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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 76 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: "Situation Creation" mechanics - and Sim  (Read 67267 times)
Silmenume
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Posts: 467


« on: October 24, 2005, 09:52:40 PM »

Hey Everyone!

The other day in my AP thread Vincent (Lumpley) made the following assertion in response to my claim –

Situation creation Mechanics have little or no place in Sim.

Dude, you create situation somehow. Even in simulationist play.

-  which I found utterly fascinating.  If I am reading Vincent correctly, and Vincent please let me know if I am or not, it seems to me he is claiming that Mechanics, specifically “Situation Creation” Mechanics, are necessary to create Situation.  Here we have one of the premier game designers here at the Forge, (IOW he has good bona fides, he’ no chump!) making a rather strong assertion.  Nothing wrong with that – except that it runs completely counter to the last eight years of my own gaming experience. 

Interesting…

So how do I reconcile these two positions?

One is that I misunderstand what is meant by “Mechanics.”

Two is that Vincent has a very different understanding of Situation “creation” than I do.

Three is that Sim does not require Situation creation mechanics.

So if anyone would care to comment on this, most especially Vincent, I think that an important distinction between Nar and Sim lies in here somewhere and it would be fruitful to bring the distinction to light.
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Jay
Bankuei
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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2005, 10:07:00 PM »

Hi Jay,

"The GM prepares an adventure" is a pretty common mechanic (rule, guideline, whatever) that informs a good many Sim games in play.  Alternatively, "The GM controls the world" without necessarily dicatating prepared events also pushes a lot of Sim games.  These ideas are usually explicitly written in most game texts which subscribe to that mode of play.

Chris
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2005, 11:03:53 PM »

What Chris said.  Mechanics are more than rolling dice.  Note, "The GM prepares an adventure" is a pretty terrible rule, with a very low accuracy for hitting the group's goals in play, but is a rule nonetheless.  In a group that been running for a while, it accrues other qualifiers such as "Make sure there's at least one combat ever hour or so."  These rules aren't written down, but they inform situation creation nonetheless.

Also common: "This sourcebook is authoritative.  Pick something from these pages."  Call it the MERP method. 
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talysman
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« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2005, 11:13:43 PM »

I kind of think Vincent meant more that creation of Situation (in some way) is absolutely necessary for all manner or RPGs, so even if you have a formal Fortune or Karma-based situation creation system (as opposed to the Drama-based "GM makes something up",) there's no reason why it can't be used in a Simulationist game.

and, indeed, there are some Fortune or Karma-based mechanics used in some Sim games. wandering monster tables in D&D, for example, especially in the last few AD&D1e books, when there was plentiful advice on designing custom wandering monster tables that fit the typical population of an area and matched the rarity of each species.

I consider myself a minimalist Simulationist; I am interested in small rulesets that interact in complex ways to create Sim details of the world. I'm fascinated with Situation mechanics, and don't think they are anti-Sim in the slightest.
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John Laviolette
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2005, 11:41:34 PM »

"The GM prepares an adventure" is a pretty common mechanic (rule, guideline, whatever) that informs a good many Sim games in play.  Alternatively, "The GM controls the world" without necessarily dicatating prepared events also pushes a lot of Sim games.  These ideas are usually explicitly written in most game texts which subscribe to that mode of play.

I don't think that can realistically be called a mechanic.  You could call it division of labour, but it remains iundeveloped, unsystemised, informal, and ad hoc.  It's not a mechanic - its merely an instruction to the operator.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2005, 11:47:02 PM »

Quote
Note, "The GM prepares an adventure" is a pretty terrible rule, with a very low accuracy for hitting the group's goals in play, but is a rule nonetheless

Also- usually that idea comes with anywhere from a few paragraphs to an entire chapter of advice and guidelines of how a GM is supposed to do that, which might be as undeveloped as "Well, come up with something interesting" to very explicit and detailed instructions- which might involve making written plot flowcharts, detailing a culture, drawing maps, picking from 36 types of plots, etc.

Chris
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2005, 03:07:32 AM »

Jay, I think it would be useful for you to concisely define what you consider to be a mechanic, and perhaps also to provide an example of actual Sim play in which Situation is absent, or does not arise mechanically. You raise at least once question, "do Vincent and I mean different things when we say mechanics?", that canot be answered unless you do, and similarly, I find your assertion about Sim's independence from Situation to be baffling.
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2005, 06:09:52 AM »

Jay, sit down and think about and figure out how you've created situations in your game for the past however many years. (You may need to brush up on "what's a situation?" and "how do I identify situations in my play?" first.)

