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Author Topic: Another look at it  (Read 9670 times)
brightstar
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Posts: 11


« on: November 01, 2005, 02:12:53 AM »

I just joined the board via a friends suggestion that I should come here and take a look around.  I figured before I got to posting I should introduce myself.  I'm a writer and a long time roleplayer.  Over the past 10 years I've been dabbling with a system off and on.  I've been a roleplayer now for close to 20.  I've done both playing and game mastering, but over the past few years it's only been running. 

In that time I've come to observe two camps.  And it's so hard to describe.  There is the camp of people who love system heavy games and there are people who love system light games.  Both achieve similar ends, but through different means. A lot gets confused along the way.  In general, I use these two terms to define the camps.  The "traditional" roleplayer (the system lovers who's roots go back to the older, more system latent games of the early days) and the "Narrative" oriented (people who prefer a more free form system that allows them to flex the system to always match the needs of the immediate normally dictated by the story).  I feel it is necessary to use these terms in this post so I can be completely clear about what I'm saying in the rest of this. 

These two camps stereotypically lead to a sort of black and white gaming universe when approaching a product on the publishing side and the playable side.  You see publishers have to love system.  A system heavy game demands supplementation thus the need for more books and money.  A purely aesthetic book (for example VTM Clan books) has limited marketing potential because it is solely background material that a gaming group can make up on their own.  It does come in handy for a quick down and dirty this is what these people are about resource, but it has nothing vital to the game.  Where as the D&D books have an abundance of statics, new feats, spells, etc. squeezed into everything.  Thus, a player and game master would be more likely to pick this up because any change to the current operating system allows them to expand the potential of a game that is very limited by system. 

However, many gamers who prefer system light become annoyed by this experience.  I'll never forget one day I was working at the local coffee house and I saw this girl with a stack of fifteen d&d manuals on her table.  I asked her what she was working on and she explained to me she was writing a world.  Therefore, she was going through all the books, deciding what to take out, what to put in, and what to use for her system so she could manage the type of game she wanted to run.  She had this sort of pained look on her face while she was talking and I asked her why she didn't simply use some other system if she was so frustrated by this.  For the next forty five minutes she vacillated through justification about how she was using the system to make her system lighter and that d20 does work for heavy story gaming, but she needed to fix it in order to do just that.  Her biggest focus, as an old time Mage: The Ascension player, was the magic system. 

I felt sorry for her.  Bogged down in endless system trying to patch work the Narrative Style she wanted from it.  I have heard many gamers discuss this with me, the polarization between the two camps and I especially hear the complaint from the Narrative Style players. 

Now I know Free Form systems are out there...many of which are free.  I'm aware of Fudge.  But it just confuses me that so many players out there want free form but will not buy it?  This was stated somewhere else on this board, I don't remember which thread or I'd post it.  Yet there are dozens of these gamers who are looking for this type of experience from system, but like to buy nice shiny, high gloss manuals so they don't use them.  Mostly because they're free.  From my experience in theater, the higher the ticket price, the supposedly better product you're buying regardless if it's utter garbage.  Therefore to get attendance you have to have it be expensive.  A free show = a bad show in the mind of consumers.  With that same logic a consumer would say a free game = a bad game.  So they don't find it.  They don't buy it.  They don't play it. 

There is a simple solution to this and I don't know why no one has ever really addressed this before in gaming.  I went through dozens onto dozens of books I owned, searched high and low and I never found a published system that endorsed a very simple solution to the two types of roleplayers...a duel system in the book. 

Basically it would present a Traditional Style that is used as the basis for the system.  This gives all the ins and outs of statically heavy gaming with the normal restrictions that it implies.  Then the Narrative Style would deconstruct that basic system (not entirely, keeping its integrity so they aren't all that different) and makes the necessary changes to give these types of players desire.  If the two systems are kept relatively close to the same, then all supplementary material would be analogous (Sp?) to both systems.  Giving players the freedom to use all the supplements and not have to get bogged down in sidebars on how those supplements effect the Traditional play and the Narrative play.  In essence it would be similar to the idea of a basic game and an advanced game in board games, but without the terminology which seems to state one is superior play than the other because it is "advanced."   

To support this, I have never played or ran a game where I have not changed the rules to match my style.  This way of publication produces two frame works (similar but distinguished by function) to alter away and may limit the need to alter allowing a game to be played more...by the book.

Now, would it be confusing to gamers?  If organized well, with clear delineations then no, it wouldn't be.  One system is listed in one solid section with no see page xx and the other would be listed in its own section.  This would be placed after all aesthetics in the product so the overview is the same.  I do remember the first publications of All Flesh Must be Eaten had many different dice mechanics, damage mechanics, etc in the book so groups could chose a particular mechanic. But this could not suffer that way.  It would have to work off of one universal mechanic with tweaks here and there to match style of play.  It would be similar to, but not exactly like, combining True d20 and d&d into one core rules set. 

What do you think of the idea? 

Also, if I've offended anyone I did not intend to.  I respect both styles of play, other games written and do not view one as superior to the other.
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ScottM
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2005, 09:27:34 AM »

Welcome to the Forge.

