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Author Topic: Some help with a lecture  (Read 11772 times)
Eero Tuovinen
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« on: October 09, 2005, 04:15:14 AM »

Here's the situation: I've promised to give a lecture in a small convention this month. After a little thought I decided to take formalistic game design (I'll explain what that means in a second) as my topic, being that it's been in my mind a lot this year. I thought that I know what I'm talking about, too. However, I got to talking about the topic with Ben Lehman who was staying with me here in Helsinki, and Ben was pretty vehement in claiming that my whole concept doesn't exist as an analytic topic. Thus I thought to come bat my lecture around here for a bit; understandably I'm somewhat interested in whether or not my lecture is actually about anything or not.

I'll explain the core of my planned topic next. I think this is just reiterated Ron/Vincent stuff with some useful terminology and a historical perspective attached. The question of the thread is whether I'm wrong about that, and whether there's anything salvageable in there.

Formalistic and realistic game mechanics

When considering game mechanics (system ephemera to be exact, but also written rules), one way to characterize them is to divide between "in-game" and "meta-game" mechanics, as the old-skool tends to put it. A more exact way to talk about the same thing is to consider the relationship of SIS to the rules mechanic: does SIS affect the application of the rule? Does the rule affect SIS? (I think this is just Vincent's cloud-people-ques diagram in operation here.)

A realistic game mechanic is one that requires objective evaluation of the SIS as a part of using the mechanic. Initiation of falling damage procedure is a good example in most games: you only ever use the falling damage rules if it's determined that a character is dropping a distance. To decide whether or not to use the rule at any given moment the players refer to the SIS.

On the other hand, a formalistic mechanic explicitly does not require an evaluation of the SIS. The most striking quality of these mechanics is that they care about the narration of the game only insofar as a player cares, and uses a mechanical handle to enforce his investment. An obvious example is a turn structure rule, but there's many others as well; for example, the Dust Devils conflict system is formalistic as regards surprise and death, because there is no SIS situation that allows a gunfighter to just kill another character without player compliance. Thus SIS is not consulted in determining character death or surprise attacks, to give a couple of examples.

What's it for

Considering system ephemera in these terms is not necessarily that interesting, but when you notice that a great part of the Forge game design technique is formalistic, while traditional game design is overwhelmingly realistic (are these claims true?), the question of historical logic and principles of design rears its head: how is SIS accessed in roleplaying games? What repercussions have realistic and formalistic mechanics had in terms of actual play? Is there any perceivable structure to how designers enmesh realistic and formalistic rules? Can you derive principles that would help game design?

Also, I've found this terminology useful in my own design, because it allows me to keep a better handle on what my rules are actually supposed to be doing. Specifically, I like to talk about the oracular function (see below) that formalistic game rules allow, and how this function is used in design. I find it interesting that traditional roleplayers seem to take this particular class of game mechanics as the instinctual dividing point between roleplaying games proper and "storytelling games". Is the oracular function of rules a special technical agenda?

The oracular function is something that emerges from extensive usage of formalistic game mechanics. It's defined as a situation where the player derives restrictions and structure for narration from game mechanics, but is otherwise relatively free to narrate whatever he wants. This is identical to the role served by divination aids like tarot or i-ching. MLwM epilogue conditions are a particularly clear example of an oracular rule, but whole games can be constructed to work like this. These mechanics are common, too: Under the Bed and Breaking the Ice, to name two recent titles, make extensive use of the oracular function of rules. Fortune-in-the-Middle is a special case of the phenomenon, as it's specificly defined as a situation where you first find out a result, and then fit your narration to it.

In addition to the above I also find it very interesting that many of the things in the "Forge heritage" can be characterized as a greater and more varied understanding of formalistic game design. Thus we have a consept that is CA-independent and characterizes the stuff we do here pretty well. I think it's a pretty interesting interpretation if we can characterize the historical process of the Forge as a "development of a formalistic range of design tools and a corresponding school of design". It's certainly better than "Forge-twinks hate everything that's not narrativism", which is an interpretation I meet now and then.

What's the problem?

Well, Ben seemed to think that I'm all confused, and he was pretty good in confusing me, too. Thus I'd appreciate an outside perspective, if any of you have any comments on the above. Specifically, the following issues:
- Do you see the difference I'm trying to make with the terminology intuitively?
- Does my definition of formalistic/realistic accord with the intuition?
- Am I just restating something, is there already terms for what I'm talking about here?
- Even if my defined terms are valid, am I wrong in imagining that there might be some use for them?

