Train is over when it…HEY!

From the twitter of bbrathwaite,

Someone took a souvenir from Train at #g4c. If you inadvertently took it, please return it. It was a Terminus card. Thanks.

You might know of Brenda Brathwaites game ‘Train’. There’s a rule in it “Train is over when it ends.”

If you’ve been watching ‘play this thing’ there’s a few…I dunno how you’d put it? Don’t get what you started the activity for, games? An older one is “The Graveyard”. Another is “Vampires”. With a few others as well. “Fathom” has the subtitle of ‘pleasantly fucking with your head’ in the review, even (taking it the review is in tune with what the authors think of these sorts of games).

And I’m rather skeptical of what I consider to be a bait and switch for shock and awe design. Most notably BECAUSE the player has no way to affect the author at a similar level.

Until now, it seems.

As much as I can see art in a game that acts like it will give control but doesn’t (graveyard), or massively changes the theme to give a fixed message, I can see art in taking the card.

Mind you, the person was probably just souveniring/stealing. Which is a shame because I could see the art in it. Because when you start stripping away the boarders, you don’t just strip them away for the other person – you strip your own boarders away as well.

“You can do(type) anything!”

Just a comment by a poster called Seth, over on an applied game design thread about text parsers, reminded me of something.

Ah, nostalgia. Personally I loved the (false) feeling that you could type anything into a text parser and potentially get a result. The multiple choice option makes it far easier than trying to get into the designer’s head but at the price of removing the veil.

I like that caveat, that quick note of how it was a false feeling, yet acknowledging the feeling could be enjoyed(loved) anyway. And especially noting how the ‘veil’ was lost – directly referencing it as simply a bit of a fun illusion.

Ah, I wish I could talk in these terms, in relation to table top design, all the time. I really do. Bit lonely that way.

Fiction ‘Material reference’ mechanic

I was thinking about a discussion in the ‘Roots’ thread here and at ‘anyway’ about materially referring to the fiction.

In roots I’ve argued with Josh that no matter how much you refine your understanding of the imaginative space, you still don’t make contact with an agreement.

But here’s an idea…

Okay, the focus is on scrap metal and what’s good enough to repair a point of your armour, in this example.

The GM describes the piece of metal. Players can ask questions or whatever.

The thing is, the player has, by the rules, the ability to write down that the scrap gives a point of repair. It’s actually the players choice.

BUT in play it’s simply presented as the GM describing some scrap metal and then the player, should it appear to them as being able to repair armour, says “Okay, so that’s a point of armour repaired”. The GM never gives them a point of armour repaired. They refer ‘materially’ to the prior narration/description, and by refering to it they ‘know’ whether they can repair some armour. The description and such does not refer to the players ability to choose – it just describes what the metal looks like, and the player refers materially to the fiction to determine if he gets a point of repair. We don’t wave flags around with “Players choice” printed on them.

“BUT BUT”, you might say, “I would just always give myself the armour no matter if the description was of a rusted hairpin!”

And here I throw my hands in the air and shrug? I don’t know how so many gamers can say they are so much into imagination, but then say they are utterly and uncontrollably compelled to ditch the imaginative world and just always give themselves the point?

Even if you were playing gamist, it can be taken as adding personal challenge, by not giving yourself the armour when it’s a rusty hairpin. That acknowledgement of extra difficulty taken might take some extra organising at the start, but it’s still entirely doable.

Or am I just imagining this response and most readers would say “Oh yeah, I’d just go with whether it seemed to give me an armour point or not”? I’m really anticipating that former response though, and from people who think they can just materially refer to the imagined space already. Which seems a total contradiction to me.

Anyway, I really quite like the idea of this. It…how to put it? It decouples direct currency exchange? Like if you have 32 points to distribute on stats, that’s just a direct currency hand over to the player. But here the GM does not hand over any points. He just describes the metal. That’s all he does. Then the player gets a point! It’s not a point that’s handed over, it just kind of manifests from the imagined world – from that fluffy cloud Vincent keeps drawing.

That sounds rather nice to me – not earth shattering. But really nice. I think it might help give a feeling that usually only develops after an hour or so in my play experiences. Reflecting on that, that’s because after an hour the players are usually relying on something the GM’s said, in order to operate, rather than on the pure stats/currency the char gen gave them.

