The impossible trait use before breakfast

I was having trouble finding a home for this post at the forge, because it didn’t quite fit, but then I remembered I haz blogz!

The discussion was about trait usage (didn’t quite fit the thread topic, though, and I don’t have just the right actual play). Basically I’m saying if ALL narration has to take into account the result of a trait, then all latter uses of traits will have to fit into that narration. That’s fine if your using what were currently calling ‘Before’ traits. But it’s completely screwy if you want to implement ‘After’ traits. And cause it’s my blog I’ll randomly say I dislike the terms ‘before’ and ‘after’ and would prefer internal traits and external traits, in reference to whether they are inside/restricted by the SIS in how they further effect the SIS, or if they are outside the SIS and are not restricted by the SIS in how they affect the SIS.

After Christoph’ post, this is my phantom, doesn’t have a home yet, responce (I have PM’ed it to him at the forge, block quotes are Christoph. ):

Your alleviation of the “impossibility” for “after” traits seem to me to be superfluous, in the sense that otherwise we’re not talking about “after” traits in the first place

Yes, your not talking about ‘after’ traits. After traits are your goal, but the logic in your design is flawed and will not meet your goal. No biggie. It’s like writing a computer program and writing code your certain will meet your goal, only to find it does something screwy. I’ve done that a million times!

Also, I don’t see the use of traits on such a long time-scale. I’ve understood this discussion of “after” and “before” to be purely based on the immediate conflictual situation. Of course, my “Killer Instinct” trait example would be “before” if we took the whole history of play into account, but then we wouldn’t be distinguishing between “has already been mentioned (or is obvious when pointed out) in the situation leading to the resolution of the present conflict” and “will be used once mechanical resolution of the present conflict is done, as part of the narrational resolution of the present conflict”. Then again I could be wrong.

Your thinking in too compartmentalised a way. The immediate conflict may be whether Rupert the red is killed, but after it’s resolved and narrated that he dies, are you going to keep playing as if he’s alive, or dead? As you can see, the narration is on a longer time scale than the immediate conflict because the narration is on a longer time scale.

Actually, should clarify that. If someone HAS to take Rupert’s death into account in their narration, is that for ALL narrations after that, or is that just for the narration that happens in the conflict? Say for example we kill Rupert, we narrate him being decapitated, then I roll a pass on working a copy machine and narrate Rupert walking in and helping me operate it. Was it only the kill conflicts narration that has to take the kill into account? Or is ALL following narration supposed to take his death result into account? If it’s the former, oops, you don’t have a problem in the logic of the wording! Sorry to type so much! If it’s the latter, your wording is indeed bugged (as noted, specifically the use of the word ‘ALL’, without any exemptions. Must have exemptions!).

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29 thoughts on “The impossible trait use before breakfast

  1. I think I get what you are saying. I’ll try paraphrasing it, say if this goes wrong.

    If after-traits must be included in narration, it would break the game to have an after-trait used such that it can’t be included; hence, even the after-trait use must take into account that which was before.

    This implies that the distinction is a sort continuum, not a binary classification.

    I think it might be useful to divide the issue into smaller ones.

    First: Must the use of any given trait be rationalised at all, and if yes, to what extent?

    Second: At which point must the precise way in which the trait has effect be explained (this is, I think, the original before-after-issue); assuming, of course, that the trait is not ignored fiction-wise as per the first point.

  2. Wow! After all the lengthy discussions I’ve had with you Tommy, if I’m reading your right, you have stated the problem exactly, straight away! For a change we don’t run crossways to each other in terms of thinking?? 🙂 Cool! I’m just really surprised at how fate has turned out – please excuse my rambling!

    On your first point, the idea I think is that ‘before’ traits must be rationalised. While ‘after’ traits do not need to be rationalised (though as stated, their previous wording contradicted this).

    On your second point, I’m not sure what your getting at in talking about at which point? I’ll be honest, I don’t even quite get the wording ‘before’ and ‘after’. I’m only using them to help facilitate discussion with Ron & co. I understand what they mean, but I don’t understand their naming system. My own preference is ‘internal’ and ‘external’ as I stated before. To me, it’s not at what point in time you do it, it’s from where. External is like working from heaven, at gods own editing panel, while internal is like working on the earth, with whatever is already there. At gods editing panel, “which came first, the chicken or the egg” is not your question, it’s your choice! So to speak.

    So I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘at what point’. Do you mean in terms of when it’s said at the table?