The two camps idea is one that I know I've had in the past; it gets described many ways (like Roleplay vs. Roll play and the like).  I suspect that more gaming experience is the ticket for you-- there are a number of systems out there with very different match-ups. Some of the games published by authors who frequent the Forge have both tight rules and focus on "roleplay".  If that sounds impossible, I suggest you give some of them a try.  [PM me if you want specific games; I suspect you didn't intend this thread to be a "tell me what you can do with cool games" thread.]

As for your specific idea... it sounds like what people usually do, right?  The general rule for something like White Wolf games is "roll stat + skill, more successes = better result".  Then, if you care, there's an detailed expansion for each skill-- but if you don't, the general rule works.  Would your system be something like this?

Hope this is something of the direction you're seeking.
Scott
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Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.
Bankuei
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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2005, 09:32:09 AM »

Hi,

Welcome to the Forge! †(Is there a name I can call you by?)

A few games have tried to satisfy both types of gamers before- but not with much success. †The clearest example of dual system support I've seen was L5R, which did a brief stint of supporting both D20 mechanics and their original mechanics in their supplement books for a while. †This doubled their work, and never seemed to take off as well as books that fully supported just one or the other.

GURPS is designed to be modular, with the idea that people could take the most basic ruleset if they wanted to and play, or use all the detailed rules if they wanted more complex mechanics. †The books end up becoming dominated mostly by handling the more complex rules and less of value to someone who just uses the basic system. †

I think historically we haven't seen much of this thinking simply because of the fact that it entails more work AND usually doesn't "click" with the audiences. †

Chris
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2005, 12:42:48 PM »

Welcome to the Forge, BS!† (See why Chris wants a real name? ;)

Your dual system is an interesting concept, but I'd first like to stress that it is a marketing concept which will impact design (as opposed to a design concept that will market in a specific way).† There's nothing wrong with that, and in fact that's a step that more game designers need to take -- examining their audience and considering what their customers will want to pay for.† If you're starting there, you'll have fewer problems all down the road.

Am I correct to assume that your concept is to package two game systems with one game world?† If so, you will need to be a little more careful with your terminology around here, where 'game' usually means 'people at the table, playing' rather than 'book'.† What you are proposing is describing two different games in one book.† The fact of the matter is, no matter what source material a game draws on for content, the system being used to detemine what happens is the thing that will create the flavor of game experience.† Consider somebody playing vampire characters under D&D rules and somebody playing vampire characters in V:tR rules (or even V:tR versus V:tM).† Different options, different economies, different reinforcement cycles all add up to very different play.† I think, though, that that's pretty much what you're aiming for -- one product that can produce two different kinds of play for two different kinds of players.

Now, going back to the marketing concept, you need to ask yourself why people will buy a book that describes two games, one of which they presumably have little interest in playing.† Your Narrative players will ignore the Traditional rules, and your Traditional players will ignore the Narrative rules.† Do you expect any player or group of players to utilize both sets of rules?† For instance, "Well, we played a campaign with the Narrative mechanics, now let's do a second campaign with the Traditional mechanics," or "We use Narrative mechanics this week, and Traditional mechanics next week."† Or can they mix and match, using Traditional rules for combat and Narrative rules for social manuevering?

I get that you're trying to hit both markets with one product, which is a viable strategy and works for you the publisher, but you need to figure out how to make it work (or appear to work) for the customers.† What makes them say, "Please, I want to pay more money to cover the cost of extra pages and ink and development time that went into the other game system."† I'm not saying that you can't do this; in fact I'm not even saying it's a tough sell.† But you need to at least start feeling out an answer for that question before you start the real design work -- because remember, this is marketing affecting design.† Once you figure out what needs you're providing for, you can design to provide for those needs.

As for Chris' examples, I'd suggest that d20 addons and translation appendices are a different animal.  Lots of games have these, and I don't think gamers really begrudge the two to four pages in the back that makes the "game" playable under OGL.  GURPS would be a lot closer to what you describe -- there are some very basic rules, and then there are the "advanced" rules which are far more complicated.  Actual Play usually involves the players picking and choosing between the two, and drifting back and forth according to the (often uncommunicated) social contract.  (ScottM describes this phenomenon as well.)
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brightstar
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Posts: 11


« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2005, 03:22:36 PM »

Alright, finally have time to reply. 

The name's August by they way. 

Alright first let me clarify a bit more this entire post. 

I am aware that LO5R uses a dual system in their d20 manuals which did not work out so well for them.  Ultimately I feel that happened because players of d20 would never to LO5R information and players of LO5R probably hated diving through the entire book for the little blue side bar that related to their system.

That's why two entirely different mechanics in the same book does not work, because it is a waste of money and time both on the players part (to have to sort through it) and on the writer's part (for having to write it). 

With that being said, the idea is a bit more complex than the White Wolf example that was given with the additional information in the skill section you could use or not use. 
Iíd categorize that as system options, more or less. 

What I'm suggesting is more of a system where the core mechanics are the same, but in how those core mechanics are implemented are different (in the meta-language of this board, I'm sure I'm about to get a dozen or so terms wrong because I haven't memorized the RPG patterns PDF, so bear with me). 