There are two possibilities. The unlikely possibility is that you've approached each new situation in a wholly unique way, carrying forward NONE of the lessons you've learned from previous situation creation.

The more likely possibility is that there's a body of flexible procedures you've developed over the years, which you apply as appropriate, mixing and matching. Sometimes you'll introduce a new technique, which sometimes will work so well you'll keep it, and sometimes won't so you drop it.

Over time, repetition makes a body of informal procedures, mere hit-or-miss guesses, into an unspoken and unwritten, but reliable, overall process. I'm talking about your situation creation rules evolving, over eight years of trial and error, into unwritten, unarticulated, unacknowledged mechanics.

"The GM creates and plays all the NPCs" isn't a rule; it's the public face of a whole bunch of informal rules, all kept and maintained by the GM and the players - and probably never, ever, ever talked about. These are informal rules like "whenever possible, have Severin mess with Damwild's stuff, not just Soraya's" and "don't pitch situations involving romance to Vincent, they'll dud" and "remember to consider the NPC's family's reactions." I consider these rules to be rules. I consider "mechanics" vs. "rules" vs. "guidelines" to be all the same kind of thing - what matters are the real procedures of play.

So Jay: if you want to understand a single thing I say, you need to understand that I'm talking about what the people at the table actually do, and you need to learn to recognize what, in play, you're actually doing.

-Vincent
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John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2005, 09:05:55 AM »



So how do I reconcile these two positions?

One is that I misunderstand what is meant by “Mechanics.”

Two is that Vincent has a very different understanding of Situation “creation” than I do.

Three is that Sim does not require Situation creation mechanics.
There are two possibilities. The unlikely possibility is that you've approached each new situation in a wholly unique way, carrying forward NONE of the lessons you've learned from previous situation creation.

The more likely possibility is that there's a body of flexible procedures you've developed over the years, which you apply as appropriate, mixing and matching. Sometimes you'll introduce a new technique, which sometimes will work so well you'll keep it, and sometimes won't so you drop it.

Over time, repetition makes a body of informal procedures, mere hit-or-miss guesses, into an unspoken and unwritten, but reliable, overall process. I'm talking about your situation creation rules evolving, over eight years of trial and error, into unwritten, unarticulated, unacknowledged mechanics.

A simpler way to say this, Vincent, is that Jay's option #1 is correct.  It seems pretty clear to me that Jay has simply been misled by the relatively unusual usage of the word "mechanics".  Here "mechanic" simply means any particular means of resolving things in game.  In his Provisional Glossary, Ron defines mechanics as "Individual and specific features of System" -- where System is "the means by which imaginary events are established during play".  So if situations are created by whatever means, then those means are instances of mechanics.  cf. the TheoryTopicsWiki entry on Mechanics

Games have a range of situation creation.  Some games have fairly explicit formulas for creating adventures, like certain versions of Dungeons & Dragons, James Bond 007, My Life With Master, and Dogs in the Vineyard.  Other games have some structural advice but broad possibilities within that range, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Primetime Adventures.  Still other games leave it very open, like The Riddle of Steel or The Pool. 

It seems pretty clear to me that Jay is suggesting that explicit formulas for adventures are inappropriate to GNS Simulationism.  I don't really agree here.  That might apply to some forms of GNS Simulationism, where there is a strong objective world which is being explored.  However, recall that GNS also includes many genre emulation styles within the category "Simulationism".  For example, James Bond 007 has a pretty explicit set of advice on reproducing the film plots and pacing -- including an extended set of random tables for adventure creation. 

I think Simulationism has room for all levels of formality in situation creation.  Informal isn't necessarily better -- since a strong formula can make for better understood expectations in play and easier gamemastering.  Conversely, formal isn't necessarily better than informal.  Informal can mean more surprises and unusual structures, which many players may enjoy. 

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- John
Jason Lee
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« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2005, 10:02:52 AM »

Jay mentioned mechanics and Vincent replied with a more general statement about system.  I don't feel this invalidates any points, but the scope shift between comment and reply is important to notice.  Anyway... 

