“There, I’ve got my design half built! I wonder how it actually works?”

You know, there’s this post on the first thoughts page at the forge and it sounds like the guy has made all these mechanics but is only just now deciding what the machine is for!? Building amachine and then deciding what the machine is for after or half way through? He’s now trying to get them to work in a consistent manner, he says. Consistent with what??? He had no intention when he made them, but now he wants make them to work consistently with…what? What intention? Mechanics don’t mystically just come with some sort of method – all there is is human intent, and it wasn’t there?

If someone intended to go in, knowing they had no intention and then kind of find/inventing it half way through, I get that as a sort of found art/find inspiration where you can. But it doesn’t seem to be that at all? It’s just making mechanics and then getting them to work half way through? It sounds like a sort of repeating habit of having played traditional games and then half way through having to get the damn thing working – but to actually build something and then get it working towards some goal half way through?

And as you can see, I look completely unhelpful and disruptive. And yet I think they’re all valid questions – it all looks like a big error! But I suppose on reflection, why am I that worried about someone walking into a big error? Care so much I’m disruptive? Could be.

Anyway, posting it here to get it out of my system.

Dead Game Walking

Mostly a thought experiment this one, inspired by recent discussion and a touch of excentric humour.

Take any actual play account of a gaming group you might think of. Now imagine they all had rubber knives (wont hurt anyone). And every time one of them detects that there is no way of continuing play that they have agreed with as yet, they stab everyone else! Insert this into the actual play text. After the stabbing, they’d do whatever they do in the actual play account.

I just like the imagery, because to simply say “At each of those points, the game actually ended. Then afterward they started a new game but didn’t admit it to each other” sounds drab. Also the imagery is kind of fun to talk about even if you want to ignore the hypothesis.

What ‘happened’ on game night

You know, it just struck me that roleplayers report their roleplaying sessions in terms of what actually happened. Like one might report the results of a sports or chess match.

It struck me, because if I compared that to sitting down with someone to just make up a story (humourous link) you wouldn’t, I would think, report ‘what happened’. At the time you’d have thrown together a story. But in reporting it you wouldn’t say any of the events happened.

However, roleplayers do, even when they enter straight story crafting. It’s never “So we thought it’d be a good story if a guy swung into the base from a helicopter guy rope. So we wrote that down”. It’s always “And then my PC swung into the base on the choppers guy rope!”

And I’ve always, perhaps delusionally, assumed this meant there was a desire in the general RP culture for the game rules to be like a board game or sport, where events actually happen (like losing a piece, or getting a point scored, or whatever). Because, and this is important, that’s the only way I know how something can actuallyhappen at a session. I thought, when people said their PC ACTUALLY swung into the base, they wanted rules for it as much as I could say my rook moved forward in chess, because there’s rules for that and it’s an actual event.

Because otherwise it’s just story crafting. It didn’t happen – the guy didn’t actually swing into the base in the same way a rook actually moves five squares forward or whatever. The only thing that happened is that you made up a story about a guy swinging into a base.

But it’s always reported as that’s what actually happened.

And I thought people just kept missing the fact there was no rule to what they asserted was happening, so it wasn’t happening, it was just a story they were making up. I thought they wanted an actual rule to make it actually happen, since they kept asserting events in game actually happened during play.

Although really, it’s been many years of it. Really why did I think they were missing it all this time? For years and years?

I thought there was something in common. But now? People go to sessions, just story craft amongst themselves but then assert they happened as events – when there were no rules that make them events (as I said, the only way I know to make something an actual event is to follow a rule, like in sport or chess). The only events were them talking about what story to make next and scribbling it down/remembering it. That’s all that happened – making stuff up. Which is a fine activity. But they speak about it then as if it were happening and speak about it after as if it happened.

And I always thought they wanted rules for these things, so they actually would be real events, and were just a bit confused on the fact that there weren’t any rules currently. Particularly in my own group, but also in general RP culture.

But now I think I’m looking at a culture, hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t want rules that would make an actual event, but they do want to call the story they crafted, an actual event that happened. When the only thing that actually happened was some people sitting around, making up a story together.

I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Is ‘If a jobs worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ a complete rubbish phrase?

I think I’ve subscribed to that phrase, that’s why I bring it up. But at this point in my life I reconsider it.