Each systems would operate off the same attributes, skills, traits, etc.  The die mechanic would remain the same between both systems, same target numbers, same roll above or below, etc.  This is what I call The Core and would prevent the need to write different skill lists, etc.  Each type of system would refer to the same lists without omission and additions or complex, sub rules.       

However, they begin to differ where the system demands difference, generation, combat, damage.  How exactly those differences are expressed is based on the needs of each system.         

In a way it would be like a book that has true d20 and d&d in the same manual.  However, in order to resolve the vast differences between the two systems, some would need to be trimmed back or expanded to make the systems mesh together more homogenously. 

I will try to present this in more detail if this is still confusing people, but it would take considerable work on my part.  One of the quickest examples I can come up with are these and they are far from perfect: 

In Traditional d20 a player has to chose their skills based on their class.  In the Narrative version they can chose whatever skills they want.   

In Traditional d20 a player moves a # of squares equal to their speed.  In the narrative system a player simply moves.  If getting somewhere is important to the story then they would make a check. 

In Traditional d20 a player can either move and make one attack, or move only a five foot step and make their full attacks.  In a Narrative Version (this is not the best example in my opinion but it should work) a player can move and attack and if they have more than one attack they can use them all in a single combat round. 

To go any further would mean I would probably have to start reworking d20 from the ground up since it is so well suited for Traditional Play, but I think this gives you an idea. 

So what Iím asking?  Besides why hasnít it ever been done, Iím also asking if people think the idea is a good idea?  Does this work?  Do you think it would help the game reach a broader audience?           
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John Kim
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2005, 04:26:47 PM »


So what Iím asking?† Besides why hasnít it ever been done, Iím also asking if people think the idea is a good idea?† Does this work?† Do you think it would help the game reach a broader audience?†

My short answer is no.† I feel that the key to helping games reach a broader audience is that more than anything, they need to have materials which are usable straight out of the box.† The killer of tabletop RPGs is that it takes someone committing a huge amount of time, creativity, and learning new skills to be the gamemaster.† To reach a broader audience, you have to remove that burden and provide something which will work out of the box.† That means that you have to make some definite and difficult choices in what your work is.† Make your choices and stick to them, and make the product as good as possible for those choices.†


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- John
Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2005, 05:29:03 PM »

August, what you describe is almost identical to GURPS' treatment.  You might take a look at a copy, if you can.

I'd actually disagree with John... sort of.  There is certainly a lot of potential for laser-focus games that pick a specific play experience and then nail it exactly, precisely, and exclusively.  I like these games, and I'll agree with John that the "future" of gaming probably depends on these.  However, there is still a lot of potential for the "toolbox" game that gives players a whole ton of options and lets them tinker and kitbash.  If you want to create explicit procedures to guide that tinkering and kitbashing, part of which, I'd think, would necessarily include making the players aware of the repercussions of their tinkering, so that they make informed decisions about creating the kind of play they want, I think you might have a product that could find an audience.  Essentially, you'd be offering up the tools to create that laser-focus game, rather than providing the game itself.  Which is why my disagreement with John is only a 'sort of'.

All that said, creating such a beast would be a herculean task -- good luck to you!
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2005, 09:05:27 PM »


I'd actually disagree with John... sort of.† There is certainly a lot of potential for laser-focus games that pick a specific play experience and then nail it exactly, precisely, and exclusively.† I like these games, and I'll agree with John that the "future" of gaming probably depends on these.† However, there is still a lot of potential for the "toolbox" game that gives players a whole ton of options and lets them tinker and kitbash.

Er, wait.  I mispoke there.  My answer was mainly in answer to his final question.  I don't disapprove of toolbox games in general.  I'm a HERO System fan, and it is very much of that mold.  However, they are not going to reach broader audiences, in my opinion, which I understood was the main thrust of what August was trying to do. 

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- John
brightstar
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« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2005, 01:06:34 AM »

Well...this is where I begin to differ slightly in intent. 

The standard toolbox games such as Gurps and Hero have lots and lots of options (for pete's sake Hero Core is bigger than the bible!).  My system generally will create a sort of toolbox mechanic for me...as the game creator...to put two systems with similar design mechanics in one book.  These two would allow players to tinker as much as they want (which happens in all games) within the design of those two systems.  System A would be more rigid and "typical" to the published roleplay enviroment.  The second would be more "innovative" to the standards and more free form.  This would allow for two "styles" of the same system, essentially.  Each group, in the social contract, would then chose which style of play they would like, or dislike.  Thus, under the two core styles of play (explained in the first post) would be accessed so they could use the same world and mechanisms with the flavor they desire. 

This is not an impossible task.  In truth, it is quite simple to do without losing the tonality of the system itself.  They both access it in unique ways, but end up with similar results. 

And yes, the one thing I do see is it limits the the out of the box factor...however, without further explanation I will say I don't see that.  In an introduction chapter to the two systems at hand you simply propose the differences, then option A or B is chosen straight up front.  They read option A or B play that and if they wish, they can take a look later at the option they didn't chose.

