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Author Topic: "Likely" Characters (Sim essay)  (Read 16475 times)
lumpley
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« on: February 03, 2003, 12:30:28 PM »

This is a non-biggie.
Quote from: Ron's Sim Essay
Layering may be employed to establish and identify the character's plausibility in terms of the game-world itself. For a look at the historical differences among games, compare the methods for establishing player-character skill competence in early RuneQuest (Simulationist) with those of Hero Wars (Narrativist). In Hero Wars, the system limits how many of the thirty or so starting abilities are assigned high values (two really good ones and one great one), but not which ones. Whereas in RuneQuest, every skill has a starting-character value based on its commonality and difficulty to learn, and every skill is rated in money regarding learning higher values of competence, based both on difficulty to learn and who teaches the skill. Hero Wars character creation, which is minimally layered, isn't concerned with the implausibility of having a mastery-level in Greatsword be just as "likely" as having it in Farming; RuneQuest character creation, which is maximally layered, emphatically is.

To repeat, the above point is historical. Whether the distinction I've drawn holds for any and all Simulationist play potential, I don't know.

For most of the 90s, I played games like GURPS but don't count points, or Ars Magica but don't count points, or even (implausibly enough) Shadowrun but don't count points.  What mattered there wasn't whether your character was likely in the setting, but whether your character was possible.  That is, the PCs weren't supposed to be a cross section of the general population, they could be exceptional, and so of course you could have mastery-level greatsword if you wanted.  Just meant you were the few, the proud.  We had dogma about how you should get to play the character you wanted - I mean, we're not competing, so why limit points?  Your character would cost more points than mine, big schmeal.  You're further out on the bell curve.

I still think so, when I think Sim.

I can't think of any published games that do it this way, but it has to have been pretty common in drift.  Everybody I knew had thought about it, and most of us played that way.

Just to say that I'm confident that the distinction doesn't in fact hold for all Sim play.

-Vincent
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2003, 01:49:21 PM »

Hi Vincent,

I wish folks would recognize that the term "may," in my prose, is not a wishy-washy qualifier but rather a real and meaningful word. It means that what follows is one way the issues at hand can play out, as opposed to the way it must play out.

In other words, yes - some Sim play/design, not all of it. It most especially shows up in the sort that includes a significant randomized factor in character design, which is why I chose RuneQuest for my example. To a lesser extent, extensive prereq-layering has the same effect in canonical GURPS play, which as Vincent points out is commonly Drifted from.

Best,
Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2003, 01:56:57 PM »

Hey, Ron.

Actually it was the "I don't know" that I was taking seriously and responding to.  I was confirming what seemed to be a conjecture or suspicion on your part.

-Vincent
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2003, 02:18:32 PM »

Got it, Vincent!

I seem to be a little spikey today; I'll try to settle down.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2003, 08:22:02 PM »

This is a "biggie" in my opinion.

That is, for players dedicated to very Sim play, points are a bad thing.

Let me back up a bit. It's explained in GURPS that the designers are aware that the points do not "balance". They say that the point of the point system is to give players an idea of approximately how many points a character should have spent on him to be of a reasonable type for a particular genre. Fanasy heroes have x, "normals" have y, "Supers" have z, etc, etc. Thus, a player is prevented from taking a character that is way off kilter in terms of what he has for abilities by the point limit.

Which seems to make some sense. I'll even sorta buy it for beginners. By which I mean to say, a player who starts out, may not realize that an 18 in a stat is very high for some genres.

But.

That would mean that the player is more in tune with math than he is with reading. A rare state. I say this because on the same page (facing page?) of GURPS that has the charts for points there is a chart that offers descriptions of what each level of stat means. And elsewhere, there's another chart that tells you what level of skill translates to what. So, obviously, a player reading that can make a character from just those descriptions. Assuming he can describe a reasonable human being, or superhero, or whatever is being simulated. Which I have great faith in. If a player can't describe how powerful a superhero is ("he can lift a...locomotive"), I'm not sure he'll like supers play.