Ben offered a tentative hypothesis: what I'm perceiving is an aesthetic of rules writing, and I'm actually not seeing any real difference in game rules. I call a rule "realistic" if it's offered by a designer who doesn't understand the Lumpley principle, while other rules are formalistic. I think I disagree (there's plenty of realistic rules in all recent games, too) with Ben here, but it's worth considering.

Another suggestion we came up with in regards to my confusion was that I'm actually calling any rule that takes "unstructured" input from the SIS a realistic rule, while I accept "structured" input as a "formalistic" rules phenomenon. My main problem here is that I didn't understand what Ben was getting to with the word 'structured'. I know that the improvised weapons rule in DiV is realistic (you have to know whether there's a suitable tool in the SIS before you can use it), but I have no idea if Ben'd consider it structured.

The theoretical problem Ben seemed to have with my stuff was that according to him there's no such thing as a rule that doesn't query the SIS, and all rules are actually only used by player choice. Thus there's no difference between my "realistic" and "formalistic" rules.

Anyway, I'm not paraphrasing Ben here to get somebody to tell me he's wrong or anything like that. I'm just throwing out some suggestions in case somebody can grab onto something and use it to make me understand why I'm wrong. Who knows, if Ben survives Siberia, he might have something more to say, too.
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matthijs
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« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2005, 10:45:02 AM »

To me, the distinction is intuitive and real. At the same time, I see problems with it - can you honestly claim that a rule doesn't query the SiS, when a role-playing rule by definition makes no sense without a SiS?

To make sure that I understand what you're talking about: Say I have a rule system that says "Create a character. Narrate his success at a task. Narrate his death." As I understand it, the two last rules (at least) are, by your definition, formalistic: They tell you what to do, but don't ask for input from the SiS, and leave you complete freedom as to how to narrate.

However, they still require evaluation of the SiS. If you haven't narrated success, you can't go on to rule 3. If you never narrate success, your character doesn't die. Also, success is a very vague word in itself - you have to evaluate whether the character has really succeeded, and perhaps that's only doable in hindsight?

So... the more I think about it, the more I'm... not sure. What seemed clear when I first read your post, isn't all that clear anymore. I believe examination of specific rules and their application would help a lot - could you supply some examples?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2005, 01:01:40 PM »

To me, the distinction is intuitive and real. At the same time, I see problems with it - can you honestly claim that a rule doesn't query the SiS, when a role-playing rule by definition makes no sense without a SiS?

A roleplaying rule by definition... when talking about design (which I think I'm talking about), that probably means something you can take from a rulebook and study in isolation. If that's the definition, then I can see lots of rules that don't need to look inside the SIS. They presume SIS to exist most of the time, yeah, but they leave it up to the players to decide what's in there and what's not.

Quote
To make sure that I understand what you're talking about: Say I have a rule system that says "Create a character. Narrate his success at a task. Narrate his death." As I understand it, the two last rules (at least) are, by your definition, formalistic: They tell you what to do, but don't ask for input from the SiS, and leave you complete freedom as to how to narrate.

The first rule is formalistic, because it leaves it up to you to decide what's a "character". If it gave you a setting and asked you to make a character to fit the setting, it might be realistic. The two latter ones are definitely formalistic in all their parts, because they will be initiated (put to use) without input from the SIS (the reason you do number two is that you finished number one, not because something happens in the SIS, for instance), and they don't include checks on what actually happens in the SIS (so, for instance rule number two is not checking to see what kind of character you made in rule number one, just that you made one).

Quote
However, they still require evaluation of the SiS. If you haven't narrated success, you can't go on to rule 3. If you never narrate success, your character doesn't die. Also, success is a very vague word in itself - you have to evaluate whether the character has really succeeded, and perhaps that's only doable in hindsight?

Your first concern: I think that you evaluate the application of rule 1 (or 2, for that matter) yourself, so you don't need to query the SIS to find out whether it's done - by finishing the first step you implied that you have a character, so when you're deciding whether to do the second step, the answer is by necessity affirmative whatever is in the SIS. Your second concern: the same case, really; you don't need to evaluate whether it's a success to do step 2, and when you get to step 3, you've already decided that step 2 is finished succesfully. So at neither point do you have to actually decide that a "success" was narrated. Make sense?