I often think of how my designs atleast start with a stark currency exchange. With this rule, they still would be a currency exchange. But at the same time it seems to draw from the imagined world. The world were trying to be inspired by, and so more attention to it as the source is a good thing.

Imagination coupler, Mk. 2

Not that the rest of the roleplay community works within the idea of artistic expressions, but something struck me about that today and I thought I’d have a chat with myself about it!

It occured to me that someone elses art can just be flat out boring to you. This isn’t terribly controversial – I’m sure we all like some types of music or paintings, but to other types of them we go ‘Meh’, while other people might hail them. Not controversial.

But it struck me that if I took a board game and plugged in spaces for artistic expression to occur (like someone describing their characters move), I’m putting in work and effort into something that, if I look at it calmly, can not be exciting at all. It could be entirely boring, simply because I don’t dig the art the other person expresses at that point.

Why add something that adds nothing? The art has a chance, perhaps a fair chance, of adding nothing. Indeed, why go out of my way to fit it into something which would have worked perfectly well as a board game? Why spoil a good board game will dull blanks? In fact, go to the effort of filling a good board game with dull blanks? It doesn’t make sense, yet that only just occurs to me.

So I thought about it and realised I’ve sought of thought along these lines before and suddenly a hybrid appeared in my mind (and some steam wafted out of my ears). Basically I’ve thought of an imagination coupler before, but it was fairly rudimentry – the classic “Get +2 to hit if the GM feels prior narrations would grant that”.

Here it’s slightly more complex. Say you had three moves (how many doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s atleast two/a choice). Upper Cut, Roundhouse, Flying Kick.

Now the first thing is that as designer, I choose moves that atleast I find exciting. So these are all exciting options that thrill me, the designer – instant reward for designing! The second thing is, the player chooses one of these moves as his move, BUT he can also describe his move. And if the GM so whishes, he can construct a bonus to hit and damage that suits that narration (perhaps working within a certain budget – how much he spends of the budget depends on how poweful he feels the prior narration was). Or the GM can just take it that the move they stated, happens. The third thing? The player gets the stats described to him and can either choose to take it OR the previous move he stated (which was one of the following: Upper Cut, Roundhouse, Flying Kick).

The good thing about this coupler is that something I as designer think is exciting, will always happen! No ‘dull art’ moments. Either one of the moves happens, or in play if I as GM think the art is exciting, then it gets implemented (assuming the player goes with it – if they don’t, they go with one of the pre set exciting moves). There is only what I think of exciting – there is no forcing imagined moves into the design, even though they can pan out dull as dog poo.

Prediction #1

Over here on the anyway site, Jesse Burneko says this in comment #28

So there’s all these fictional aesthetic calls that dictate how the dice move around. And yes, the GM has the final say over that. But it’s not *arbitrary.* It’s all usually very clear when it’s actually happening because the fiction is a much more powerful force than people give it credit for.

My prediction is that in five to eight years from now roleplayers will say of the following “Everyone knows that”: It is arbitrary – it’s as arbitrary as the GM is, or as arbitrary as the GM wants to be arbitrary. It’s just that the GM can try not to be arbitrary – he can try and syncronise with other peoples notions and prior narrations. And so can everyone else at the table. They can all try to support an illusion that it isn’t arbitrary, and most people can do a fair to good job of giving that, as much as most people can follow the instructions of a magic trick such that the illusion that magic has occured, is constructed.

People will say “Everyone knows” that the fiction isn’t a powerful force, but if everyone throws their weight behind it and acts as if it is a powerful force, then in terms of practical ramifications, it is as if it is a powerful force. The illusion it is a powerful force and many practical ramifications of it being a powerful force, will exist – if everyone throws their weight behind it. In the same way as votes for women or the abolishment of slavery exist as a powerful force with physical ramifications, if people throw their weight behind those ideas.

My pretend responce to: Actual RP in MMORPGs and World of Warcraft (split)

Again, I thought I was posting too much here, so I drop off my reply here, so it atleast get to stretch its legs somewhere:

I think a philisophical gulf is that real life is “kill a goblin, get a reward”, at its base. Even if it’s just harvesting a crop of plants (or cutting down rainforest, if you want an example that nips at the emotions a bit more). Various media like books and film typically examine what we kill and what for. The thing is, not everyone who watches or reads them set out to think about that. Sometimes the movie or book inspires them to do so, which is great. But they didn’t need to think about it.