Further, there's another problem. In actual use, players are always scrambling to find points to make a decent protagonist. Since there are ways to make a character more powerful than others using the same pool of points, this informs players that they are looking for the most efficient way to spend points. Again, the text admits that this phenomenon exists (this analysis may be in one of the compendiums), and even tries to pass it off as a feature of the game. Anyhow, the text is saying that players should be looking for these efficiencies.

So what's really going on here? The problem is historical. GURPS developed from TFT and Champions and, perhaps, as Ron mentions BRP. All of these, in fact all games at the time (and in fact most games to date), assume a vertain level of Gamism in players. Gamism? In GURPS? Well, of course. It's easy to sit here with all our theory and say, gee, that'd a case of incoherent design. But most designers don't have the advantage of that theory. From their POV, and as Ron points out in his essay, they needed to prevent "creeping gamism". Let's face it, no matter what face they put on it, Point based chargen is an attempt to balance by limiting character effectiveness.

The problem is that creating a group of characters that are all the same "effectiveness" simulates nothing in particular. In fact, it artificially limits players who know better how to create a character that fits a genre. than to just cut him off at a certain number of points. And this is almost all players, or at least any with a true Sim bent.

As such, it's no surprise that players like Vincent and myself see no need for point systems. They are not informative in a useful manner (at least none I've ever seen), and they almost always make creation of the character envisioned difficult.

The bleeding doesn't stop here, however. The reward system gives rewards for play, which is fine. But the rewards are used to make more powerful characters, which again informs that the game is somehow about being powerful. The only use of which that I can see is for the player to be able to use the character to compete more effectively.

Now, some of you may be seeing a big problem comng down the road. And that is that, given what I've delineated, nearly all Sim games suffer from the "problem" of a hybrid Sim/Gamist design. The question is, when is this actually a problem, and when is it a feature? Can one design a Sim game that is not a hybrid? Are there any at all?

And a worse question. What is the reward system in a Sim game? If you give a player a metagame reward, well, that promotes Gamism or Narrativism according to the essay. If you give a character an in-game character improvement, then that must simulate some action that the character takes. If not, then the reward violates causality. If it does simulate some action, then it's just the outcome of the system in application, and no more rewarding particularly than the GM announcing that a character has successfully entered a bar after a player announced his intent that said character was trying to enter.

So is play itself the only reward possible for a player who prefers Sim? Or are all "Sim" selecting players also posessed of secondary metagame goals (which might make those hybrid designs less "problematic" after all)?

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2003, 09:15:44 PM »

Mike,

Brilliant analysis!  Thanks.

Can I inject a metaphor?  This one is pretty literal, and I don't mean it to be taken much farther than the obvious.

If you think about the hobby of building model ships, there are a series of progressive stages.  Not that everyone has to go through them all, but there is certainly an elitism of "we've gotten to the top, you haven't."  This elitism is based on two factors: kit-building vs. scratch-building, and historical research.  The beginner buys a kit, usually a plastic one, and puts it together according to instructions.  Then he tries a kit where you actually have to rig the sails, but only a basic version --- you don't have to do all the lines and blocks.  And so on, until you have the guy who mills all his own parts out of raw wood, studies every possible detail about one ship, and builds it from soup to nuts with his own hands, every knot, block, tackle, line, halliard, and everything; he even hand-models his cannon, building a wooden mockup on a tiny lathe, then making a plaster mold, and then pouring molten lead.

The point here is this.  To the hard-core scratch-builder who's into heavy research (the ultimate Sim guy, just in a different medium), using a kit amounts to getting someone else to do all the interesting work --- it's missing the point.  Similarly, building a "fantasy" ship is stupid, because unless you actually know a hell of a lot about real ship-building (as opposed to models), you don't know if it will float.

This structure extends into actual sailing ship life.  If you've read Patrick O'Brian's novels, you may remember when Jack was assigned to the Polychrest, which was designed according to "scientific principles" by someone who knew nothing about sailing.  Naturally, it sank at the first really heavy cross-swell.

So I think the Sim guy here allies himself to the "real thing," the sailor (or soldier, or knight, or whatever).  His ideal is a transparent mechanism, as Ron points out, because his ideal is really to live the game in the "dream."  Kits and instructions translate into mechanics: ideally, you don't need them if you're "the real thing."  (This I think is Mike's point about pure Sim.)