Of course, it's quite right to ask where is it then judged whether a success was actually narrated, if it's not decided at either point two or three. I think this is fundamental for formalistic design, because all formalistic rules have this feature in common: they don't claim an ability to evaluate the SIS, the task is always left to one or more players. With trivial cases like whether something is "success" the rules actually are quiet most of the time; it's assumed that the players can reach a consensus, or that the narrator has the power to decide when he's narrated a success or not.

I think, if I understood Ben correctly, this was what stuck to his craw. According to Ben a rule that allows a player to decide on whether a condition is fulfilled is identical to a rule that wants to know what happens in the SIS. They are just written differently - after all, if the SIS is evaluated, it's always a player who does the evaluation, and if a player makes a decision about a condition, he's using the SIS to evaluate it, at least most of the time. If Ben is right here and there is no difference between player arbitration of SIS and generally "looking into" the SIS, then properly the only genuinely formalistic rules are those where a player is arbitrating something outside the SIS - like turn structure, where you're checking at who did his turn last, not what happened in the SIS.

Actually, writing this out is helping. Now I'll just have to decide whether the above paragraph is correct...

Quote
So... the more I think about it, the more I'm... not sure. What seemed clear when I first read your post, isn't all that clear anymore. I believe examination of specific rules and their application would help a lot - could you supply some examples?

Sure. Here's a part of my analysis of Dust Devils:
Conflict resolution initiation - according to the rules of the game you go to conflict when a character tries something risky, which is a realistic condition. I play it with a rule I stole from Polaris: conflict happens when a player narrates something another player disagrees with (with the understanding that the disagreeing player can find a way for his character to interfere, should he win). The latter rule is very formalistic.
Abilities in conflict resolution - according to the rules you use abilities that you feel should help your character in achieving his goal. I interpret this formalistically: you choose two abilities whatever way you like, but for CA reasons you should take ones that make sense in the SIS. So I think that the qualifier "helpful" is advice, not a rule, and in the end it's the player who decides what he uses, however strange.
Skills in conflict resolution - you only ever get to use one skill, which is a formalistic feature. However, the GM arbitrates whether you can use the skill according to the SIS, so which skills you get to use is a realistic concern.
Harm in conflict resolution - you get to pick whichever cards you want for your hand. The narrator can decide freely who does harm. The victim gets to divide the harm whatever way he wants between the applicable abilities. The onus is on the narrator to explain satisfactorily why such and such did harm to such and such - what he did, and what it caused. All these are formalistic features.
Overall Dust Devils is a very formalistic game. The most important pieces of realistic consideration are conflict initiation (you have to figure some excuse in the SIS for the conflict before it can happen), NPCs (of which the GM can make however many he wants, as long as they exist both in the SIS and in numbers) and the stud hands (which can only exist if some resistance exists in the SIS). I play even these with extreme formalism, but they can be interpreted realistically: for instance, someone might say that the GM can't make a light breeze a seven card stud when shooting the barn wall, because shooting at barn walls is not that difficult. I, on the other hand, say that the GM may well do that if he feels like it, as long as he's following the purposes set out for the GM in the game.

Let's follow that with an analysis of some parts of D&D:
Falling damage - you only get falling damage if your character falls a long enough distance. Your character will only fall if something in the SIS causes it. You will only take falling damage if the fall is defined to be long enough. This is a very realistic rule, because it's not initiated without a SIS condition, and even then it won't necessarily do anything.
Combat rules - In general the D&D combat rules are pretty formalistic. For instance, your initiative is defined regardless of the SIS. At the beginning of the combat you lift great deals of stuff from the SIS in a realistic fashion (Where are the enemies? Who they are? What weapons do the participants have? What's the terrain like?), but you can't really take more out of there later on (for instance, if the terrain isn't defined as steep at the beginning of the battle, a mere narration can't later on change the fact).
Experience system - You get experience if you participated in an encounter. Whether this is realistic or formalistic depends on how the GM interprets this principle - if being part of the encounter requires making at least one point of damage (which is a house rule used now and then), then it's a formalistic rule. If it requires being in the vicinity, but not necessarily even on the battle map, then it's realistic. Furthermore: how much xp you get depends on what you defeat, not necessarily in battle, so it's a very realistic rule. If you make "to defeat" a special condition the GM grants at some point, however, it becomes formalistic.