I will also say John, you're absolutely right.  Roleplaying games are near impossible to play right out of the box.  Mostly because there are four distinct mechanics a player and Game Master have to learn before play (generation, task resolution, combat, then magic).  Normally, they vary so greatly in their specific mechanisms that it takes a while to get a handle of them.  I remember the one day I had an hour to learn, generate and begin play with dead lands.  What a nightmare. 

That's why I'm a huge fan of Key20 products.  They are so quick and easy you can figure it out, be generated and in play in under an hour.  Mostly, I feel key20 doesn't reach a big of audience is budget constraints compared to the giants such as white wolf and Wizards.  But that's a different story. 

So with that being said, out of the box is hard to achieve out of any game.  One straight system doesn't help with that all that much.  I remember this kid who used to come into my gaming store every week with another question about d20.  Then when he found White Wolf, it never ended.  Yet his group still played every weekend.  It took the kid six months to figure it all out. 

How this relates to my suggestion is that out of the box is an impossible "dream" for mass consumed products.  But my suggestion would include a fast interface for a player to chose one of the two systems and run with it.

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M. J. Young
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« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2005, 01:16:16 PM »

First, August, welcome to the Forge.

Second, please, please, PLEASE get out of your head any notion of equating "rules lite" with "narrativist". That's kind of in the same vein as equating "red" with "hot"--the two things occasionally go together, but are sometimes on competely opposite poles. Rules heavy narrativism and rules lite simulationism or gamism are perfectly possible and in fact not at all uncommon--much freeform play is simulationist or gamist, and substantial rules sets such as Hero Quest and The Riddle of Steel are often narrativist in play, from what I've heard.

That said, I think to some degree Multiverser does what you're saying, but with a bit more flexibility. That is, the degree to which the detailed mechanics are employed is constantly negotiated among the players during play.

Example 1: in a situation in which the player character must run to catch the train before it leaves the station, he is going to have to make a running skill check. His character sheet gives us his ordinary running velocity, so we have a benchmark for how fast he can run if he is successful. When the dice hit the table, the referee can use relative success (or relative failure) to determine how fast the character ran, quite precisely, this time; he can then cross reference it to the distance to the train, the acceleration and vector of the train, and the path that the character must follow, and determine mathematically whether the character reached the train. On the other hand, the referee can ignore all that, look at the dice, and interpret them as simply answering the question, did the character run fast enough to reach the train? Which he does in any particular situation depends on such things as how much is known about the situation (e.g., if we don't really know how far the character is from the train before he starts running, we're going to have to decide that anyway, and that decision becomes more important than most of the other numbers), how important this particular event is (if catching this train or waiting twenty minutes for the next one is pretty minor in the scheme of things, then why do all the work?), and what the players' preferences are overall (if no one minds taking the time to crunch the numbers, and everyone wants that feeling of verisimilitude that comes from knowing how fast the guy ran, go ahead; if people just want to get on with what happens next, keep it simple). As a result, it might be that this time you're going to go with a simple yes or no reading of the dice, but when you get to the next station and you're chasing the villain as he runs toward the waiting getaway car you'll be a lot more detailed in how fast each one is running.

Example 2: combat is basically very simple. Each character adds up a few numbers that constitute his attack score and then subtracts the defenders defenses, and rolls against that; they take turns swinging at each other. However, if the player wishes to do so, he can increase his defenses in many ways; he can create attack and defense skills which do special damage (blinding an opponent) or give tactical advantage (a fake that gives a bonus to the next attack). He can devise maneuvers that reduce damage taken (rolling with a blow) or prevent a hit (parrying an attack). Whatever the player wants to incorporate increases the complexity of the combat. Thus the complexity of combat resolution is entirely within the hands of those involved in the fight, as they decide what they wish to include as tactical options.

The core mechanics of the game include 1) one skill success mechanism that includes combat, magic, psionics, technology, and body skills; 2) one skill learning mechanism that is similarly inclusive; 3) a simple attribute check for situations in which skills are not directly implicated; 4) a difficult attribute check for similar situations in which success should be considerably less likely; 5) a general effects roll which determines whether things are favoring or opposing the character when that is not clear from other information; 6) bias, a rating mechanism that quickly and easily determines what is possible in any given world for any given character, and how difficult it will be in that circumstance. That's basically it. The five hundred page rule book provides tools, illustrations, details, explanations, and similar support for that structure.

In one sense it's a rules lite system in a five hundred page sourcebook.

The real difference between what you perceive as "rules heavy" and "rules lite" has little to do with system. It has to do with authority. Let me quickly thumbnail three critical terms here:
  • System is the way people actually make decisions about what happens in the shared imagined space that is the world of the game; it accomplishes this by apportioning credibility among the participants.
  • Credibility is the recognition that a particular player's statement about what is happening within the shared imagined space will be accepted by the group as a true representation of those events.
  • Authority is anything external to the minds and words of the players which is referenced to support credibility of a given statement.
That means that the D&D rule book with all its rules is not the system, and is actually very much removed from what is happening in play. Rather, it is an authority to which participants appeal to give their statements credibility.

-----
Player: I swing at the giant mushroom.

Referee: It's a mushroom, right? He can't miss, right? You hit the mushroom, roll your damage.

-----
Player:  I swing at the giant mushroom.