The problem is that, and I think this is my essential point for the metaphor, he doesn't trust the other guy.  He "knows" he could do it all without mechanics, but the guy next to him is going to "cheat," meaning he'll build a fantasy ship from a kit, knowing nothing about real sailing.  For the Sim guy, this is anathema, a sin against the hobby.  But at the same time, he's so in love with the hobby that he wants everyone else to come to see it the way he does, to "get it right," because he genuinely believes that if they do, they will love it and get more out of it.

So he designs kits, to get people into it.

Or, to get back to RPGs, he designs systems.

And along the way, of course, he gets so entranced by the excitement of building the perfect kit, the one kit that will really get people to see the real thing without blinders, he forgets that the mechanics were a means to an end.

What I like about the metaphor is that it recognizes the hard Simulationist's confusion, his narrow-mindedness, and also at the same time his really genuine desire to draw others into sharing this wonderful dream with him.
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2003, 09:29:17 PM »

Hey,

I wanna hug everyone. We're discussing Simulationism and no one's getting mad.

Mike and I have batted the issue about points around for a while. Another factor to consider is the sheer beauty of a Purist for System design, in terms of points, math, and structure. I've been reading Pocket Universe again and just marvelling at its perfect refinement of The Fantasy Trip and GURPS into a speedboat of play, solving at least six problems inherent to the previous games in interlocking ways.

Although I agree in full with Mike's and Chris' comments above, in fact am greatly appreciative of them, this aesthetic-engineering value can be recognized as a possible goal as well, such that aggressively point-based Sim design might not necessarily be a "poor second" to the pure-transparency unreachable ideal.

Best,
Ron
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clehrich
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2003, 09:51:08 PM »

Ron,

What's to fight about?  Nonono -- don't tell me. :)
Quote
Although I agree in full with Mike's and Chris' comments above, in fact am greatly appreciative of them, this aesthetic-engineering value can be recognized as a possible goal as well, such that aggressively point-based Sim design might not necessarily be a "poor second" to the pure-transparency unreachable ideal.

I think you're right here.  This is, I think, what you referred to as the Purists for System, am I right?

My only problem is that I honestly don't get the aesthetics of this.  I understand Sim when it's "let's simulate X genre/world/setting/etc."  At least, I think I do --- I used to think that way myself.  But I don't get "let's simulate everything there could possibly be."

Incidentally, and actually I do think it's related, I recall a discussion on rec.games.rpg (I think it was), about 15 years ago (Hey John?  You don't have a copy do you?), about "the right way to simulate combat."  The usual thing.

So this guy writes a very long post which begins with a stock trope: "Well I once actually did X so I know what I'm talking about better than you."  Only he tells us that he has this one friend who's a blacksmith, and made armor and swords, and another friend who's a SCA fighter and did the fight choreography, and another friend who's (get this) a moritician and provided two dead bodies, and another friend who's a puppeteer and controlled these bodies, and and and and.  It was absolutely hilarious.  The best part was: a surprising number of responders actually took this 100% seriously, and critiqued the methodology at various junctures!

Now my point is (apart from telling a funny anecdote) that I get why people would be totally serious about the right way to simulate combat and death and so forth.  But I don't get why someone would say, "Sure, but your system mechanics for these dead bodies don't take into account the possiblity that it might be aliens fighting, and their bones would be structured differently, and the whole system has to take all those possibilities into account."  This totalism of system has always struck me as odd.
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Chris Lehrich
John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2003, 12:11:55 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Now, some of you may be seeing a big problem comng down the road. And that is that, given what I've delineated, nearly all Sim games suffer from the "problem" of a hybrid Sim/Gamist design. The question is, when is this actually a problem, and when is it a feature? Can one design a Sim game that is not a hybrid? Are there any at all?


Well, I would point to Traveller as being designed pretty directly for Simulation-oriented play.  Character generation is actually aimed at simulating something (skill development in service), and doesn't seem to aim much for balance.  Characters can advance only by in-character study.  Other more simulation-oriented game designs that spring to mind for me are HarnMaster and SkyRealms of Jorune.  