Does that make any sense?

***
The realistic/formalistic divide is interesting because of credibility reasons: with formalistic rules you cannot argue based on the SIS and whatever is said or implied about it, while with realistic rules you very much can. So dividing between the two saves you much hassle in actual play, when you can disregard all those realistic arguments that are pointed against formalistic rules. The reason for this passage here is so that I'll remember it when I write my lecture.
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matthijs
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« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2005, 01:54:26 PM »

I think completely agree with what I believe you're saying, but if so, you're saying it in a strange way. ;)

Quote
I think this is fundamental for formalistic design, because all formalistic rules have this feature in common: they don't claim an ability to evaluate the SIS, the task is always left to one or more players.

Now, this is weird. No rule can evaluate the SiS. Only players can. Right? So how is this different from a realistic rule? I find myself agreeing with what you say Ben is saying,

Quote
- after all, if the SIS is evaluated, it's always a player who does the evaluation, and if a player makes a decision about a condition, he's using the SIS to evaluate it, at least most of the time.

If so, the only formalistic rules are the ones that completely disregard the SiS. Rules like "When you've stopped talking, I can start talking", or "For this game, all die rolls are made with 2D6". I'm pretty sure you're not after a classification of those sort of rules, although it might be useful to have a term for them - "SiS-independent rules", for instance*.

I'm going to try to write my understanding of realistic/formalistic in a different way. I'm pretty sure there's something wrong in there (the "trigger" part, probably); however, perhaps seeing the rule in relation to the beginning & end states of the SiS may be fruitful.

With realistic rules, the initial state of the SiS is processed by the rule to dictate the end state of the SiS. My character is here, your character is there, so our range is X, which affects my die roll like this, and the arrow misses.
With formalistic rules, the initial state of the SiS may trigger the rule, but the rule dictates the end state independently. My character attempts a task. I roll a die, and on a 6 he succeeds, regardless of what he's trying, or what the effects of his success are.

*(Hey! They're anti-lumpley rules! If "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.", then rules that don't have anything to do with player SiS agreement are actually not part of System).


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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2005, 02:30:25 PM »

Now, this is weird. No rule can evaluate the SiS. Only players can. Right? So how is this different from a realistic rule? I find myself agreeing with what you say Ben is saying,

That might be true, in which case I only had to write it down in my own words to understand what Ben's saying. Which means that either the distinction I'm making is not real, or it has to be made in some other terms than SIS evaluation.

Whatever an analytic formulation of the distinction would be, I know that rules that require no SIS evaluation at all belong in the formalistic department. My intuition is also telling me that rules that don't refer to the particularities of the SIS are different from ones that do, although I don't seem to be able to formulate any way to explain "particularities" there. Like, I think that the MLwM conflict formulae are formalistic because they only care about whether something is "Villainy" or "Violence" as rules concepts and not about what they mean in the SIS, but for some reason I don't think the same of D&D falling damage, even if you could think that "a falling distance enough to cause damage" is also a rules concept. Clearly my intuition is wrong somewhere.

Quote
With realistic rules, the initial state of the SiS is processed by the rule to dictate the end state of the SiS. My character is here, your character is there, so our range is X, which affects my die roll like this, and the arrow misses.
With formalistic rules, the initial state of the SiS may trigger the rule, but the rule dictates the end state independently. My character attempts a task. I roll a die, and on a 6 he succeeds, regardless of what he's trying, or what the effects of his success are.

Actually, I'm already considering this in a somewhat different manner; notice how I differentiate between "conflict initiation" and several conflict steps in that Dust Devils analysis? That's because I think that we're talking about mechanics or even ephemerae here, when talking about realistic/formalistic. A "rule" as the word is properly used can be made out of several steps, out of which some are realistic, some formalistic.

Thus I would think that with your example of formalistic, the trigger rule is realistic (your character is trying something, and thus the task resolution happens), while the success determination is formalistic (you roll a six, it's a success, which again informs the SIS).

Quote
*(Hey! They're anti-lumpley rules! If "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.", then rules that don't have anything to do with player SiS agreement are actually not part of System).

