of obnoxious one-upmanship.  This probably contributed to the line-crossing of the GM, who frankly doesn't seem like he hangs around very many women, and was thinking "Hey, look, a girl who jokes about sex, how freeing, now I can say anything!"  But because I laugh at an elf/dwarf slash porn joke does that that mean it's open season, let's rape the female PC ?  I think not...

When the GM tried to apply this "you're in heat" rule, most of us were saying "That's so wrong!" and shaking their heads. I said flat out that it was stupid.   Actually I also sarcastically suggested that Gudrid keep track of her period, and that as a human she would be fertile around 14 days before the start of her period, and maybe her animal forms could be in heat then.  This was ignored, and I dropped it.

<rant>However if I hadn't shut my mouth I would have added that I'd only accept "being on the rag" and "heat" simulation rules if teenage male characters had to roll every 5 minutes for "distracting and embarrassing erection" and in combat all male chars had to check each round for whether they're completely incapacitated by being kicked in the balls or not. </rant>

I was somewhat ticked off by this incident, but I realize if I had been playing Gudrid, I would have been absolutely over the edge furious.  I have to think about that a bit and post later.  But yeah, this is part of why I don't play female characters. The constant gender stereotyping or even the joking about stereotypes and sex become very wearying.

As far as game books go, I have had much better experiences playing in people's homebrew systems, and in fantasy worlds where sexism is not so bad as it is in our real world, or where it's at least different.  I get enough of irritating patriarchy in real life.  Sometimes I want to play with gender issues in games, but when that becomes just as frustrating as it is in RL, it's not fun.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 20, 2003, 09:25:10 AM
Hello,

Hi Liz, welcome to the Forge!

This issue is so central to role-playing in my experience that I decided to frame an entire supplement for Sorcerer around it. This is kind of a roundabout set of links references, but at my Sex & Sorcery news update (http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/news.php/28?PHPSESSID=9a0a64ccee80f3092b27a006c6b67eca) at the Sorcerer website, I list a bunch of Forge discussions about the new supplement's contents under development, and in them are linked some more general discussions. So my apologies for the weird mulberry-bush approach to links citations, but I'm presenting them 'cause John's & Liz's situation, as presented in this thread, is exactly why I wrote this supplement in the first place.

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 20, 2003, 10:39:09 AM
Quote from: Balbinus
  This isn't a system problem IMO, nor with all due respect to Jared's peculiar obsession with the subject is it a problem with people playing PCs of the opposite gender, the problem is a GM who appears to have issues with women and issues with characters not behaving as he wishes them to.

Out of interest, were the other problems in the game compatible with the theory that the GM was uncomfortable with player creativity outside the bounds of his scenario?  

About system -- I completely agree that this isn't a system problem.  However, this is a game design forum and I wanted somewhere to take the conversation other than just shrugging and saying "Dude, your GM's got issues."  

Regarding the other problems, the short answer is yes.  At least originally, I think the GM was nominally following the advice of the LotR book.  He had a series of chapters, and each chapter has a primary goal and a secondary goal.  XP is determined by how well we accomplish those goals.  He seems to make a genuine effort not to force the PCs to do things.  However, as we stray further from the chapter, he does get more uncomfortable.  

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
  I'm going to admit I've gotten spoiled by the cross-table communication at my games. Still - why didn't you just ask the GM, "Hey - take a break for a minute. This scene is seeming strange and uncomfortable to me, and I was wondering why you're taking it in this direction."

If you can't do that, it seems like a bigger problem than this GM's particular sexual hang-ups. (I'm not saying it's your problem, by the way. Would this GM have responded well to that?)

Well, it's not like I was horribly shocked at this -- and it wasn't an impossible problem for my PC to deal with.  But it certainly was strange.  As I said, I don't have a problem with sexual elements or sexual attentions in general, so I couldn't point to a specific line that was crossed.  We had all been laughing uproariously over Jim's puns about riding.  (Mock comment to Grimbeorn: "I'm really sore from riding your niece all day".) Also, as a player, it takes a pretty major break for me to drop out-of-character.  For example, one of my peculiarities is that I will signal "time out" (a T with my hands) when I speak out-of-character.  

If I had brought it up, I think we could have agreed to just skip over it.  

Quote from: jrs
 I'm not sure how game design could specifically prevent this from happening.  I mean, do you need rules to say that it might not be a good idea for the GM to tell a player that his character has an erection and will not be able to concentrate on anything else until he deals with it?  

Well, no, obviously.  As I noted before, I brought up system mainly to have some sort of constructive take on this.  That said, isn't this the whole argument of Ron's "System Matters"?  Sure, a good GM can avoid railroading, and have a morally-interesting theme, and so forth.  I guess I would say that ignoring sex and gender in the rules is like ignoring story in the rules.  Yes, a good GM can still have good stories in his D&D game even though there is nothing in the system about it.  But system is an influence, even if the specific case isn't ruled out.  

Quote from: ADGBoss
I would ask three questions:
1) Does he do this to other players ie does he treat the female player badly in gerneral or just female PCs?
2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? [...]
3) Were you the only character who had to have "balance" added?

A1: I don't want to dump on the GM too much here.  This was a particularly notable case which was why I brought it up, but he is not constantly doing stuff of this scale.  I am still playing in the game, after all.  That said, Liz did feel that when she joined, she was treated as just my SO, and not a "real gamer".  
A2: I have no idea.  
A3: At this point, yes.  We have discussed some other house rules but they haven't yet been implemented.  Now, admittedly, I think everyone in the game thought it was a mistake when I noted that Mastery of Shapes let Gudrid turn into *any* bird or beast as a starting PC.  For example, that 2-pick spell would have allowed Gandalf to fly off of Orthanc.  But he did go further than my suggestion of three shapes to only two.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 20, 2003, 09:50:22 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
  This issue is so central to role-playing in my experience that I decided to frame an entire supplement for Sorcerer around it. This is kind of a roundabout set of links references, but at my Sex & Sorcery news update (http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/news.php/28?PHPSESSID=9a0a64ccee80f3092b27a006c6b67eca) at the Sorcerer website, I list a bunch of Forge discussions about the new supplement's contents under development, and in them are linked some more general discussions. So my apologies for the weird mulberry-bush approach to links citations, but I'm presenting them 'cause John's & Liz's situation, as presented in this thread, is exactly why I wrote this supplement in the first place.  