I think there is an odd facet of your terminology that you say "Sim" games have hybrid "Sim/Game" design.  I would say that rather they are hybrid in both intent and design.  


Quote from: Mike Holmes
And a worse question. What is the reward system in a Sim game?  ...   If it does simulate some action, then it's just the outcome of the system in application, and no more rewarding particularly than the GM announcing that a character has successfully entered a bar after a player announced his intent that said character was trying to enter.


I think that is exactly the point.  A player who values simulation wouldn't want to collect some sort of arbitrary reward, which seems more of a Game.
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- John
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« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2003, 12:42:56 AM »

Hey, :)

Quote from: After some considerations about the inherent gamism of existing sim designs, Mike Holmes
And a worse question. What is the reward system in a Sim game?


Hmm... This is something we've thrown around before... lemme dig up... ah, here: Is S out of balance with G/N

Mike, in your opinion, do the final points in that thread address this question and your considerations?

Cheers,

J.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2003, 06:58:57 AM »

Quote from: JMendes

Mike, in your opinion, do the final points in that thread address this question and your considerations?

Definitely a maybe. I'd play it, for example. :-)

There are some players, however, who refuse to accept anything even slightly metagame. For these players, perhaps there is no reward except play?

The interesting question is, however, does the fact that I like metagame in my play mean that I don't prefer Sim? If you look at my play, I think you'll see that it's quite Simmy, actually. I'm not looking for some question to answer, I'm just playing the character, and checking out the universe. But somehow, metagame doesn't bug me at all. I switch between Author and Actor stance a lot. The author stance is simply used to do things like looking at the GMs plot and figuring how best to have fun following it (as opposed to authoring theme).

So, am I just one of those players who's confused and should be saying "Shit! I'm playing Narrativist"? Or is the metagame exclusive requirement overstated?

I think that Ron has created a construct that stands only to support his definition. That is, as soon as there's any like of metagame, it's not Sim. But wait, Ron points out that there is a Sim metagame! But then what is all the talk about wedges of metagame agenda sneaking in and such? Well, it seems to me that Ron is just referring to player priorities. That is, a Gamist likes metagame that allows success. The Narrativist likes metagame that empowers his telling of story. And the Simulationist likes metagame that allows versimillitude.

What is the ability to build a universe in those games that Ron states are "interesting uses of director stance", if not exploration empowering metagame?

I guess this is my point. I think the whole metagame issue is a big smoke screen. I think it was simpler, and more to the point to simply say that Sim empowering games gave priority to some sort of exploration. I think Ron's points about Theme are more salient, but I have some problems there as well.

Now, there are some players for whom metagame will be a problem as I've said. There is a subset of players who, like the Turku school, eschew any outside elements. But I say that they are a subset of Sim, not the totality. This relates to simulations in general (I'm not saying that the two are inextricably linked, just that there is a correllation here), in that in a simulation there are internal and external variables. Some Sim players like to only deal with the internal variables, and some like to play with all of them (I suppose the Sim GM could be said to an extent to potantially have a preference for only the external variables).

Anyhow, the "Internal" Sim player will tell you that you get a more powerful experience by locking yourself inside the simulation. The "Internal/External" player like myself will say that one can still have a powerful experience and not limit themselves to just one side. This boils down to simple player preference.

So, for the Internal Sim player, I think there is no "reward" but play itself (or maybe I'm not looking at it closely enough). For the External Sim player, all sorts of metagame rewards, like the ones proposed in the thread mentioned, are completely valid.

At least that's my take on it at the moment.

Mike
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xiombarg
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« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2003, 07:04:17 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
As such, it's no surprise that players like Vincent and myself see no need for point systems. They are not informative in a useful manner (at least none I've ever seen), and they almost always make creation of the character envisioned difficult.
Just as a quick aside, I'd like to add a data point to y'all's assertion that Simulationists would rather do without points. When my friend Blade runs GURPS, he has everyone submit a text description of their character, set to match the theme and genre expectations he's given the players. Then he, as GM, stats them. This isn't because he doesn't trust the players, but for the exact reason you mention: To make sure the character fits the shared player/GM vision for the game, and the character is accurately simulated, points be damned. He does use the points as a thumbnail sense of character effeciveness to prevent disfunctional Gamist creep ("I can make a GOD!"), but it ends there.