Ben said that, too. A realistic rule is one that claims to access SIS without giving credibility over that access to a player. A formalistic rule doesn't make this "realistic fallacy". I'm just confused when I think that they're actually different ways of controlling the game. Which is fine, if that's all this amounts to. I can still give a lecture about writing your rules Lumpley-interfaceable, so I don't even have to change my topic listing ;)

***
One definition for the difference I'm seeing:

A rule is realistic if it draws a mechanical currency from narration. Like, if your credible narration of specifically a giant appearing gives you some extra mechanical leverage, then the rules concerning the giant are realistic. If whatever you narrate doesn't give you those options, your rule is formalistic. The latter is the case in Universalis (without coins the giant is just colour), Fastlane (your giant matters not a whit if you don't invest chips in it), PTA (the giant might be an excuse for conflict initiation, but anything else does the same thing as long as the players agree there's a conflict), Polaris (the giant can only impact things if it causes an experience check or a theme somehow, which again is true only via player agreement) and many other games. Usually in those games you have to either invest a resource or explicitly decide that something has mechanical impact, otherwise it's just narration.

Would that work?

What I'm trying to do here, really, is to draw attention to the dangers of traditional game design where you indeed tend to be on the mercies of the SIS situation, and thus any SIS narration has to be evaluated for rules triggers. Compare with games that disallow mechanical impact to setting stuff unless backed up by mechanical stuff to begin with. The fact that you can have NPCs that are "just color" is at the very root of my idea of formalistic. This is tenuously connected to what Matt Snyder calls "metaphysical importance" when talking about Nine Worlds; the game is realistic in allowing the GM to think up metaphysical importance for anything in the SIS if he feels like it, while it's formalistic when the players do the same, because the latter need Pride to bestow a Talisman status. Regardless, not everything in the 9W SIS automatically has metaphysical importance, which is again a formalistic feature.
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pekkok
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« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2005, 02:54:01 PM »

Just a question for now, Eero, sorry (limited by the rooted monster that is St. Petersburg, and other circumstances - such as a wifi-signal that only works near the coatrack):

Let's follow that with an analysis of some parts of D&D:
Falling damage - you only get falling damage if your character falls a long enough distance. Your character will only fall if something in the SIS causes it. You will only take falling damage if the fall is defined to be long enough. This is a very realistic rule, because it's not initiated without a SIS condition, and even then it won't necessarily do anything.
Combat rules - In general the D&D combat rules are pretty formalistic. For instance, your initiative is defined regardless of the SIS. At the beginning of the combat you lift great deals of stuff from the SIS in a realistic fashion (Where are the enemies? Who they are? What weapons do the participants have? What's the terrain like?), but you can't really take more out of there later on (for instance, if the terrain isn't defined as steep at the beginning of the battle, a mere narration can't later on change the fact).
Experience system - You get experience if you participated in an encounter. Whether this is realistic or formalistic depends on how the GM interprets this principle - if being part of the encounter requires making at least one point of damage (which is a house rule used now and then), then it's a formalistic rule. If it requires being in the vicinity, but not necessarily even on the battle map, then it's realistic. Furthermore: how much xp you get depends on what you defeat, not necessarily in battle, so it's a very realistic rule. If you make "to defeat" a special condition the GM grants at some point, however, it becomes formalistic.

How does this division differ from the following: The game design either A) strives to be faithful to simulationistic principles of play (realistic in your division) or B) can disregard this faithfulness in light of other needs of the design (formal)?

Cheers,
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pekko koskinen
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2005, 03:39:59 PM »

Man, Ben Lehman is smarter than he looks like. That's something he suspected, too, that I'm just talking about simulationistic vs. other creative agendas. (You'll notice that we talked about this more than about any other single subject when he was in the country for a month. That's kinda sad, when I'm not even a theorist by nature.)

An answer to the question: I could dodge the question by claiming that this division has nothing to do with CAs, because CAs are not about mechanics design. However, instead I'll give some examples to prove that realistic mechanics are not a category or supercategory of simulationism-inducing mechanics (if there are such things):

A formalistic rule for a Star Trek game could be: "When you're playing captain Picard, any other player may interrupt and quote an episode number to prove captain Picard wouldn't do something like that. You'll watch the episode in question before continuing the game. A show of hands determines by way of vote whether the complainer gets to narrate what you do instead." This rule, while cumbersome and perhaps not very interesting, is both clearly simulationistic-leaning (it's whole purpose is to keep character portrayal genre faithful) and formalistic (players may challenge regardless of SIS condition, and their challenge may go through or not regardless of SIS condition).