Cool.  I picked up Sorcerer at my local game store two months ago, and I read it through once, but I haven't had a chance to really consider it in detail.  Certainly approaching the question of sex and gender is pretty darn rare.  The other example I can think of is "Love and Death" for Wraith.  However, I found that disappointing because after a very good first half where it discussed the issues, it switched to three dull pre-plotted-story adventures.  Still, the first half has some decent discussion.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 20, 2003, 10:06:15 PM
Quote from: John Kim
[However, this is a game design forum and I wanted somewhere to take the conversation other than just shrugging and saying "Dude, your GM's got issues."

Dude, don't worry about it. The Forge as a site focuses on indie RPGs. This is the actual Play forum where we discuss what actually happens at the gaming table. Where we talk about things a tad more solid than theory. If it's a social issue like that, even those it really is outside of the scope of the sight to deal with it, we call a potato a potato.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 20, 2003, 11:14:09 PM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: John Kim
However, this is a game design forum and I wanted somewhere to take the conversation other than just shrugging and saying "Dude, your GM's got issues."

Dude, don't worry about it. The Forge as a site focuses on indie RPGs. This is the actual Play forum where we discuss what actually happens at the gaming table. Where we talk about things a tad more solid than theory. If it's a social issue like that, even those it really is outside of the scope of the sight to deal with it, we call a potato a potato.

I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but let me try again...  In many forums outside the Forge, if someone complains about his frustrations with -- say -- a railroading GM in Vampire, they will just be told "Your GM sucks.  Deal with it.  That's a problem with your GM, not with the system."

One of the nice things about The Forge is that people are working on ways to constructively change that.  Just because the GM is responsible for railroading, that doesn't mean that the system doesn't have an influence -- and thus is in part responsible.  Designers here mostly accept that responsibility, which may sometimes mean tilting at windmills (i.e. trying to solve the problem of a control-freak GM with mechanics), but at least they are trying.  

Your argument seems to be the opposite of this.  If a GM does something, we should hold only the GM responsible and not look at how the system influenced it.  i.e. System Doesn't Matter.  

I don't accept that.  There are a number of things in Ron's essays that I don't agree with, but the basic point of "System Matters" is to me very clear.  System is not neccesarily the most important factor, but it matters.  Now, in that essay his examples are mainly GM/player authorship issues, but I think that it also applies to sex and gender issues, and a host of other issues as well.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Aidley on May 21, 2003, 12:56:12 AM
Interesting post, John, and you're right. Too often people shrug and say 'get a better GM' when the problem either lies with, or is aggrivated, by the system. It also fairly obvious how this could be solved, a line added to the Mastery of Shapes ability (spell?) saying 'any character transformed into an animal has no sexual attraction to real animals'.

But what then if you wish to do the Loki thing listed above? I think that would be a clever and interesting use of the ability, and wouldn't like to see it curtailed in a rule simply there to make sure the GM isn't being an arse.

Hmm, how about 'when transforming into an animal the character can chose all aspects of the creatures form, including colouration, size, age and sex (within normal ranges for that animal)'? That actually might be kind of cool, since it would allow, for example, a player to transform into a juvenile and solicit sympathy from adult animals.

Perhaps an interesting question to be addressed by the rules is how transformed and real animals interact. Does a transformed player acquire knowledge of how the animal's communication and behaviour works, or will they attempt to smile and inadvertantly bare their teeth aggressively. Will they understand what that call actually means? Will their way of moving disturb real animals? How deeply do you want to model all of this anyway?


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 05:35:57 AM
Quote from: John Kim
[Your argument seems to be the opposite of this.  If a GM does something, we should hold only the GM responsible and not look at how the system influenced it.  i.e. System Doesn't Matter.  

I don't accept that.  There are a number of things in Ron's essays that I don't agree with, but the basic point of "System Matters" is to me very clear.  System is not neccesarily the most important factor, but it matters.  Now, in that essay his examples are mainly GM/player authorship issues, but I think that it also applies to sex and gender issues, and a host of other issues as well.

It matters, but it hardly a cause or even a factor in every situation, unless you use the broader definition of system which includes social contract.

IIUC the situation basically boils down to the GM said "This happens." Most of the players said "That's stupid." The GM replied "Too bad. I'm the GM so it happens whether you guys like it or not." Note: chances are the second two things were not actually said out loud in this case, but this is the way of it IIUC. This is more a social issue than a system issue. Per system in this exchange, it's just who gets to say what happens but I reckon there's little in the rules governing what can be said when you get to say what happens. Nothing made the GM set up this situation with the pc-turned mare and the stallion except for his own opinions and judgement. He said it, not the system. All the system do was make it stick or give you no recourse but to accept and deal with the situation.

But, all of that said, I would say that Ron's comments are especially enlightening on the subject.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: ADGBoss on May 21, 2003, 05:47:48 AM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: John Kim
However, this is a game design forum and I wanted somewhere to take the conversation other than just shrugging and saying "Dude, your GM's got issues."

Dude, don't worry about it. The Forge as a site focuses on indie RPGs. This is the actual Play forum where we discuss what actually happens at the gaming table. Where we talk about things a tad more solid than theory. If it's a social issue like that, even those it really is outside of the scope of the sight to deal with it, we call a potato a potato.

I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but let me try again...  In many forums outside the Forge, if someone complains about his frustrations with -- say -- a railroading GM in Vampire, they will just be told "Your GM sucks.  Deal with it.  That's a problem with your GM, not with the system."