Referee:  Roll to hit.

Player:  rolls dice I rolled a 2.

Referee:  How hard is it to hit a mushroom? That's not a 1, so it should hit. You hit it, roll your damage.

-----
Player:  I swing at the giant mushroom.

Referee:  Roll to hit.

Player:  rolls dice I rolled a 7.

Referee:  Let's see, what's the AC of a mushroom? There it is. His level, the AC--yes, that's a hit. You hit it, roll your damage.

-----

What's the difference?

In the first case, the referee took for himself the credibility to decide that the player hit the mushroom, without referencing any authority.

In the second case, the dice were used as an authority to give credibility to the referee's statement that the player hit the mushroom.

In the third case, the chart was consulted to cross-reference the dice against known game stats to provide the referee with a solid authority supporting his statement that the player hit the mushroom.

In every case, the only thing that actually mattered to the game world was that the referee made the credible statement that the player hit the mushroom. That is not any different if he decided it entirely on his own initiative, used part of the mechanics and fudged the rest, or relied heavily on the authority of the books.

The difference, though, is that when he has all that authority behind him, the players won't object to his decision. He can point to the chart and say, "I'm sorry, this is what it says." Thus "rules heavy" systems mean that everyone has that security blanket of having something to which anyone can make reference to support or to reject any contribution made to the shared imagined space. In the first case, one of the players could argue, "He has to roll to hit the mushroom," indicating that that player does not grant the referee credibility to make that statement without some authority to back it up. Similarly in the second case, some player could say, "A two won't hit that mushroom at his level," again indicating that he does not grant the referee credibility to allow that hit. Rules heavy is a means of providing sufficient authority that no critical decision has to be made without some support for it. Rules lite is an approach that trusts the participants to agree on most things without that backup.

Again, this has nothing to do with whether a game is "narrativist", "simulationist", or "gamist". It has everything to do with whether we want to give people credibility to make decisions based entirely on what they think should happen, or whether we want them to be constrained to some standard to which we can appeal when we don't like their decisions.

That's a little harsher than it needs to be; after all, there are a lot of referees who like rules heavy because 1) it takes the pressure off them to make those decisions themselves and 2) it gives them answers to things they genuinely don't know (how badly would someone be hurt who fell from a second story window? how many times can you survive being hit by a sword? how many miles can a man on horseback cover in a day?). It comes to the same thing, though: the detailed rules give the referee the support to make credible statements on these subjects, which he backs up with the authority of the rules if anyone challenges them.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2005, 02:04:55 PM »

... there are four distinct mechanics a player and Game Master have to learn before play (generation, task resolution, combat, then magic).

Whoa, okay, I think we need to take a step or twelve backwards.  August, it appears that you've been talking about something very specific while the rest of us have been talking about something a lot more general.  You've been talking about a city and we're talking about a planet.

Obviously, you're aware that there are roleplaying games out there that don't feature magic -- science fiction settings, for instance -- so I'm assuming that you were speaking in general terms according to your experience and preferences, rather than assuming that all RPGs have a magic system to learn.

You may not be aware that there are RPGs where the task resolution, combat, and magic systems are not distinct sets of mechanics, but work under a unified ruleset.  For an utterly simplistic example, download Risus (it's free and it's short).

There are also a ton of mechanics that you don't have on your list -- things like pacing, character advancement, creation or selection of the world, focusing the scope of the setting, framing scenes... the list goes on and on.  Most of these do not have explicit rules (or they are very sneaky rules, barely recognizable as such) in mainstream games, but these are all vitally important to the experience of the role playing game.

Now, I'm not just nitpicking, here.  If you're proposing writing not one but two distinct systems that interweave with eachother, these sorts of mechanics and how they interact with eachother are going to be incredibly important to you.  Additionally, if you're talking about players desiring narrative but have no exposure to techniques like scene framing or pacing control (techniques that are often associated with but do not themselves constitute narrativism), you probably mean something manifestly different than we hear when you say 'narrative'.  See MJ's recent post for a detailed account of that distinction. ;)
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brightstar
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« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2005, 03:53:22 PM »

Well thanks for the terminology update I appreciate it. 

Let me start off here...I am aware that narrativist play does not = "system" lite.  Apparently I've mis- communicated that.  I've played many "system" heavy games in the narrative style and have ran just as many.  As a matter of a fact I am a narrativist GM and that's what I do exclusively.  So yes, it is possible to pull it off with any system...but I have noticed that the less system 90% of the time begins to encourage narrative play where as rules heavy encourages gamist style of gaming.  Why?  In short, freedom.  Freedom from the confines of rules and rule bi-laws and subclauses gives both GM and PC's the freedom to maneuver how they need based on the conditions of the story.  So "system" lite is red and narrativist play is hot, but they work very well analogously.