On the other hand, a realistic rule that is not simulationism-inducing: in a real world game, if your character ever meets an angel, he'll grow wings and can thus fly around. This is a realistic rule (it is activated by a SIS condition), but not perhaps good for a real-life simulationistic agenda (you can't meet an angel in a real-world game, so it's useless).

As you can see, a realistic rules mechanic isn't necessary very "realistic" as regards story expectations. Similarly a formalistic rule may produce perfectly, exactingly simulationistic play, if the players operating the rules produce simulationistic material. Then again, you could argue that any rule at all supports simulationism, but that's just because you can pick a simulationistic aesthetic that is in concordance with the rule in question. Like, you could say that the above rule is perfectly simulationistic for a game of wings-growing, or something. Whatever.
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cerbie
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« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2005, 09:56:46 PM »

Would it be correct to say that your 'realistic' rule is taking a cue from an accepted SIS event, to affect the events in the SIS; but that your 'formalistic' rule is taking a cue from a non-SIS event, to affect the events in the SIS?
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Ernie
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« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2005, 10:36:40 PM »

I tend to think of this as a sliding scale of rules between "abstract" and "representational".  I think the term "representational" is better than "realistic" here, since as you note there is nothing necessarily realistic.  The issue between these two is, how much are the rules themselves used to describe what is in the Shared Imaginary Space? 

For example, if I hand you a character sheet with just the game stats of a character and the mechanical parts of a resolution, how much could you tell about what happened or who the characters are?  For example, say there is a fight in GURPS using Advanced Combat.  I describe it mechanically by showing just the mechanical parts of the character sheets, and cite the game options chosen and the rolls.  This by itself will tell you something about what happened.  The rules are used directly for describing the SIS. 

In contrast, consider say Dogs in the Vineyard and Soap.  Dogs in the Vineyard is medium-to-high abstraction -- i.e. I could tell you about the mechanical steps in a fight without the narration, and that would give you some clues about what happened.  You would know that someone raised and added in a particular trait, say.  You would know when something went from weaponed fighting to gunfighting, and so forth.  In contrast, Soap is very high abstraction.  You can barely tell anything from whether someone collected tokens and how they bid. 
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matthijs
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« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2005, 11:25:33 PM »

A rule is realistic if it draws a mechanical currency from narration.

I think this works as a definition of what you're talking about.

However, I also think you should choose a different term - "realistic" is such a loaded word in gaming. (Do it quickly, before anyone else starts using the concept, and the term is forever stuck! Call them "penguin flight rules" or "Tuovinistic narration-currency mechanisms" or something).

- - -

What do you think of this example:

Quote
COMBAT
1. Each turn, you narrate freely how your character moves.
2. Depending on where your character is relative to his opponent, he gets a bonus for either melee or missile attacks.
3. Choose whether to use a melee or missile attack.
4. Roll to see if your character hits.

In this case, 1 is formalistic, 2 realistic, and 3 + 4 formalistic again.

Quote
COMBAT
1. Each turn, you narrate freely how your character moves.
2. Choose whether to use a melee or missile attack, and whether you get a bonus for it.
3. Roll to see if your character hits.

In this case, it's all formalistic. Step 2 in the first example has been removed. The effect is to remove a gamist technique that some people don't like: The manipulation of the SiS for tactical advantage. However, the mechanical net result is identical.
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2005, 11:45:59 PM »

Here's what I'm seeing. One dial is for the degree to which a rule or combination of rules is intended to promote particular player behaviors and the other dial is for the degree to which a rule or combination of rules is intended to model a reality. They're overlapping properties and both can generally be found in the same rule.

I also think Ben is right in saying that the style and content of writing in a game will alter our perceptions of what purpose a rule plays, and is intended to play, in a game.

-Chris
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2005, 05:58:04 AM »

Thanks for the interest, guys. It seems that other people can at least see what I'm talking about, here. That would seem to indicate that the concept exists, and it's just a matter of analysis to figure out where the difference objectively is.

