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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: Is meaningless detail really meaningless?  (Read 14519 times)
clehrich
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« Reply #30 on: February 24, 2003, 06:15:19 PM »

Good; thanks, Jack.  Let's move past the money issue, at least in this particular game.

Quote
I think it's meaningless because it is just color but color that requires effort out of proportion to the effort it requires. The wife has complained to me about how difficult it is to use the monetary system. She would forget what coin was more valuable than what if it wasn't written on her character sheet. AFAIK there is not the at least interesting monetary system Mike outlined above. In effect, this system is pretty much the same as the typical coinage from D&D, only made more complicated for no particularly good reason other than to make the money not just the typical gold, silver, etc.

Okay, so here's the definition as I break it down:

1. Color
2. Requires considerable effort from players
3. That effort achieves nothing apart from a repetition of color
4. There is no original or creative thing to balance these factors

So to take a completely different example, suppose we had a hit-location mechanic for, I don't know, gunfire.  Now the important thing here is that this does not affect damage mechanically; there is no concrete difference between a head-shot and an arm-shot.  Thus the hit locations simply produce color: each type of shot has a special name (graze to temple, agonizing side-wound, bloody leg-perforation).  In addition, the second time the same sort of shot is received, you have to go to a second name for the wound type (blood-spraying forehead wound).  Again, this has no impact on damage per se; it is color.

This would fit the definition above.  It's a color system, it's a pain, the effect is only to reiterate the color, and there's nothing new here (hit location charts are as old as the hills).

So by that definition, I'd personally agree that meaningless detail is meaningless.  I don't think this is a GNS issue, either: as I understand it, the classic Sim use of color is something that can be explored, made into something other than color, or alternatively is not particularly a lot of effort.

-------------------------
1. Please note, I'm hypothesizing this entirely.  I don't offhand know of any system that quite fits this description.
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #31 on: February 24, 2003, 06:30:53 PM »

This has me wondering, is Color more effective when it requires less effort to ingest. Things like art or music or whatever that comes readily to people. Does the amount of effort required decrease Color's effectiveness?
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clehrich
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« Reply #32 on: February 24, 2003, 06:50:02 PM »

Quote
This has me wondering, is Color more effective when it requires less effort to ingest. Things like art or music or whatever that comes readily to people. Does the amount of effort required decrease Color's effectiveness?

I'm not quite sure what you mean about art and music.  Do you mean "come easily" as examples for discussion, or as things that require little effort to appreciate?

In the latter case, I heartily disagree, but it would take a very unusual approach to RPGs to put stylistic questions of artistry into effect as color (or anything else, for that matter).  

If you mean that Color should be able to be appreciated entirely as background material, requiring minimal effort, I think that's one side of it.  The flip side is that I think ideally Color should be something that can be foregrounded by a conscious choice on the part of the players.  The money example (sorry) has been discussed this way: if it's just background color, it should be attractive and enjoyable at a distance.  But if the players decide to foreground it, there should be some support for it, making it add actual depth to the world.

I'm sure this has been debated before, but let me use the example of The Lord of the Rings by way of contrast to a lot of cheap fantasy schlock.  With Tolkien, one always has the impression that if you were in effect to walk off the set, you'd discover an entire world out there waiting for you.  This is true in every direction: it's a world, not a backdrop.  So in Tolkien, a lot of Color is essentially the tip of a fascinating iceberg (or at least he makes it seem so), but it's as though he just didn't have time to describe it because the story is too interesting.  In a lot of schlock fantasy, however, you have the strong sense that those houses are just facades, like in the old western pictures; if you were to walk through a door suddenly, you'd see nothing but tumbleweeds and some bare canvas.

All too often Color is just backdrop.  If it's pretty, great, but you'd better hope the players don't decide to walk through that door.  

Not that one needs to design an entire universe from the ground up, but a good GM should be able to respond intelligently when the players do something unexpected.  This is I think one of the great dangers of excess shallow Color: it leads to railroading.  To take a final metaphorical example: if you've ever played those old Infocom games (Zork and whatnot), you may know that there is a class of objects call Decorations.  They can be looked at and examined, but otherwise you can't do anything with them.  They're pure color.  If you have a game like that with no decorations, it seems pretty sparse; if everything is a decoration, all you can do is walk down the path and look at the pretty pictures -- it's not interactive at all.

Okay, enough metaphors.
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #33 on: February 24, 2003, 07:38:17 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
If you mean that Color should be able to be appreciated entirely as background material, requiring minimal effort, I think that's one side of it.  ...(snip)...  But if the players decide to foreground it, there should be some support for it, making it add actual depth to the world.

But is it still color then or does this become Exploration of Setting or one of the other elements of roleplaying?
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clehrich
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« Reply #34 on: February 24, 2003, 08:10:33 PM »

To my mind, Color is an in-play definition, but it relates back to design.  Color is constructed (by GM or players or whatever) to be background.  When (if) the players decide to foreground it, it stops being Color.

My point is just that color can be evaluated in terms of

(1) aesthetics:  it's pretty, it really makes the place seem a certain way, etc.  A Call of Cthulhu campaign with detailed and Lovecraftian descriptions, people with names like Esdras Whipple and Philomenia Stahl, houses with creaky old gambrel roofs, and so forth, really conjures up the right mood quickly;

(2) requisite time: the players and/or GM must put in X amount of time to make the aesthetic part function well.  If it is necessary that all the players read the complete works of Thomas Hardy to get the right feel, this takes time; similarly a mechanical system takes up play time;

(3) potential utility: the thing we're talking about here.  Some things just don't lend themselves to being useful, but a lot do.  Suppose in a CoC campaign we all have complicated New England genealogies worked out for us, that's ordinarily going to be color, just as having a Dwarf character be named Khaz-ro't the Bearded is just color.  But if we decide to investigate how Phil over there is actually quite closely related to the Whateley family, or we use some sort of Author-stance thing to announce that Khaz-ro't is actually an ancient phrase that really means "Orc-Lover" (rather than "Nice Axe," as previously thought), then suddenly it's going to matter.

What I'm saying is that the perfect piece of Color is very evocative, takes only one word to express, and could turn into a great plot hook very easily.  Such a thing doesn't exist, but that's surely the ideal.
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Chris Lehrich
Johannes
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« Reply #35 on: February 24, 2003, 11:35:14 PM »

Quote

Color is constructed (by GM or players or whatever) to be background. When (if) the players decide to foreground it, it stops being Color.


I'm a bit confused here clehric. Are you saying that exploration of color cannot be main focus of play because it stops being color if its foregrounded?

I'm not sure if I can agree with that. I once run a mythic Irish campaing where characters spoke in some kind of (amateurish) verse for most of the time. This was done to achieve the feeling of being in a heroic myth or legend and all group members enjoyed the verse and the atmosphere it created to the point that it was the main focus of play. What started as sim. ex. setting became sim. ex. color.
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Johannes Kellomaki
clehrich
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« Reply #36 on: February 25, 2003, 10:04:32 PM »

Johannes,

I was only trying to say that if we want to call "color" the sort of detail that is usually only incidentally relevant, then that definition breaks down when exploration of color becomes focal.  I was trying to defend the stance that sometimes apparently "meaningless" detail can become meaningful.  I suppose my definition does tend to factor out exploration of color as a deliberate focus, because it says that as soon as you start exploring it it stops being color, but that wasn't really what I was getting at.  I'm not trying to propose a general theory of color; my only concern here is to redirect the discourse on incidental detail into a potential profitable (and not controversial) area.
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Chris Lehrich
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