  3. Nice to agree once a while, indeed.

    Second point: I was talking about the actual people playing; can they say “I’m using red-headed to confont the zombies!” and then at some later point someone must explain how, or must they first explain what is happening in the fiction and only then get the benefit? I read the entire before-after discussion being about this.

    First point: The distinction is important and I shall not henceforth call it the before-after-distinction, as it is not that one.

    Can you give a reason for using traits which don’t necessarily affect the fiction? I can only figure out one, which is a rule like “If more than three traits were invoked, the narrator can select any three to include in the narration; the rest are ignored.”, in which the rule is there to declutter and speed up play.

  4. “Second point: I was talking about the actual people playing; can they say “I’m using red-headed to confont the zombies!” and then at some later point someone must explain how”
    In terms of ‘after’ traits, it’s like how you put it. But someone doesn’t explain – everyone has to reshape the imagined space to somehow fit the system result into the imagined space. It’s system first. You might be more used to SIS first, where the system result is changed to fit the imagined space.

    On the other point, I don’t understand the ‘invocation of traits that don’t affect the fiction’ question? I don’t understand why we’d talk about a play invoking a trait with the intention of doing absolutely nothing at all? Why are you investigating that (if you are investigating it – I may have read you wrong)?

  5. But someone doesn’t explain – everyone has to reshape the imagined space to somehow fit the system result into the imagined space.

    I don’t see the distinction. Would you be as kind as to explain system/fiction first?

    The first point: Red herring. I misunderstood. Never mind.

  6. System first: Well, to take your red-headed example, the group would have to work out some reason why red headed worked against the zombies. Because at a system level it worked, and they have to use it in the narration.

    Fiction first would be that if no one in the group can imagine red headed working against the zombies, then you can’t use that mechanical option. In a smoothly running fiction first group, probably the person wouldn’t even need to consult the others to know if the red headed trait works. He’d just ‘know’ and wouldn’t use it against zombies. Indeed, that he wouldn’t use it give credence to the SIS’s realness. It’s like if I mimed a pane of glass, then after stepping away, you walk across that spot, but put effort into avoiding the ‘pane’ – it gives credence to the idea that it exists.

    Its a bit funny to describe it, because you might be so used to fiction first it’d be like describing breathing to you.

  7. (The red-hairedness was actually used, but dice were unkind, and hence the zombies did not recognise their former priestess by her distinctive red hair.)

    I get the difference. A few observations:

    1. There only is a (practical) difference when the way the trait has an effect is not obvious.

    2. In actual play, what I see when a trait is not obvious is negotiation, or, perhaps, explanation. “I use opportunistic.” “Okay, what are you doing?” (Meaning what the character is doing, naturally, but I find the distinction to not be made explicit in play.) “As the witch pushes him to water I yell his men to help their leader.”

    In case no player figures out a way for the trait to be useful or even relevant, it can’t be used. Dice are only actually rolled when the corresponding action within the fiction is clear.

    How would you classify this?

  8. 1. Well, no, there’s a pretty big difference. With an after trait (system first), I can deliberately choose an action where the effect is not obvious, and that’s perfectly valid gameplay. Indeed, I can shake up gameplay that way, because instead of only the usual, obvious things happening, something utterly bizarre can happen.

    2. That’s a before trait (SIS first or fiction first, whichever name you prefer to use).

    I’m second guessing at some point its going to click with you that after traits completely reverse your second example. Like if opportunistic was an after trait:
    Player “I use opportunistic”
    GM “Okay, what are you doing?”
    Player “You tell me. You have to fit it into your narration”*
    GM “I can’t see a way to fit it in, so you can’t use it”
    Player “There isn’t a rule that says you get to call if I can use it or not. The rule is, you have to fit it into your narration. It’s an after trait, not a before trait”

    * I’m being a bit harsh here – the player could give suggestions. But at a base level, he doesn’t actually have to. So I’m presenting a ‘full force’ situation. I know I’ve written the player to be very upfront (I would say he has ‘spine’).

    I’m just kinda guessing, but I’m thinking you’d find this to be abomination. Like, really invasive of your imagined space if he can just insist you HAVE to fit his after trait use into your narration. Are you? I’m just asking cause it’s like waiting for a fire cracker to either go off, or never go off, and the tension is killing me 🙂

  9. 2. I’d think I am of the fiction first school of thought. Definitely.