Ernie: I thought that I'm saying that, too, but apparently that definition breaks down with mechanics like "this one player narrates until a conflict appears", which should be formalistic by my intuition, but actually has a SIS evaluation in there in the form of "until a conflict appears". I don't however want these rules in the realistic box of the division, because I see them as central oracular tools that very much go together with the mechanics-to-mechanics rules.

My later definition of "mechanical impact" is much better; the above rule is formalistic by that definition, because the narration added to SIS does not have currency significance. The conflict has  to happen, this fact is formalistic. The narration is just there for the human participants of the game to bridge the gap between the previous step and the conflict.

John Kim: I don't think you're talking about the same distinction, even if yours is valid, too. A realistic rule can be abstract ("When characters strive for different things, initiate conflict") or representational ("When a character hits another, roll a to-hit roll"), and a formalistic rule can also be abstract ("After narrating a while, initiate conflict") or representational ("On your turn, choose who to attack and roll an attack roll"). The issue is about whether SIS is used directly to affect the mechanics, not about the level of abstraction.

Matthijs: I agree on your examples, seems we have the same distinction in our heads. As for the term "realistic": I think it's pretty nice, but that's because I think it's useful to co-opt a vaguely defined term in that way. In this case especially, as I think that realism pretty much explains what the distinction is about - whether arguments based on the SIS have any credence when applying the rule. I guess I could call it... "SIS-reactive"? Nobody would understand what it's about then, though.

Chris: That's valid, certainly. I hope that I'm not talking abour "modelling reality" at all, though.
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Rob Carriere
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« Reply #12 on: October 11, 2005, 08:49:49 AM »

Eero,
Would a possible distinction be that a formalistic rule needs player creativity in order to have an effect on the SIS ("rule says I fail, so I'll say that means...") whereas a realistic rule doesn't need that ("rule says 1d6 per 10' fall, so that'll be 6d6 damage").

SR
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2005, 03:42:11 PM »

*(Hey! They're anti-lumpley rules! If "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.", then rules that don't have anything to do with player SiS agreement are actually not part of System).
Yeah, I'm going to take issue with this.

There are no rules that are not part of Lumpley-defined system.

The "turns rule" concept has been raised, but it's still very much part of system.

What system does is apportion credibility between players, so that we know whose input current affects the shared imagined space.

What a turns rule does is identify whose statements are currently granted credibility within the shared imagined space--exactly what System is about.

What rules do, generally, is provide support--"authority"--for the credibility of statements made by players. Thus the falling rule works because someone says, "you fell this many feet, you must roll this many dice for damage, that's the rule." It does not impact the shared imagined space because it's in the book; it impacts the shared imagined space because someone at the table cited it in support of a statement: you've been injured, and we have to generate data to know how badly.

The initiative rolls in a D&D-like game also work this way. At the moment when an encounter occurs, someone cites the rule that initiative rolls must be made.

No rule springs entirely apart from events in the shared imagined space, except perhaps rules that control an arbitrary shift in credibility (the turns rule). With initiative rules in D&D there is nothing you can do to alter your chance of hitting first, but the roll is made because of an event which happened in the shared imagined space. Experience is highly abstract, but it is initiated by events in the shared imagined space--and no more or less so if all experience is divided evenly between all party members even if some were sheltered in the next room for safety.

I think that the distinction you're making may be one of points on a scale, in which the actual management of rules is more or less influenced by the events in the shared imagined space. However, even the turns rule is likely to be controlled by events within the shared imagined space (that is, narrate until a conflict, or narrate until some other event in the shared imagined space--which means not merely that your credibility ends when such an event happens, but that your credibility began when such an event happened in someone else's narration). Unless the rule is "narrate for ten minutes, and then pass narration to the left" it's going to be initiated by shared imagined space events.

You can probably discuss the degree to which various rules approach one type or the other, but I doubt there are any that are entirely one or the other.

--M. J. Young
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2005, 09:26:38 AM »

Eero, could it be defined in terms of input?  Any rule is a decision on what happens, and any decision needs information (input) from which to derive an answer (output).  All rules output to imagined content, either directly or indirectly.  Representational rules require input from imagined content, while formalistic rules take their input from other sources (like player preferences, story structure, genre convention, etc).  Can a rule take input from both imagined content and outside source, and in such a way that that 'rule' cannot be split into two separate rules working in conjunction?
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