For example, if you were doing a task that earns you $5, but to do it ‘well’ costs $10, then it’s clearly not worth doing well, is it?

What does it cost to do it ‘well’, however ‘well’ is defined (and indeed, who defined it?)? What do you actually get out of the task?

If doing it ‘well’ costs more than what you’d get out of the task, that’s not doing it ‘well’, that’s just screwing up.

Yeah, I somehow subscribed to complete rubbish.

I’m almost thinking it was made for a caste of labourers/lower downs, because while it wouldn’t profit them at all, it’d work for whoever they laboured for.

Meh, I’ll have a pick at Penny arcade ‘Story gaming’


I’m trying to create a story that they can play and killing them seems counter intuitive. My goal when building encounters is to challenge them and push them to their limits but not murder the entire party.

Doesn’t that sound kind of contradictory (and counter intuitive) itself? I’m challenging you – but the final arbiter of whether you failed the challenge- ie, death, is completely off the books!

It’s like me giving you a really, really hard maths quiz that tests your maths limits – but no matter how many you get wrong, you always pass the quiz/you always live.

I’ve actually heard quite a few actual play accounts where players have tried to do things that would get their PC killed, to see if they could die. Ie, fail as many/all questions, to see if it’s actually possible to fail the quiz.

I think it’s classic illusionism, where even the GM has himself under an illusion – where he doesn’t really look at what he says to himself “Hey, what I just said just freaking contradicts itself!! What the hell was I thinking?”. Instead he thinks he can push them to their limit, but never actually kill them. It’s like the impossible thing before breakfast, where two mutually contradictory things are asserted as happening in the one game.

I beg of you to seriously reconsider your position
I beg of you to seriously reconsider your position

RPG’s/designers that assert jumping the shark is cool

I wrote the following at the forge, basically about kewl moves – which seem to be the big excitement for some but seem incredibly vapid from my perspective. There’s another poster there (not in that thread) who really seems to have this “OMG, way of the kewl samurai means wow moves all the time and that’s fantastic!”. And it just seems so hollow, except that perhaps it all works cause you’d be afraid to disappoint such an excited fellow. I do keep a scientific view on it though – perhaps it does work somehow and I do not currently see it. But my current evidence indicates it’s hollow.

I use the old happy days ‘Fonzie jumps the shark’ example, because if there had been a moral context to it, it might have worked (though perhaps there was one – I tried to avoid watching the show when younger). But as it was, it was just shark jumping.

Anyway, I wrote the following with a bit of a rant at the end. What might be useful to readers is the suspension of disbelief trigger I describe. Also at a philisophical level, it might be useful reflection as well.


What I was saying is this stuff only works in the context of a greater story. For example in a movie, hero guy is getting beaten up while the girl is about to be raped. And were all like “OMG, hero guy!!1! Beat them! Don’t let her be raped! OMFG!” and then he pulls off this move and it busts ass and were like “OMG yes, that’d beat their asses!!!!1!! YES!”But you know why we think that? It’s not because it necessarily makes sense or is logical. It’s because were all so damn invested in the girl not being raped we will believe in any damn excuse for it not to happen! We will engage is super duper suspension of disbelief, if it means she avoids rape. Because if you start to think about it clinically, you start having to stomich that she’s just have been raped, with no mercy and no greater good that stopped it. And we don’t want to accept something like that! Inside ourselves we shout out at a moral level that should not happen – and when that special move occurs we grasp onto that as the reason why it would not. THAT’s why it works in the movies!

Now strip out that moral context – the hero’s being beaten up and…he’s just being beaten up. They’re not even gunna kill him. Do we believe his special move works?

That’s what you’ve got here with body of fire – special move with no moral context to initiate a suspension of disbelief. You might say that’s up to the GM to write the uber story – but really everybody already owns a game where it’s up to the GM in this particular way.

That’s as I understand the issues of design. Hope I’m not just dropping this on you, as it actually seems to be (from my perspective) a wider problem in game design, where people go “Oh yeah, and then we shot the monkey cannon and backflipped onto the flying whale and it was awwwwwesome!” and I really think are you guys just working yourselves up so you can say it worked? I mean, my god, if it stopped the poor blind girl being killed, that’s an awesome way to save that girl! But without some moral context, it’s just colour and movement. No, it is not awesome. If you can actually do a backflip in RL, I’m impressed – but that you just talked the backflip talk in game – no, not awesome.