One of the nice things about The Forge is that people are working on ways to constructively change that.  Just because the GM is responsible for railroading, that doesn't mean that the system doesn't have an influence -- and thus is in part responsible.  Designers here mostly accept that responsibility, which may sometimes mean tilting at windmills (i.e. trying to solve the problem of a control-freak GM with mechanics), but at least they are trying.  

Your argument seems to be the opposite of this.  If a GM does something, we should hold only the GM responsible and not look at how the system influenced it.  i.e. System Doesn't Matter.  

I don't accept that.  There are a number of things in Ron's essays that I don't agree with, but the basic point of "System Matters" is to me very clear.  System is not neccesarily the most important factor, but it matters.  Now, in that essay his examples are mainly GM/player authorship issues, but I think that it also applies to sex and gender issues, and a host of other issues as well.


Yes but what we have or what you have brought to the table are two different issues.  One is a game issue or a gaming issues, the question and treatment of gender.  Certianly in the RPG industry with regard to this and other issues, System does Matter. I do not think there is any question that some systems or designs do not do enough to foster a sense of gender freedom in character.

Of course the question of gender and sexuality have a scale far outside of just 1 game and 1 system. An adult discussion of homo-sexuality to one person is courting sin and damnation to another.  

Do you think LotR is mysoganistic? Did tolkien hate women? Is this prevalent in the game thats derived from his works? I think its very poignant to ask those questions and once answered, how does that affect your choice of game to play or book to read?

Ron Edwards has made a great game in Sorcerer. Its about summoning Demons but thats ok.  However, I do an Actual Play where my female character seduces the demon of another PC who is his dead sister. So hot live female on dead female action. Ron comes on actual play and says thats great! You however, are offended by the scene. Do you stop playing Sorcerer?

thats just one example but the question is: How do we let game designers know what we want in terms of social conscience or social statement?

The second is a GM who has made IMO a very poor and biased decision based on questionable science or excuses in an attempt to either degrade character or railroad the players' actions. Obivously I lay outside of the equation ot playing in the game or knowing the GM and if this is the only bad judgement call he has made, it could be an aberration.  At the least you may want to have a side dicussion about this whole episode with him, if you have not already. Especially since you are indeed still playing in the game and open dialogue seems possible.

Again, this is my 2 Lunars as far as it goes.

[Edit: Spelling and also to clarify: Ron has never expressed to me any opinion on hot live female on dead female action, it was all you know just hypothetical]

Sean
ADGBoss


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 05:50:12 AM
Quote from: Mr Jack
Too often people shrug and say 'get a better GM' when the problem either lies with, or is aggrivated, by the system.

THing is, I don't see this as a problem with the system. I really can't say if Ron's belief that the GM was just trying to block John's move because doing this would upset the plot. I really can't say, since I cannot see inside the GM's head. I'll have to just allow that this may have been a factor in his mind and we must allow that it is equally possible that it was not, until we gain further information. If it was indeed a block to protect the plot, other moves were possible. Why create a bizzare sexual situation?
Quote
It also fairly obvious how this could be solved, a line added to the Mastery of Shapes ability (spell?) saying 'any character transformed into an animal has no sexual attraction to real animals'.

OK, but where does that end? D&D is already well over 600 pages with the three core books. I do not see the value in this kind of micro management. I would think that "If you have sexual situations in your game do it with at least a little taste," would be enough. Ron seems to disagree and has written a suppliment on the subject.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 06:13:58 AM
Addendum: This just came to me to illustrate my point.

Kids are playing dodge ball. One kid gets the ball and throws it right at another kid's groin, purposefully. Wham! Thud! That's gotta hurt. Now should the rules of dodge ball be augmented to disallow groin shots? I suppose an arguement can be made for it, but that solve nothing with the kids who hit the other kid in the groin on purpose. Did he have a problem with the other boy that he would try to really hurt him? Is he the sort who just likes to inflict as much pain as possible? These are the real cause of the problem and are not addressable by the rules of the game.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 06:14:16 AM
Hello,

So let's talk about System. As you guys all know, I tend to use this term awfully broadly, including such things as "standards for who gets to say what when, and make it stick." Yes, in many games, such standards are not explicitly written down as rules, whereas in some they are, and in many more, they are interpretable based on side-comments or meta-text of some kind.

What else can be included in System? It strikes me that in John's example, we're talking mainly about character creation and its contractual, procedural consequences for later play. That's a big deal, which I imagine isn't a controversial point.

Let's take a game with a lot of customizable character options but which still carries a strong sense of "typing." If you go by my schema for "roles," from that The Class Issue thread, then levels #2-3 would be awfully well-articulated for such a game. Just to keep people from running off to track down the reference, I'm talking about (a) a sense of the character's "story role" (leader, ingenue, staunch guy, sidekick, etc) and (b) a sense of the character's "societal role" in the game-world (ranger, prince, bandit chief, etc).

So here you are, and you choose your options such that these two kinds of roles are very, very clear to you for this character, especially relative to the setting in question - oh, and let's say that we're dealing with a canonical setting which carries a lot of literary/fictional weight, and emotional commitment on the part of the role-players. Playing in this setting is an homage, taken seriously.

In such a game, how can the System for character creation let you down - or more accurately, communicate Consequences X to you, regarding your character, but Consequences Y to your GM or anyone else in the group?

1. It can contain options that simply contradict or devalue elements in the source material. The "animal changing" spell thing seems like a candidate, hence the mutual desire to see it limited makes sense. Easily spotted and fixed. This is kind of trivial as long as people bring their commitments to the process and talk about them a little.

2. It can contain ranges of effects that give "power" to the character's #2 role, rather than to the character's #3 role. This is a big fucking deal, and it's why all the hassles about classes/no classes arise in the first place. You see, the #3 role is in-game: Aragorn's a ranger, hence he can track, run all day, shoot a bow, etc. But the #2 role is far more metagame-y - Aragorn is a King Born, or even better, a Conflicted King Born, and working that out through play is a very different issue from seeing Aragorn "do ranger stuff."