Then let us look what a rule actually means because I think Authority is a bit too tempered when describing what a rule actually means.  Yes it does grant authority but I think the actual definition of a rule would give us some insight.   

a principle or condition that customarily governs behavior
prescribed guide for conduct or action
govern: exercise authority over
dominion: dominance or power through legal authority
keep in check
An authoritative, prescribed direction for conduct, especially one of the regulations governing procedure in a legislative body or a regulation observed by the players in a game, sport, or contest.
A usual, customary, or generalized course of action or behavior
A subordinate regulation governing a particular matter

There is a handful.  When looking at these we must keep in mind that a game is played by "the rules."  Therefore to deviate from the rules is to break the rule therefore in violation of that game itself.  Therefore, ones narrative powers are constricted to the rules of the game.  To deviate or break that rule threatens the intrinsic credibility of the game itself.  With that in mind we must consider how we, as gamers, are enslaved to them.  They are our authority and control the entirety of the gaming experience (unless something is changed in a communal decision).  The rules are the technology of the game and in Technological philosophy, you create a device it must and will be employed.  This is why so much concern is placed on the rules and how they operate.  It doesn't matter how good the setting is, if the Grand High Authority, the rules, don't match what we're willing to serve or as you guys put it "give credibility to" then the game will remain unsold and un-played by that player. 

However, I will say from working in a gaming store, that when d20 hit the shelves players who hated the system (preferring more system lite game styles) found themselves enslaved to it because it had become the common game played.  So they figured out ways to work within that authority. 

So then lets take it to exception of the rule.  Lets say that the guy playing a Wizard doesn't want to use the sorcerer spells and Wizard spells.  He then communicates to the DM that he'd like to create a more skill driven mechanic and justifies it well to the DM.  They agree to make the necessary rules changes.  Quickly amongst the other players fear of favoritism and "system breaking" activities on the part of the Narrator and the Wizard player spreads like wildfire.  The fighter will fear his feats and abilities will be too weak to stand equal with that player.  The rogue not skilled enough, etc.  That they will be overshadowed by a character that is not bound to the authority of the system itself.  Because the authority they listen to is not the Game Master or their fellow player, instead it is the system itself.  Therefore, after much arguing, both the DM and that player must confine themselves back to the system to maintain the peace in the game...thus the narrative capabilities of that player and that DM are once again confined to the system itself. 

With that thought of how rules constrict, narrative play becomes increasingly limited with every rule implemented because it limits options by limiting freedom.  This board would not really need to exist without the tension between the Authority of rules and the ability to serve those rules as players of those games. 

Because if one person is able to cross the line of scrimmage, then the other team will object that they "are breaking the rules" therefore the Referee and the entire system favors that team.

With that thought is why I respond to this statement:

That means that the D&D rule book with all its rules is not the system, and is actually very much removed from what is happening in play. Rather, it is an authority to which participants appeal to give their statements credibility.

In my opinion, the players do not appeal to the system, rather they serve the system.  There games and style of play is dictated by that system.  For instance, if a player wants to sit down and play a commoner.  A bar keep and that's all they do how do they generate?  The only option is a half class and that is in a supplement not the core (players handbook).  I understand they divided the core amongst three books, but in not one of those books is their a commoner option.  Therefore, to play a commoner you now must be a rogue with backstab because that is what you get or a fighter with bonus fighting feats and a high attack bonus even though you have never fought.  Your character is now lost and confined within the rules instead of the narrative.   

You see?  Play has been directly controlled by the rules and their absolute Authority.  Not the other way around.  Their is no appeal without serious alterations.  They simply are.  And I ask this, why play a system that you have to alter that much.  It's like buying a broken computer for the same price as a new one that's going to take you four months to fix.     

On to point 2:

There are also a ton of mechanics that you don't have on your list -- things like pacing, character advancement, creation or selection of the world, focusing the scope of the setting, framing scenes... the list goes on and on.  Most of these do not have explicit rules (or they are very sneaky rules, barely recognizable as such) in mainstream games, but these are all vitally important to the experience of the role playing game.


I will say I'm aware of these mechanics and I totally agree that I absolutely have to look at them and address them.  Thanks for reminding me of them.  I was merely responding to the post about how games are playable out of the box.  What that means to me is that you get it and want to play it immediately.  Advancement and inexplicit rules are not necessary to know for the immediacy of play.  Advancement can be referenced after the game and those inexplicit rules that sneak in there do so by their own innate nature.  And I will say to continue that thought, out of the box play is much simpler in rules lite than rules heavy.  The less complexity = the faster play.  The less system authority relies more on the game to "wing" it without confusing the experience with fudge smeared all over the place.         

As an after thought, I don't know why the forge decided to change the terminology of System.  I'm not complaining or meaning to get confrontational about it, I'd just like to know the logic behind it.  If this is explained somewhere else, please direct me because it is highly confusing since the most common definition I've ever heard from gamers is that system describes how task resolution is resolved within the "game". 

 

 

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Josh Roby
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Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2005, 04:26:46 PM »

August, you are equating the group peer pressure to abide by the rules with the rules themselves.† The rules do not make you follow them; in your example, the group makes the GM and Wizard player follow the rules.† The power derives from the players, not the rules.

This is how you play a commoner in D&D: write "Commoner" on your character sheet.† Done.† The rulebook will not rise up of its own accord and tear up your character sheet in righteous indignation.† Other players might, maybe, and they may call upon the authority that the group has invested in the rulebook, but it will be the players, and not the rules, declaring that your commoner character is unacceptable.