The distinction between formal/explicit and informal/implicit system is about perspective, not procedure of play.  If you are suddenly made aware of all the procedures you've been using to create situation, and you keep doing them, then they are all of the sudden formal mechanics without the actual procedure of play changing one whit.  You are still doing the same thing you were before, you just know you are doing it now.  Anything we say about mechanics we should be able to say about system and vice versa, excluding the above distinction.  If you already have a procedure for creating situation then being made aware of it (having it structured/explicit/formalized/written down/discussed/etc) should not impede your play but assist it, which leads us to the idea of intentionally designing games for specific types of play.  I suppose this line of thinking leads into how real the distinction between author stance (meta-game) and actor stance is, but I suppose that's a different topic.

As I read him, Vincent could care less what the players think the the procedures of play are, because what matters is that those proceedures are present.
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- Cruciel
Josh Roby
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« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2005, 11:16:05 AM »

Quote
Note, "The GM prepares an adventure" is a pretty terrible rule, with a very low accuracy for hitting the group's goals in play, but is a rule nonetheless
Also- usually that idea comes with anywhere from a few paragraphs to an entire chapter of advice and guidelines of how a GM is supposed to do that...

And said instructions are usually in a vaccum -- they make no reference to the players' expectations or the characters that have been (or will be) created to go through the adventure.
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ewilen
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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2005, 04:03:08 PM »

I think what Jay might want to consider is whether, in the games he plays, "situation creation mechanics" are distinguishable from "mechanics", how they're distinguishable, and when they're invoked.
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2005, 12:04:02 AM »

I'm afraid its completely valueless and illogical to claim that "stuff I have done" constitutes a procedure, or that the patterns of habit constitute a mechanic.  In every respect Vincents paragraph about the "mechanics" of situation establishment is wrong; he is not wroing to describe this process, but he is wrong to label it as a process or mechanic.  A process is visible to all users, explicit, and exists external to the people employing it.  A mechanic must be formal, constructed, and organised, otherwise a pile of rocks would have to be construed as just as mechanical as an engine.

This IMo has badly derailed the topic.  The initial claim was, situation creation mechanics have no place in Sim.  The claim was not "there is no situation creation in Sim".  Parseing the statement as the latter meaning renders it valueless; why assume Jay doesn;t know what he is talking about and instead address the issue: are situation creation mechanics[/i] appropriate for Sim?

And in nthis regard I disagree with Jay.  I think Sim would benefit from proper situation creation mechanics, on the understanding that the players (of characters) will not want to engage with these mnechanics; that is, they should serve as prompts for the GM.  And I think this becuase I suspect that the habitual Sim GM thinks very little about the structure of the game as an entertainment, and that this can produce Sim games that are unfocussed and become steadily purposeless.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2005, 10:37:37 AM »

I agree with Gareth, generally. That said, I agree with the conclusions that Vincent was trying to get to with his original assertion. That is, while it's wrong to dismiss Jay's statemements using the term mechanics, the point is that mechanics and more general methodology and proceedure do share some similarities in the context of the discussion. That is, even if mechanics (using the more restrictive meaning that I've always pushed for) are used, that's really not so different from using other procedures for determining what happens in play situation wise.

So there are two topics for discussion here, and I'm not sure which Jay will want to see for the thread:
1. What the definition of mechanics should be.
2. Whether or not mechanics really are that different from less mechanical procedures as regards the context of the original objection. 
3. Both.

Mike
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ewilen
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« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2005, 12:00:08 PM »

I was suggesting a slightly different angle.

Outside of roleplaying games, there are certainly games which provide analogies to "situation creation mechanics", as well as games which lack distinct "situation creation". For example, both Titan and Victory in the Pacific have hierarchical systems in which players first move pieces on a strategic board, then "resolve the situations" created in each location using a subsystem played out in a semi-tactical context. On the other hand, chess has exactly one mechanic which is played out "nonhierarchically" through the entire game; other games have multiple mechanics but little in terms of deep hierarchy. "Situation" in these games is not discrete but continuous, with any new situation evolving out of the same mechanics used to explore and resolve the previous situation. There's no hard and fast division between the opening and middlegame in chess, for example.

What I'm proposing is that regardless of whether we are talking about well-defined mechanics or freeform procedures, it is important to consider whether there is a hierarchy or division that separates "situation creation" mechanics/procedures from "everything that happens in the game". Personally, I think that RPGs tend to be hierarchical in this fashion (regardless of any GNS classification) but the hierarchical depth varies, as does the manner in which play moves up and down the hierarchy.
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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