Here's my point: the railroading GM likes to confine player-characters to their #3 roles - their in-game definitions - and to keep the #2 roles very, very fixed and predictable, with any changes in them well-observed and managed by him, the GM, throughout. That way, it doesn't matter whether the Information Finder in Call of Cthulhu is a fussy librarian, a wise-ass reporter, or an alcoholic mystic. According to this sort of GM, the player's job is to put a hell of a lot of energy into the #3 stuff, and everyone knows that the Information Finder will Find the Information during that phase of play. The GM feels extremely propietary over the character in this regard.

But here you are, John, with your Druid ... who glory be, makes a decision that pulls her out of "nature stuff, sniff the air, sense bad orc things on the horizon," and straight into "investigate and rattle the cage stuff." Hey! Hey! says the GM. That's ... why, that's story role stuff! That's mine!

To you, the options chosen during character creation were raw meat for whatever changes and commitments you wanted to bring to the #2 level of the character's role - the story role. To the GM, the options chosen were only #3, in-game societal role, case closed, and the story role wasn't to be "affected" by those options in action.

Before I go on, does all this seem like blather and over-categorization, or am I making sense?

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Aidley on May 21, 2003, 06:14:37 AM
Quote
Thing is, I don't see this as a problem with the system.


I agree, Jack - I think this is a GM problem -  however John was asking the question 'could we fix it with rules' so that was the question I addressed. I think it's a valid question and one worth running with for a while to see where it goes.

Where does it end? That's a very good question. I don't like six hundred page rulebooks either, and I would be rather put off by a chapter entitled 'how not to run sexual situations like a fuckwit'.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 06:17:00 AM
Hi there,

Following up on my last post:

The class issue (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2802)

Also see Item collecting (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=4668), which brings up a related issue and contains many useful insights.

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 09:14:00 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
That's what this anecdote reminds me of. I'll betcha a copy of Sex & Sorcery that your-all's tactics regarding this NPC were out of the GM's comfort zone of control of the upcoming events. I'll betcha he even had plans for that horse in the upcoming scene, or at the very least, anticipated that you'd ask questions of the horse that he wanted to keep secret for some future-planned revelation. The entire point was to keep "the GM screen" up in terms of information exchange - so he threw a big wall at you, purposefully spiced with the hard-to-port-ensign innuendo, in order to back you up and head you off and keep you bloody away from his control of what was going on.

I have re-read the thread because it seemed to me that there was a bit of talking past each other going on.

First, I do not think that the game book promoted this situation. With only male example players and characters, it certainly did encourage balance of the sexes, but it certainly doesn't encourage it the way FATAL* does.

Next, refering back to the quote above. Re-reading John & Liz's posts on the incident, I find assuming that the GM was "keeping the screen up" was just that, an assumption. It is possible that John's actions could have potentially derail whatever the GM had planned. It is also possible that his plan was to have the players try to catch the NPC and see if they managed to do so and when this situation came up, he decided to got the wink, wink nudge, nudge route. Fact is, we have no data on the GM's plans or not, so all we can do is assume. Even so, there were plenty of other ways to block John's move without it use a technique that was controversial enough to spawn a couple pages of discussion.  

I don't know what can we do here? On the one hand, we have the entire problem as Liz outlined. This is a social issue that the group will need to work out themselves. I suppose we could offer advice on this, but it we ultimately be their call on what's done, if anything is done or not. On the other there is this whole thing that Ron's addressing, which while interesting, I doubt would have warranted a post from John or had even been noticed much in play without the first issue. That and we don't have enough facts to support or discredit this view about what the GM was doing. It is strongly suggested, I admit:
Quote from: John Kim
Regarding the other problems, the short answer is yes. At least originally, I think the GM was nominally following the advice of the LotR book. He had a series of chapters, and each chapter has a primary goal and a secondary goal. XP is determined by how well we accomplish those goals. He seems to make a genuine effort not to force the PCs to do things. However, as we stray further from the chapter, he does get more uncomfortable

Hmm... upon reflection, it may indeed be a real issue here, although some items need to be clairified.

What was the goal of this chapter? To catch and interrogate this NPC (perhaps taking his ring which sounds like a faux one ring, or possibly is the one ring and Frodo has the forgery? Did Smaug eat Bilbo and that's why this ring was found among Smaug's bones?), thus leading to the next goal? Or was it to follow the NPC to some place and situation where a resolution point will occur? If we knew this, then we could know a bit more about this situation and know why this particular move was blocked. If the GM was protecting his "story stuff" or if the goal before the PCs was to nab this guy and the GM was just putting up another obsticle.


* I had considered not naming FATAL here, but screw it. I would imagine we could discuss FATAL intelligently here were there anything intelligent to discuss.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Paul Czege on May 21, 2003, 10:05:44 AM
Hey Ron,

Before I go on, does all this seem like blather and over-categorization, or am I making sense?

It makes total sense to me. Of course I admit to being the choir, but it does a better job of explaining my abiding fondness for the time I was able to steal something at level #2 with my character Puntila than anything I've come up with myself. There's a not-unenjoyable tradition of Gamism to player/GM wrestling over level #2, I think. The pervasively denied aspect, however, is that such a victory is almost always achieved at level #1, rather than level #3.

Paul


Title: horseplay
Post by: Caldis on May 21, 2003, 10:20:40 AM
To me this is an example of a break in the social contract.  The Gm, maybe egged on by lurid jokes, came up with a situation that the players found inappropriate.  It doesnt matter if he was doing it in an attempt to railroad the story line or if it was just an off the cuff attempt at creating a humorous situation, in either case it was offensive. That doesnt make the gm a bad gm he just followed an impulse down the wrong path at the wrong time with the wrong group.

I think Ron's description of the three types of sexual content levels typical in RPG's to be useful in hammering out where the group comfort level is.  
In a game with a bunch of rowdy teenaged boys I dont think having your character in horse shape be the object of the stallions affection would be out of place.  