The rules don't say anything.† The rules have no mouth.† Players do, and players may quote the rules, but applying the generalized rules to the specific instance of a character requires interpretation on the part of the players, and it is only ever going to be a player that says, "That is unacceptable for play."† More rules only means more things that players can quote at eachother.

Nobody has "changed" the terminology of System.† That the word "system" is used elsewhere with a different definition is pretty irrelevant in this discussion.† It means computer in the IT world, and it meant something else before Gygax ever put pen to paper.† System, here, is summed up by the sentence, "System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play."† We call it the Lumpley Principle, and you can read more on it in the thread Vincent's Standard Rant.† If you haven't read the Articles, you might want to take a look before you start taking issue with the terminology defined in those articles. Start with the Glossary, then read whatever takes your fancy.

If you have not yet "got" that definition of System, I'm going to go so far as to say that you do not understand roleplaying.† That's a pretty big statement to be making, but I'll stand by it.† Roleplaying is a social activity that operates via its participants, not via a pile of dead trees and ink.† Until you get that, you'll only tangle yourself up in rules, add-on rules, and more rules to fix the original rules.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2005, 04:39:09 PM »

Of course, you are free to use words any way you like, and I hope I don't sound like Humpty Dumpty declaring that when I use a word it means what I want it to mean, no more and no less. That is not my intent at all.

In defining the terms "System", "Credibility", and "Authority", I was doing two things. First and foremost I was explaining how I was using them in my post. Second, and still very important, I was explaining how those words are used around here. I think those stated definitions are pretty close to what the glossary gives, and they match those in my Theory 101: System and the Shared Imagined Space article over at Places to Go, People to Be. I'll attempt to clarify a few points that seem to be failures in communication on my part.

First, you ask about how "System" came to mean what it did. I don't think there's an article that explains it, but I'll make a stab at recounting the history.  In the comprehensive but now dated article GNS and Other Matters of Role Playing Theory, Ron (Edwards) identified and defined five "areas of exploration": character, setting, system, situation, and color, and attempted to present some understanding of the relationships between them. At that point, "system" meant "how you play the game", but was still largely equated with "rules" in most people's minds. There were a lot of discussions about how "system" was altered by players through house rules and other modifications. Eventually, however, Vincent Baker delivered a statement on which Ron seized very quickly, that system is the means by which agreement is reached concerning events in the game. This, quickly dubbed The Lumpley Principle (after Vincent's screen name), meant that the "system" that is part of the exploration in the role playing game is whatever means are actually used, and not what the book says you're supposed to do.

This was part of a transition in understanding (I dare say that Ron's understanding was along these lines previously but was not well understood by others) to perceive role playing games as a structured form of social interaction. For those of us who are theorists and designers, this realization that what we were doing was not really writing step-by-step instructions to be followed like some card game or war game, but attempting to forge the terms of a social contract between the players that would enable them to mutually create a story using the tools we provided opened entirely new vistas in how role playing games worked and what they did.

One of the first concepts to flow from the Lumpley Principle was the recognition of Credibility as the critical aspect of system. Credibility was the label that we attached to this phenomenon, that someone could make a statement about events in the shared imagined space to which everyone else would immediately assent. Such a statement was deemed credible, because it was accepted, and thus its acceptance was a recognition of the credibility of the player to make that statement. However, the credibility generally preceded the statement; that is, the player made the statement because he believed he had the credibility to make it.

Since it was established already that "system" is "the means by which agreement is reached within the shared imagined space", and it was now observed that the means by which that agreement was reached was based on the recognition of the credibility of the person making the statement, it was a simple deduction that system apportions credibility, that is, every single rule that really matters to the actual play of a role playing game involves creating agreement within the group concerning who is permitted to say what.

That ultimately is how a roleplaying game works. It doesn't matter if it has a hundred volumes of optional rules or a one-page outline of how to play. The only thing that matters to the play of the game is everyone agreeing concerning whose statements will be accepted as true in the shared imagined space.

"Authority" as a term developed from the effort to understand how all those rule books related to game play. What was proposed, and generally accepted, is that these things exist as external authorities, in the sense that scripture is an authority for religion or case law for jurisprudence, to which players can appeal as support for their statements. Rules don't have authority; they are authorities. A referee or a player could cite the printed rules to say "this is what should happen, because it's in the book". Once that was understood, it became evident that everything external to the statements of the players served this same role, that of being authorities cited to support statements. The system--that aspect of social contract that determines whose statements are credible--also determines how much force various authorities have, such as whether the referee can overrule the rule book or the dice or must abide by them, and who gets to decide what a passage in the rule book means if it's not clear. It is not the rules that control the players, but the players that control the rules. They incorporate "how to play the game" into their social contract, and proceed to create adventures by following those rules of interaction.

I suppose in one sense we wound up with much of the terminology we use here because we started out thinking of things much the way you appear to do, and we wound up discovering that we were completely wrong about how everything worked and had to rethink it all. That's probably the most difficult thing people face around here: the challenge that you've completely misunderstood in a fundamental way something you've done for years and enjoyed thoroughly and thought you knew everything about. I think just about everyone here who really understands the theory side of things has been through that, most of us more than once. It actually makes it difficult for us to explain things to people, because we remember when we saw things differently, but we don't remember why we thought it made sense that way now that we've really looked seriously at it.