Also, in terms of reward systems, Blade doesn't really worry about XP... your character simply changes as makes sense within the game world. Very Simulationist. As J says, the reward is screen time: Generally, those character concepts that best fit the game -- and the world -- get more screen time, the reward being "embedded" in play as MK Snyder points out at the start of the thread J mentioned.

Though Blade doesn't know poop about GNS (unless he's been reading the Forge without telling me, which is possible), I think his style is an excellent example of "points free" Simulationist play. (Also, as an aside within an aside, an example of how "wild" a world one can simulate -- one of his GURPS games featured college students in a version of the modern-day world where wildly varied forms magic, pagan gods, and time-travel were known to exist, and featured characters as diverse as an Avatar of Justice and a character sent back in time for his college education -- as that was cheaper than paying for college in his home time.)
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2003, 07:08:24 AM »

Mike I think your touching in a different way on my own thoughts on the matter.  I don't see the Metagame question as a smoke screen, rather perhaps mistaking a symptom for the cause.

In otherwords I do think that by and large there is a pretty widespread resistance to metagame in sims...but I don't think that's because the sim players have an issue with the metagame mechanic itself.  Rather the issue is their fear of what the metagame mechanic might be used for.  You as a sim player have no trouble with accepting metagame in your sims because you are fully capable of using metagame to support the sim rather than tear it down...in much the same way we've suggested the same about Author and Director stance being possible in a Sim.

I've suggested before that truly devoted sim player who are all in tune with other can play full bore sim without any "mechanics" at all.  The entire game can be played on a metagame level because there is no fear of gamist creep (I've seen historical minis gamers play out an entire battle with no mechanics other than their mutual judgement of how a unit could move and the number of expected casualties at a given range...there was debate to be sure, and citations to relevant texts, but not a single chart, table, or die roll).

So I don't think that "no metagame" is part of a definition of Sim, I think it is a common way Sim games defend against non sim creep.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2003, 07:45:51 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
So I don't think that "no metagame" is part of a definition of Sim, I think it is a common way Sim games defend against non sim creep.
But if that's the case, does that mean a metagame component in a Narrativist game can be used to cause a game to creep in a Simulationist direction? Or is the possibility of "creep through metagame" unique to Simulationist play?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2003, 08:18:18 AM »

Hi there,

Mike, I agree with you. It's clear to me that there is a Sim metagame - any behaviors, actions, dialogues, etc, which preserve the integrity of "the dream" and its internal workings. What makes it difficult to discuss is, since Gamist and Narrativist metagames are so recognizable, and so clearly intrusive (even at their subtlest) by comparison, that giving them the "metagame" tag is way too easy to do in dialogue.

My prose hobbles around this issue without managing to pin it. But for the record, I agree with you completely. I also think that discussing the range of "acceptable" Sim metagame activity, rules and otherwise, would help us grasp the issue of acceptable/enjoyable reward systems as well.

For instance, I've been thinking that both (1) the improve-skill through-usage and (2) add-points veeeeery-slowly methods are, in many ways, barely reward systems at all. The former (in the games I'm thinking of) is honed down to an in-game model on a par with damage systems and perception rolls; and the latter is, essentially non-existent except over very large increments (multiple sessions) of play.

So what might be a reward system that really rewards the player? Let's get away, or mostly away, from "character gets better at to-hit." Director power? Feh. Only in a game which has that as an important mechanic, which remains mainly terra incognita for Sim game design at this point. I'm thinking we should turn our attention to the already-existing Metagame component of characters in the first place - their "situated-ness" in the game-world. Contacts, DNPCs (to use Champs talk), Hunters/Enemies, social status, relationships with the law ...

And Pocket Universe hits me between the eyes with its few short paragraphs about its Contacts rules. H'm. I'd like to play this game and never (or hardly ever) use the experience system to bulk up the characters' effectiveness - just pump it all into the Contacts system and watch the social/placement aspects of the characters expand and intertwine ...

Best,
Ron
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