I dont think that any system can really combat this sort of thing, it's a deeply ingrained part of human nature.  Even in a narrative game like Trollbabe I could see a GM inserting a lewd unwanted element in a similar situation if he wanted.   Unless you were roleplaying asexual lifeforms though then again jokes may come up.

So maybe you should discuss with the gm what level of sexual content you are comfortable with.  For LOTR that is trying to emulate the books I would suggest that Denial is the best policy.  I think there's a fine line between Function and Dysfunction and if you are going to go for functional you better spell out what the boundaries are i.e. no being raped.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 10:36:52 AM
Hi there,

I think everyone agrees that the Social Contract is what's at stake.

I was kind of hoping that people would follow up on my later post, which concerns how System can and does contribute to the issue.

To clarify as best I can, if character creation does not give the player explicit "rights" concerning the story-role of the character, but provides abilities and options that might influence and possibly change the story-role, then some clashes are going to occur over that role.

A certain sort of GM (Sim/Sit to be precise, expecting players to be Sim/Char) is going to want the character reliably to Do His Thing, using whatever variety of abilities the player chose for That Purposes of That Thing. To the GM, when the player does Another Thing with those abilities, that's plain breach of contract. Accusations of "taking over," "hogging the story," etc, often mask the GM's resentment in these situations.

A certain sort of player (Narr/Char to be precise) is going to want to address The Thing not in one way, but rather in a fashion to be determined through the moments of play specifically without pre-supposing or contracting to it. All the abilities are "ammunition" if you will for arriving at those moments of play and may have been chosen just for that purposes (anticipated but not pre-set synergy). When confronted with the above GM, the player is going to cry "railroad!" and point to the abilities' application as listed in the rules.

No system design will prevent Social Contract breakdown, but one system can be better designed to avoid certain pitfalls than another. From what I can tell, this particular system looks like it provides a couple of slippery chutes right into the pitfall that I'm talking about.

I suggest that all of the horse-horniness issue is a smoke screen masking this much more trenchant issue.

John, 'specially, is this making any sense? Is this the sort of System issue that seems as if it illustrates "system does matter"?

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 11:37:55 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
..., if character creation does not give the player explicit "rights" concerning the story-role of the character, but provides abilities and options that might influence and possibly change the story-role, then some clashes are going to occur over that role.

OK, let's consider this a bit, dropping the horse thing. First of, reading the description of what happened, the goal put before the players was to nab this NPC who apparently has a magic ring. This NPC has the ability to make himself and his horse disappear, so the problem before the players is how to nab this guy without him just disappearing on them again. This sounds to me like fairly gamist play and John responded in a gamist manner by looking at the abilities he has to work with, and came up with a possible solution. Maybe not a good or viable solution, but a solution nevertheless.

John, is this a accurate view here?

Besides the horse incident, has there been any other incidents that would reflect the stuff Ron is talking about.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 11:51:15 AM
Hi Jack,

Um, you might be goin' a little overboard with the Gamism thing. John's play was certainly strategic, but strategy can be a momentary or supportive part of N or S play just as moments of Premise+Theme can be part of G or S play - it's a matter of prioritizing. I'm still thinking my GNS distinctions in my above post are more consistent with what I've seen so far.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: horseplay
Post by: John Kim on May 21, 2003, 12:07:12 PM
Quote from: Mr Jack
  Hmm, how about 'when transforming into an animal the character can chose all aspects of the creatures form, including colouration, size, age and sex (within normal ranges for that animal)'? That actually might be kind of cool, since it would allow, for example, a player to transform into a juvenile and solicit sympathy from adult animals.

I think Mr Jack's suggestion here is actually a perfect solution of what rules can do.  This change simultaneously encourages things like Loki's trick (by allowing a male like Loki to change into a female horse), as well as preventing the situation with Gudrid (since the addition makes it explicit that sexuality is under the caster's control).  In short, it gives powers the player, and without disrupting game balance.  

Incidentally, let me say that I think the example of Loki is a great one -- because it draws from Norse myth (also a source for Tolkien) as well as being an intriguing example of gender.  In the myth, Loki (a man) turned into a female horse to lure away the giant's horse and thus prevent him from completing his task.  What's more, Loki actually bore a foal as a result of sex with that horse.  This was Sleipnir, the magical eight-legged horse which was later Odin's steed.  

I also completely disagree with Jack that this change represents "micromanagement" and leads to 600 page manuals.  The change proposed is very simple and easily expressed.  I also think that this is completely different from saying "handle sex with taste".  The Loki trick is, I would argue, far from tasteful -- but it gives power to the player and opens up a lot of potentially interesting ground.  

Quote from: Caldis
  To me this is an example of a break in the social contract.  The Gm, maybe egged on by lurid jokes, came up with a situation that the players found inappropriate.  It doesnt matter if he was doing it in an attempt to railroad the story line or if it was just an off the cuff attempt at creating a humorous situation, in either case it was offensive.   [...]   I think Ron's description of the three types of sexual content levels typical in RPG's to be useful in hammering out where the group comfort level is.  In a game with a bunch of rowdy teenaged boys I dont think having your character in horse shape be the object of the stallions affection would be out of place.  

This is completely misreading me.  I was not at all offended by the inclusion of sexuality.  Quite the opposite!  (As a side note, Liz is rowdier than any bunch of teenage boys.  Chris Lehrich can attest to this.)  I wanted to make clear that from my initial post, which is why I made a question of what line was crossed.  

I think what made it particularly jarring was the off-the-cuff nature of the "in heat" ruling, as something on the spot which I had no say in (and which my character was not prepared for, despite being the shapeshifter).  Other posters have pegged this as being caused by the GM's discomfort with how we were derailing the plot, which I think is right.  If I had actually been trying to distract the horse sexually (a la Loki), I'd bet his ruling would be the opposite.  Upon reflection now, I think what made it actually offensive was that it was aimed at sexually disempowering my PC.  Wow.  This might be a feminist cliche, but I think it fits.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 12:10:35 PM
Hi John,

I agree with you - the "appropriateness"* of the sexual content is irrelevant once we really look at this instance of play. We're talking about power, roles, story, and control.