Joshua has said much of this while I've been typing, but I hope this clarifies and fills in some of the gaps. Although he's a bit strong in the assertion, he's right: if you don't understand "system" this way, you probably don't understand how roleplaying games really work, only how people think they work.

--M. J. Young
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brightstar
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« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2005, 10:20:57 PM »

Well I do not disagree with what you are proposing in this theory.  But, I still assert that the "rules" set forward within a particular system hold more sway on the basis of that social contract.  Because the rules serve as the guy in the back corner who whispers secrets into the ears of everyone involved in the social contract...the game designer. 

Yes, it is theoretically possible to take a system, strip it of whatever you want, add whatever you want flip it upside down and turn it into a monkey with three whistles, red, green, blue, each blown randomly and if it matches the color of your appropriate skill, you make the check.  This is theoretically possible. 

However...the key point left out of this assumption is all that is being done is the generation of a new Authority.  Something with power beyond the scope of any individual player, i.e. a new system.  Within the social contract the rules are agreed upon, then codified and they become the standard.  This new set of rules now constrains the group in a different way than the previous, I'll admit, but this constraint is never the less omnipresent. 

Even if they scrap those rules per night and generate a new contract, then those rules become the new master.  Imagine trying to roll a die to determine the success of an action in Amber at a group of standard Amber players.  It cannot be done by the basis of the rules and if you are doing it yourself and no one agrees to that style of play then you are breaching that rule.  Conversely if you try to say when making a check in d20 "I just do it" it also violates the rule.  Let's say a house rule is then implemented by the social contract that 15 + skill automatically succeeds.  The player with 12 skill says I automatically succeed.  Someone, in the social contract, would then inform him that he does not because he has a 12.  Why?  Because it's in breach of the higher authority...the rule system itself regardless if it is the printed rule system or the non printed. 

In order to prevent the bedlum that house rules can create, gamers turned to a supposed expert...the designer.  He steps out of the shadows through the very subjective words he's printed in his book and acts as that guide to help a group finally settle conditions.  Furthermore, he sets the basis on which to begin the social contract.  Without his work, then the social contract could not be drafted for this particular system because it did not even exist.  Of course you can tell him to go bugger off just as you can tell anyone to bugger off in a normal social situation (unless they have a gun and don't want to leave). 

I will also present that how often do you know anyone to play D&D classless?  Without Base Attack?  Without the core six attributes?  How often do you see or hear about it?  I imagine it is done, with severe headache on the part of the group establishing this style of play and it probably has a very small percentage of followers?  Why?  Because even though it is possible to create this type of play from the social contract it is often avoided because the system's own authority engages player in a very specific format for their social contract.  If they wish to go classless fantasy they would more than likely pick up some other system that's basic form for the social contract does not make the essertion of classes.  Instead, it has something else that serves as a strong base form of the social contract that that particular group of players find more appealing.  But again, whatever they do with that system it still becomes the highest authority.   

Therefore...in my opinion, it is the necessity of proper and good game design to be more than ever conscious to what type of form you are asserting for that social contract.  With that in mind, realize that players will always ammend that contract based on their needs.  Therefore the system needs to make that transition as painless as possible for them without constraining them more than necessary to squirm out of the confines you've already established for them.  In addition, with the formation of their new contract they will become bound to it as I, as the designer, have attempted to engage their social group and ask them to try things "my way."  Therefore, I must assess the ramifications of a system without x rule and make sure every printed rule is vital...and extraneous rules handled properly.  I'm not writing a rule book.  I'm writing a Guide Book.   

Remember, this post started because I was suggesting an idea to print two basic systems in one book that are analogous to allow the main threads of gamers to be happy with the published work.  The gamists and the Narrativists.  I also suggested that gamists work better in a system heavy where as narrativists work best in system lite.  Therefore the two systems would be based around these concepts.  Of course the narrativists could use the rules heavy and vice a versa, or pieces of one, or what have you.  In the Dual System, it would present two possible base forms for social contracts so players can easily pick which way they wish their social contract to take the stories they were about to tell.  By doing so it is capable of reaching a broader audience because both styles of play have something uniquely tailored to the needs of two groups.  In the end, this may speed up the negotiation phase of the social contract because option 1 and option 2 would match easier to peoples tastes. 

That's all I'm suggesting. 

Thanks for the insight never the less.  Reminders of the high concept is always good to keep us thinking in the right direction.   

I was suggesting this, largely, because in order to write one system or the other, it begins to alienate a handful of players on the left or the players on the write.  This way, it has something for everyone.  Then, the need of complex house rules and ammendments to the Social Contract would not be all that necessary (of course they still would occur).  But seeing their options, they would have the same choice. 

It reminds me of the recent posts I've been reading about people who hated meta-plots and strict world design.  They want options and the ability to quickly alter things to fit their needs.  This would provide a similar pattern without the complexity of toolbox systems and the limits of the standard system.  It is a midground approach rather than playing the extremes.         
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