    Rules of the particular game in question go as follows: Whoever is invoking a trait must describe a concrete action taken to get dice. This action must be at least tenously connected to the trait. After dice are rolled, whoever wins gets to narrate, if so willing, but others have veto power with a certain cost for using it. This narration is bounded by former narration, but not directly by the traits used.

    In practice, the justification phase often takes the form of brainstorming; people are giving ideas about how some particular trait might apply there, especially when a fellow player character is in trouble.
    The veto is very rarely used.
    Since invoking traits requires stating relevant actions which are part of the fiction, trait use does constrain the following narration, but only indirectly.

    So, in this particular game yur question does not make sense, because trait can’t be used without establishing the bit of fiction that also justifies it. In general, the approach you explained doesn’t appeal to me, but neither do I find is revulsive. It would depend on the game. It is now categorised as yet another interesting rules module, to be tried if a chance presents itself.

    1. I really don’t think fiction-first must be obvious; rather, the player must first state some surprising action or do some other clever thing. Or: cleverness takes a different shape.

    3. (New issue.) This may, or may not, be relevant: Whether fictiony or mechanical bits are dealt with first is something I see as highly situational and, in a way, incidental. This can probably be explained in me being stuck in the games I have designed and played recently, where the precise order does not matter.

  10. Well with 1, if it’s an after trait, cleverness doesn’t have to take a different shape at all.

    3. Well, it’s not situational at all – if its defined as an after trait, then it’s an after trait. Maybe you have to pay some points to use it, or wait for it to recharge, but there’s no situational element.

    I think you might not be seeing a difference, because you’d still use it like it was a before trait. You can use an after trait exactly like a before trait, if you’d choose to.

    With your zombie situation, try thinking of something that would definately not work. Tell me it here so I have some idea and can talk about it too.

    Okay, now if you had an after trait for that thing that ‘will not work’ and you use it, it works (well, if its roll beats the target number).

    Maybe something like ‘begging’ or ‘dipolomacy’ come to my mind, as things that shouldn’t work with zombies. But if its an after trait, it does work. That’s a big difference.

  11. That’s controlled by the rules involved – they’ll say when the ‘after’ trait is available for use. As I said, you might have to spend points, or wait for them to recharge over a RL time period, or maybe they only have X uses per session, or whatever.

    Basically I guess there still has to be a situation narrated that some authority (probably the GM) decides is resolved by a dice roll, then after that the ‘after’ trait can be applied for it’s dice amount.

    Did I answer your question fairly well?

  12. Can you give an example or two of games with after-style traits? I now have a concept firmly in my head and feel that the best way to see if it is the correct concept is to see an example. Alternatively, actual play report with relevant content might work.

  13. Sadly I don’t, and for the odd reason is that I have always seen ALL traits as after traits. So I can’t give you any examples of a tree, for the forrest in the way of me 🙂

    This thread http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27171.0
    This one actually enlightened me more to the idea of before traits and why a vast number of roleplayers insist (and I think yourself) insist a mechanics use must fit the narration prior to it.

    So the weird thing is I don’t have examples of after traits, because every trait is an after trait, to me. But the game talked about in that thread may have before and after traits detailed in it, and there seem to be actual play accounts given on that forum. Hope that helps more than I have 🙂

  14. See, in Ron’s description, I don’t see a (stark) difference. I see a continuum of how possible, within the existing fiction, using a trait is. (Possibility ranging from 0 to 1, with 1 meaning something existing or strongly implied, 0 something utterly surprising. Possibility is not a very good word, but I inherited it from modal logic and right now feel like using it.)

    I don’t see a qualitive difference between adding to fiction something with possibility 1 or 0 (or 1/2, for that matter).

    Things break when something contradictory is added, but whether contradictory material actually exists is a different question entirely.

  15. Well, it’s a binary, not a continuum – its either a before trait or its an after trait. If you call it a continuum, you just blur an after trait into a before trait, by fiddling with the degrees in discussion “Oh, of course you can use the after trait at will, but not that much, don’t you think!”

    As an established binary, there is no room for discussion, and thus no room for discussion to somehow blur an after trait into a before trait.

    As I understand the design, after traits are always utterly surprising, even if they don’t seem to be. It’s like if your walking along a road and find a fork in the road – it doesn’t seem surprising. But if there was no fork previously and five minutes before you got there, the hand of god reached down and made a fork in the road, well, that’s pretty surprising even if it doesn’t look it. That’s what after traits do – they are more like godlike control over the game world. That’s a stark difference, to me.