Best,
Ron

* I really hate this word; it's in quotes to indicate my distaste for its use as some kind of moral yardstick.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 21, 2003, 12:35:01 PM
Quote from: John Kim
I think what made it particularly jarring was the off-the-cuff nature of the "in heat" ruling, as something on the spot which I had no say in (and which my character was not prepared for, despite being the shapeshifter).

Hmm.. OK so this is more the issue, then. This is something the shapeshifter should probably have known before, but didn't. I personally dislike this kind of thing because it's like acting without all the information. You had know idea that this would have been what would happen, but you should have. The shapeshifter might have noticed if she was in heat when changing into an animal. That kind of thing. This is not the same as trying something and it not working. It's like climbing 50 floors worth of stairs because the GM forgot to mention the elevator.


Title: Re: horseplay
Post by: Emily Care on May 21, 2003, 12:38:05 PM
Quote from: John Kim
I think what made it particularly jarring was the off-the-cuff nature of the "in heat" ruling, as something on the spot which I had no say in (and which my character was not prepared for, despite being the shapeshifter).

As Jack said, you weren't given a chance to decide on your course of action based on the full knowledge your character would have had access to. One way to look at it is that you were denied the use of some of your in-game resources.  And, as Chris Bankuei might say, the ball was taken from your hands.  

Quote from: Ron
I agree with you - the "appropriateness"* of the sexual content is irrelevant once we really look at this instance of play. We're talking about power, roles, story, and control.


Which is how sexism functions in the real world.

--EC


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 21, 2003, 12:50:53 PM
Hi Emily,

I agree with you in full. The GM in question is apparently so concerned about story control that he will descend into sexism (an abusive form of control by definition) to keep it.

Do I assume correctly, that you agree that whether it's "appropriate" to mention, show, or think about large pink horse erections or stinky female horse secretions is a separate issue from the above?

I'm trying to separate out the issues of power/control, subset-sexuality, from issues of PG vs. R vs. X rating. As John points out, the latter issue seems as if it's not the key one here.

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Emily Care on May 21, 2003, 01:18:43 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Do I assume correctly, that you agree that whether it's "appropriate" to mention, show, or think about large pink horse erections or stinky female horse secretions is a separate issue from the above?


I certainly don't assume to assert any universal appropriateness of discussion of horse's bodily fluids et al.  I'd say that the control issues are related to the fact that the horse's woody was invoked in a manner that was locally inappropriate.  What made it inappropriate was that it was used as a way to disempower the player.  

What I meant by my comment about sexism, is that sex is just an avenue for control in sexist behaviour in the real world, just as it was in John's play example.  

--Em


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: ADGBoss on May 21, 2003, 01:41:09 PM
Quote from: Emily Care
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Do I assume correctly, that you agree that whether it's "appropriate" to mention, show, or think about large pink horse erections or stinky female horse secretions is a separate issue from the above?


I certainly don't assume to assert any universal appropriateness of discussion of horse's bodily fluids et al.  I'd say that the control issues are related to the fact that the horse's woody was invoked in a manner that was locally inappropriate.  What made it inappropriate was that it was used as a way to disempower the player.  

What I meant by my comment about sexism, is that sex is just an avenue for control in sexist behaviour in the real world, just as it was in John's play example.  

--Em


Sex and or Sexism has become a weapon of disenfranchisement at least in terms of player action.  My question is: is it any worse to disempower through sexism then through just plain obstructionism? i.e. Well you cannot imitate his horse because I said so.

That is to say, in the hard cold world of RPGs, does it matter when a player is disempowered if its through sexism or something less morally noxious? In all do respect to the nature of sexism and its victims, I would say I have to agree that any such disenfranchisment is incorrect behavior, regardless of the weapon of choice.

Of course the issue still comes back to GM.  Mainly because we have not heard his side of the situation its hard to fully understand the thought processes under which the decision was made.

One last thing which is for me a question of clarity. When we say system with regards to this and similar situation, what is it we are talking about?

The Simple mechanics of the system?
The above plus examples of intended play?
All canon material as well? Supplemets, free downloads
All of the above plus commentary from the author(s) / designer(s)


Sean
ADGBoss


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 21, 2003, 01:42:24 PM
Some answers to Jack's questions:

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
  What was the goal of this chapter? To catch and interrogate this NPC (perhaps taking his ring which sounds like a faux one ring, or possibly is the one ring and Frodo has the forgery? Did Smaug eat Bilbo and that's why this ring was found among Smaug's bones?), thus leading to the next goal? Or was it to follow the NPC to some place and situation where a resolution point will occur? If we knew this, then we could know a bit more about this situation and know why this particular move was blocked. If the GM was protecting his "story stuff" or if the goal before the PCs was to nab this guy and the GM was just putting up another obsticle.  

OK, let me fill in some of the details.  Our guess is that this is one of the five magic rings given to the dwarves (i.e. along with the nine given to Men and the three to the elves).  It somehow ended up in Smaug's horde and was on his body when he was killed (his belly was covered in jewels from his horde except for one spot).  

I don't know exactly what the GM had in mind, but I am fairly sure that there is some sort of multi-stage quest where recovering the ring is a later goal.  However, what happened was that we doggedly pursued after the rider even though he had a major lead on us.  At this point, I think the GM had a problem.  Catching the rider before he delivered the ring would short-circuit the plot.  However, as long as there was the slightest chance of catching him, we kept trying.  We encountered a lot of setbacks, including him having a significant lead on us, warnings that there may be hordes of orcs near Dol Guldur, and then him disappearing in our hands only to be attacked by two trolls.  After killing the trolls, we kept trying to find him.  We became lost at one point (I think with magical influence), but we kept going back and forth trying to find him.  Eventually, we spotted his horse again, which was when this happened.  

I suspect that in his plan, we were supposed to take time to investigate the background of the ring, and follow up on strange events that happened along the way.  However, we viewed all that as time wasted while the ring got further away.  For example, we nearly had to fight two trolls earlier in our journey, but my character lead them away in bear form and then gave them the slip.  I think we were supposed to fight them, track where they came from, and get some clues.  

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
 First of, reading the description of what happened, the goal put before the players was to nab this NPC who apparently has a magic ring. This NPC has the ability to make himself and his horse disappear, so the problem before the players is how to nab this guy without him just disappearing on them again. This sounds to me like fairly gamist play and John responded in a gamist manner by looking at the abilities he has to work with, and came up with a possible solution. Maybe not a good or viable solution, but a solution nevertheless.

John, is this a accurate view here?

Well, no.  As I said, I think all of us players had some sense that we were taking the pursuit too far -- and that we were supposed to do something else.  However, we mostly felt that that didn't make sense for our characters (well, for three of our characters anyhow).  There was a point when we asked the GM "Look, if we can't find this guy, just have us miss him and let's skip to it."  However, I think he didn't want to blatantly railroad us -- thus his logic was that it should be very difficult to catch the rider but not impossible.  

Of the PCs, one is a bounty hunter who values catching his quarry over his life.  Another is a carousing elf who is reckless and defensive of his people (the elves of Mirkwood).  And my character who is very morally determined to fight evil and aid good for her people the Beornings.  (This also matches in the mechanics: Thallen has the "Fey" flaw; Ardan has "Reckless" and "Stiff-necked"; and Gudrid has four levels of the "Resolute" edge.)  The odd man out is Borri, who is a gluttonous smith/stonecutter whose ambitions include becoming as fat as his uncle Bombur.  As players, we have agreed that there is really no good reason for Borri to be with us -- we've been trying to think of reasons but it doesn't work well.  

As for her decision to go in as a horse...  Well, I had been prepared to essentially sit out our attempted ambush like I did the previous three combats.  Howevever, I suddenly got the idea as Ardan and Thallen were going to circle around the horse.  I think it was reasonable  as an in-character decision for Gudrid, but no, it didn't necessarily represent any deep inner part of her psychology.  

I'm still not perfectly comfortable with GNS (I think I get it confused often with the rgfa threefold, which it isn't), so I don't want to assign a label to this.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 21, 2003, 01:46:29 PM
I feel the same as Emily.

While horse erections/fluids are not the specific issue, the problem does appear to go beyond just disempowering the player-character (or the player). After all, if the GM had just said that the NPC's horse was wearing an anti-magic charm that prevented the shapeshifting from working in that vicinity, the story control issue would be the same, but I doubt we'd be having this discussion about it.

The aggravating circumstance, as it were, is the use or threat of an indignity upon the player-character sufficient to be in and of itself a preemptive punishment against the player. The element of inappropriate (damn, there's that word again, but in this context I just mean mood-ruining, or inappropriate for the creative agenda) humor figures in there as well. The same objections would apply, without invoking explicit sexism, if for example the GM ruled that attempting to approach the NPCs horse in shape-shifted form would (due to the action of the hypothetical magic charm) cause the PC to turn into a hippopotamus wearing a pink tutu.

[Edit to say: I cross-posted this with the previous two posts. Consider this my proposed answer to the important first question in Sean's post. And John's post reveals a likely motive for the GM to have acted this way. The GM appears to want there to really be a chance for something to happen, but doesn't want to ever let it actually happen. There should be a name for this condition, since I suspect it's not uncommon; neither railroading nor illusionism quite describes it.]

- Walt


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 21, 2003, 02:59:38 PM
Quote from: ADGBoss
  Sex and or Sexism has become a weapon of disenfranchisement at least in terms of player action.  My question is: is it any worse to disempower through sexism then through just plain obstructionism? i.e. Well you cannot imitate his horse because I said so.

Well, in some sort of theoretical objective sense, maybe not.  But I personally found it much more annoying than generic non-sexist obstructionism.  And games are about personal taste, after all.  Obviously, in a perfect world you wouldn't want obstructionism at all, and have egalitarianism for all races, sexes, and religions... oh, and free ice cream.  But I think it's worth considering the question of sexism as a specific subset.  

Quote from: ADGBoss
 Of course the issue still comes back to GM.  Mainly because we have not heard his side of the situation its hard to fully understand the thought processes under which the decision was made.  

While I completely stand by everything I said, I don't really want to point  out this thread to the GM yet, as I think it will make him very defensive.  Ultimately I do want to confront him on this, but I would prefer to do it much more slowly.  I might point it out to Jim, who is another player.  

Quote from: ADGBoss
 One last thing which is for me a question of clarity. When we say system with regards to this and similar situation, what is it we are talking about?
The Simple mechanics of the system?
The above plus examples of intended play?
All canon material as well? Supplemets, free downloads
All of the above plus commentary from the author(s) / designer(s)

Well, it is in some sense a vague definition, but in this case I would call the "System" whatever is included in the core rulebook(s).  So no supplements or downloads or non-core-rulebook commentary.  

The tricky part is that this means that different elements may be part of the system.  Some systems (like LotR) are world-specific, in which case the setting is a part of the system.  Other systems (like GURPS) don't have a setting, so that isn't part of the system.  Any examples of play in the rules are definitely part of the system IMO.  I think these are very important elements of a game.  A system is definitely more than just the abstract ways of rolling dice and so forth.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Matt Wilson on May 21, 2003, 03:30:45 PM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: ADGBoss
  Sex and or Sexism has become a weapon of disenfranchisement at least in terms of player action.  My question is: is it any worse to disempower through sexism then through just plain obstructionism? i.e. Well you cannot imitate his horse because I said so.

Well, in some sort of theoretical objective sense, maybe not.  But I personally found it much more annoying than generic non-sexist obstructionism.  And games are about personal taste, after all.  Obviously, in a perfect world you wouldn't want obstructionism at all, and have egalitarianism for all races, sexes, and religions... oh, and free ice cream.  But I think it's worth considering the question of sexism as a specific subset.  