    Did Ron seem to be describing a continuum? What text seemed to suggest that?

  16. Quoting mister Edwards:

    All of this raises the practical question: does saying “I’m using this Trait” reflect {what is already happening / obviously very easily applies to what is happening} OR does it literally activate or alter the existing SIS to show that {something new or something previously hidden is now present or apparent}?

    There I see a continuum of how clear it is that the trait applies. In some cases it is obvious, in others you can’t see it at all. All roleplaying alters the fiction, sometimes in predictable, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Trait use is a special case of this.

    Maybe my position is that, if only looking at the fiction, some changes are obvious, some are less so, but there is no quantitive difference; the fiction is changed either way.

    Difference, if any, is a function of the expectations of the players, I think.

    On your example: If a fork in the road appears whre none was established before, nothing special happens. If it had been established that there was no fork, then it clearly is possible for forks in roads to appear via some strange method. In either case, the fiction is altered. One alteration is simply less expected.
    Alternatively, maybe the world in which the play happens is changed. I’ve seen that happen and even initialised the change. (A GM completely invalidated my character concept within few minutes of starting the game, so I told him so. It was redone.)

    My gut reaction is that after and before traits both can be seen as special cases of each other. I may very well be wrong, though.

  17. I think thats fair enough to say, but they are like man and women are special cases of each other. Just because they are special cases of each other, doesn’t mean they are [i]just[/i] special cases of each other.

    PS: I rather like my phrasing, saying man and women and special cases of each other…I’ll have to use that elsewhere. Sorry, just indulging myself 🙂

  18. In some discussion some time ago I said that roleplay is hard to analyse with game theory because of the essentially infinite amount of options one has at a moment. I included different fictional options in this. You objected and only considered the mechanical options.

    The reason of the above disagreement is, I think, exactly the issue handled in this discussion.

  19. I’m not sure what you mean. But yeah, the statement that you have “essentially infinite amount of options one has at a moment” doesn’t seem to be supported by evidence.

  20. Assume that trait use can do whatever the rules allow to fiction, overriding any sorts of precedence or assumptions established only inside the fiction. Now different kinds of narration with same mechanical effect can be seen as the same choice, since the fictional part (narration) can anyways be overwritten with new trait use.

    Assume that fiction works as it does and that traits must honour it, only working within the fictional framework when there is uncertainty regarding some event. Now different narration, even when there is no mechanical difference, is definitely a different action (assuming suitably different narrations).

    Position 2, which is my default one, makes different narration, by which I mean input into fiction, sufficient for marking two actions as different. By position 1 different mechanical effects are both sufficient and necessary conditions for two actions to be different. You hold position 1, assuming I am reading you correctly.

  21. By options I assumed you mean choices available to the player. Like in chess I could move this pawn or that rook – I have those options/choices as a player. That’s how I assumed you meant options.

    In your position 2, you have no options at all – you have to play traits that fit into the prior narration. You have no choice at all about that, assuming that to ‘honour it’ means to fit into prior narration absolutely (is that the correct reading?). There is no option – the only valid thing to do is to use what fits into prior narration.

    That’s why I only consider mechanical options – because there isn’t anything else to consider, as much as I can tell.

  22. Position 2: I find your statements to be very strange. One explicit, one implicit.

    Explicit one: Even if trait use must absolutely honour established fiction, I see no reason to state that there are not several traits that might fit a given situation, player having a choice between those.

    Implicit one: All the different ways fiction can go. Since fiction constrains future choices, what one narrates is a real and actual choice.

  23. “Even if trait use must absolutely honour established fiction, I see no reason to state that there are not several traits that might fit a given situation, player having a choice between those”
    In terms of what you’ve communicated to me, what absolutely honouring established fiction means is that you choose the option that honours previous fiction the most. Some minutae will ensure that one always comes out ahead of the rest, if only fractionally, and that’s the one you must choose. There is only one choice.

    If you don’t mean absolute, then describing what you mean will no doubt involve some mechanical options used – and that’s why I focus on the mechanical options.

    On the implicit: Your ‘now’ is some prior players ‘future’. Your choices are either constrained (or utterly removed) by his choice, OR if your choices aren’t affected, then his ‘real and actual’ choice was rendered moot and not real.

    This seems a system that is bent on destroying choice in the name of choice. The more future choices that are removed because of your current choice, the more your choice is empowered right now.