Yeah, sexism has a special sort of real-world power that some GM saying "I said so" doesn't. Which probably explains part of why this GM used it instead of just saying "I said so."


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Bankuei on May 21, 2003, 05:31:24 PM
Hi folks,

I'm glad to see this thread taking on such a constructive direction.  What I wanted to comment was that I concur with the idea that the "inappropriateness"(in Walt's meaning, in regards to LOTR) may have been along the lines of "player punishment" through humiliation of character.  

What I find terribly telling is this:

Quote
Catching the rider before he delivered the ring would short-circuit the plot.


Which a clue to the real source of the problem.  I have found that that the key problem with pre-established plot, railroading, illusionism(successful or not), is that it by its nature, tends to almost always lead towards miscommunication and in many cases, dysfunctional play.

Consider this- the GM is fighting to maintain control, power, whatever, which is expressed not only in the "on the spot" ability to ret-con things into  existence, but the ability to predict the possible range of events in play*(flowchart, plot, etc.).  The problem and threat to the latter form of control is that the players are unaware of exactly what the plot is "supposed to be".  Because of this, the players will naturally step out of the lines of it.  The GM then forces players to step back into line via using Conflict and Outcome to force the players' hands in regard to Character("Oh, you can't catch him, you need to deal with Trolls first!").

As players keep stepping out of line(intentionally or not) from the plot they don't know about, the GM gets frustrated, and eventually as the carrot fails, the stick comes in.  Here's dysfunction in action- "I'm punishing you for not following the plot you don't know about, and I can't tell you because it would ruin the surprise."  The terrible part here is that this is the "standard" mode of play for many people, and the GM is probably not consciously aware of it, for him it may simply be, "That's how play goes".  

Chris

*For those that saw Matrix: Reloaded, that speech near the end was all about this.


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: talysman on May 21, 2003, 11:34:28 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
I think everyone agrees that the Social Contract is what's at stake.

I was kind of hoping that people would follow up on my later post, which concerns how System can and does contribute to the issue.


not being familiar with the new LotR rpg, I can't really comment on whether that system has the issue mixed-messages issue. however, it did occur to me, based on the rpgs I actually do have, that these games mostly do not send much of a message at all about story role versus functional role, which may thus lead GMs and players to "fill in the blanks" in the contradictory way you describe.

and perhaps, this is the design flaw we may need to concentrate on. should a game design state up front "the players choose their functions -- their `classes', if you will -- while the GM, as creator of the story, will select which story role the character will fulfill"? or its inverse?

or should we think about chargen designs where the player explicitely selects the "Information Finder" or other roles as a different layer in the character design phase?


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 22, 2003, 07:30:13 AM
Hi John,

You wrote,

Quote
should a game design state up front "the players choose their functions -- their `classes', if you will -- while the GM, as creator of the story, will select which story role the character will fulfill"? or its inverse?

or should we think about chargen designs where the player explicitely selects the "Information Finder" or other roles as a different layer in the character design phase?


You've described my primary consideration in character-creation options in all three of my games, each of which offers a different solution.

In Trollbabe, for example, one's score descriptor does not define "story role" in any sense at all. In fact, it's explicit in the rules that although your Fighting specialty may be "missile weapons," your character is considered to be expert in all nuances of fighting. It's just Color. Furthermore, in Trollbabe there are no personality mechanics whatsoever, just mechanics for establishing and utilizing relationships. "Story role" then becomes a matter of seeing what constellation of relationships forms with the character at its center, as well as that constellation's impacts on various Stakes per adventure as adventures continue.

In Elfs, on the other hand, there are satirical alignment mechanics (Oral, Anal, and Genital stages) which have direct effects on in-game events based on failed roles or other activities. They essentially de-protagonize the characters to a certain limited degree through the system itself, in intended mockery of how a GM or fellow player would use alignment mechanics to do so in dysfunctional D&D play. "Story role" then becomes a matter of how the character's personal brand of failure, venality, and stupidity (in tandem with the Dumb Luck rules in particular) actually turns out well for the real people's enjoyment of play.

So my answer to you is not either/or, but merely "Yes," meaning that clarity of some relationship among my levels 1-4 is the key to avoiding the problem that John has run into. Well, not the big problem (de-protagonism, subset-sexism), but rather one route to its expression (story role vs. in-game role).

Best,
Ron


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: John Kim on May 23, 2003, 10:26:03 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Quote
should a game design state up front "the players choose their functions -- their `classes', if you will -- while the GM, as creator of the story, will select which story role the character will fulfill"? or its inverse?

You've described my primary consideration in character-creation options in all three of my games, each of which offers a different solution.
...
So my answer to you is not either/or, but merely "Yes," meaning that clarity of some relationship among my levels 1-4 is the key to avoiding the problem that John has run into. Well, not the big problem (de-protagonism, subset-sexism), but rather one route to its expression (story role vs. in-game role).

Hey, Ron.  Unforunately, I'm going on vacation and don't have time to address this properly.  At this point, I don't I understand how this avoids the problem I had.  I saw the problem mainly as sexism (vs character) brought out by being uncomfortable with us drifting further away from the intended plot.  The more direct solution is empowerment of the PC in terms of gender and sexuality.  Another approach is for the GM to prepare in such a way as to not feel tied to an expected line of events.  

I don't yet have a good picture for what the "story role vs in-game role" solution would look like.


Title: At the risk of sounding crass...
Post by: Nev the Deranged on May 24, 2003, 11:29:31 AM
I have to say, this is quite an interesting and depthful thread.  But I think you're all missing the most salient point of the original situation.

 While the transformed character's mare was getting it on with the big black badguy stallion, the other players could have easily killed, trapped, or subdued it; thus turning a problem into a solution. =>


Title: Horseplay gone too far?
Post by: Nev the Deranged on May 24, 2003, 11:30:42 AM
And yes, that was a tongue in cheek post, please don't flame me.