    Though I’m sure there will be fragments of choice left, as its hard to destroy them all – most likely the ability to change your characters hair style would remain, for example. Is choosing this sort of minutae supposed to be the thing that makes one trait potentially come ahead of another and come first in terms of absolutely honouring prior narration?

  24. In terms of what you’ve communicated to me, what absolutely honouring established fiction means is that you choose the option that honours previous fiction the most. Some minutae will ensure that one always comes out ahead of the rest, if only fractionally, and that’s the one you must choose. There is only one choice.

    Well, I’ve never imagined, much less experienced, anyone playing like that. More precisely, I don’t play like that.

    What has been established in previous play certainly constrains current play, but there are always several options. The most classical is: What does your character do/What do you do? This question is as relevant in freeform play as it is in D&D 4e combats or other extremely rules-intensive gaming.

    On constraining choices: Fictional choices constrain future play. Mechanical choices constrain future play. Rarely does either determine future play. (I might go as far as saying it would be poor game design to have fictional or mechanical choices that determine significant amounts of future play. This is just a gut feeling, though.)

    Current choices open up more future choices, even though they also close down some.

    To keep this away from utter abstraction, let us take some actual play. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’m running a game wherein players play dragons; very powerful at even young age. Right now they are trying to find out what a group of elves are up to. The elves use griffons, more powerful than young dragonlings, as guardians. What do the players do?

    Current plans include one dragon shapeshifting as a griffon, now that it knows their language. One is for the chameleon-like dragon to sneak in. One is for the loud-roaring sorcerer to attract the guardians away by roaring or sorcery. I’m sure they’ll figure out more options in the week to come. Swimming, for example, they are yet to consider.

    Anyways. Dice are used on average one and half times a session, give or take half. Yet the players are making meaningful choices frequently. Dice use is heavily regulated by fiction: We establish what are the players trying to accomplish and two things that might go wrong, then roll dice, which are assigned among the choices. So even resolution only tells what goes wrong, which is entirely fictional output. And yet plenty of choices exist.

  25. You might not play that way, but you’ve said to me trait use must honour prior narration. Atleast in how I read words, you haven’t communicated to me the rule of what you do if you say you don’t play that way.

    You have communicated what you do in play – the end result. But I have no idea of the rules that end result is derived from. Your always talking in end results, like that you use the dice on average one and a half times a session. I have no idea why that result is produced – from what rules it emerges.

    Telling me end results doesn’t tell me anything about the rules those end results are derived from. I’ll grant I could start making up a hypothesis of what the rules of your play are, from just looking at the end results. Is that all you’ll tell me? End results and leave me to form a hypothesis – which I will never be able to confirm if no one will ever tell me the actual rules involved?

    Same goes for “What does your character/what do you do?” That you’ve said it in roleplay is just reporting an end result (that it was indeed said). It doesn’t tell me anything about the rules from which it is derived, if any.

    In terms of “essentially infinite amount of options one has at a moment”, only seeing end results doesn’t tell me if there really are essentially infinite amounts of options.

  26. My gut response is to say that “we just roleplay”. It is not very helpful, however. Meaning this will be difficult. More specific questions are helpful, if you have any.

    Hopefully a helpful characterisation of my default preference is to say that decisions about what happens next/what my character does next (the same thing, really) can be made as decisions are made in real life. (Default, because I dabble in other styles, too, where the rules take more active role.)

    Player playing single character would hence decide the course of action of the character in similar way to how people make decisions in real life: By gut reactions, assuming what would happen if a certain course of action were taken, seeking more information, just doing what one has always done. There is an essentially infinite amount of options in much the same way that I have essentially infinite amount of options: Right now, I could eat, go to sleep, play a number of computer games, do math exercises, jump out of window, start cleaning, or a huge number of other activities. I am assuming free will here.

    GM (or everyone in some games) likewise considers what could happen, and picking one such course of action (or assigning probabilities and implementing a suitable stochastic process for selecting one of them) as what actually happens. For example, in the dragongame, one dragon changed shape to that of griffons. Can he communicate with them? Either way is credible. I decided to go with the middle route in that basic tone and maybe some meaning can be understood even without knowing the language (like people to some degree recognise the tone of other people speaking, even if the language is unknown). This decision done, now the players must plan and act accordingly; some avenues are closed, others opened. But next time someone shifts shape the way language works is no longer an issue, so we can focus on other material.

    Is this useful?

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