I think with roleplay, particularly the story now variety, all participants need to go in with that desire to examine the process of killing for reward, because otherwise it just becomes flat out depiction of “kill a goblin, get a reward” without examination of that process. The more participants who go in without that desire to examine, the more gameplay merely depicts “Kill goblin for reward” than examines it.

The thing is, in a movie or book the author doesn’t have to mechanically fight with other peoples mechanical input, to depict some examination of the process. So he can depict an examination fairly strongly and that often inspires others to examine the process too. If, however, he has limited mechanical resources to do so and other people coming in have no desire to examine the process…

Well, it’s just a hypothesis, but the lack of desire to examine the kill process, will swamp the activity.

Which actually makes me think of how simulationism seemed to take over roleplay, over its history.

Agreeing to agree with what you don’t agree with. Yup.

I’m looking at this, and it kind of reminds me of the ‘it’s true’ vs ‘treating it as true’ discussions I’ve had lately. I’ll quote from it.

(b) The player in question, let’s call him Abe, trusts G.M. to fulfill her responsibility rightly, and she in fact makes good. When she makes a surprising call – which she does, that’s part of what makes her good at this – even when it’s against Abe personally, he can always see its rightness.

See’s its rightness? But someone can always have something in their imagination that makes you go WTF?

Further, not only does it clash with your own imagination – but it being ‘right’ in any commonly used notion of the word ‘right’? I mean commonly used outside the cul de sac that is roleplay culture.

Take this from a forge thread I’m posting in

I think this question starts right out in the social contract (then from there, pierces straight into the very moment of play). What have your players agreed to? Is it

A. You call how much an actions worth and which outcome it applies to. Players accept that, even if it doesn’t match their idea of sense at all. They are good sports about it if it doesn’t make sense to them. But if it does match their idea of sense of how the game world works, everyone enjoys that syncronicity between you. So either everyones fine with you making your call, or their happy! It’s win/win! Well, fine/win!

I think this can be agreed to, because you don’t agree to see what they rule as ‘right’, you just agree they get to make the call.

I was going to add that there could also be an agreement to try and somehow fit in the GM’s call, and find some way that it might make sense atleast in a small way. Put in a bit of effort to doing so, even if you can’t find a way. Take an example of Vincents, from his thread

So put ’em together and what you’ve got is (pardon the crudity, this is an approximately real example of J’s of a time when magic felt magical to him): with plain rockets your character’s rocket launcher obviously won’t hurt Tiamat, but if your rocket launcher fires dildos instead, maybe then it can.

In such a case I would put some effort into thinking how that could fit. And hell, ideas on how it would fit are already coming to mind – things about sex magic and fertility being counter to the dreadful shadow of destruction, or some shit. That came up in half a second, it seems. Give me longer and I could probably flesh it out considerably!

It’s all entirely possible and I think has the very same practical effects that Vincent wants. But agreeing to see the rightness??!! I don’t think the human mind works that way? I’m talking at almost a mechanical level here – how synapses fire and connect, almost. Agreeing to agree with things you don’t agree with? That sentence hurts my head, let alone the notion! But apparently I’m not qualified to comment cause I don’t own and haven’t played certain books.

I don’t think I’m disruptive. The practical effects desired, I think are entirely achieveable. I just don’t think they are achieved in this way and not only that, I think this way is perhaps damaging? (if it weren’t damaging, eh, it wouldn’t matter)

Edit: Though it occurs to me that perhaps my set up from above is for a somewhat more detached from/less passionate about the fiction play. For example, Ralph (valamir) speaks here (comment #93)

For me personally I can’t reconcile these two things:

1) Maintaining internal consistancy / making the world seem realistic / preserving the genre tropes is very important to me and something I value highly in the game I’m about to play.


2) I’m willing to completely cede all responsibility and authority for doing so to someone else and 100% go whereever they lead regardless of where that is.

For me…if its really important to me, I’m going to want — expect — a say in how it goes down. If I don’t care whether I have a say, if I’m willing to just let a GM do whatever…that pretty much means its not that important to me and I’m really not into it.

Like the time I played OctaNe. Completely ridiculously stupid plot…but because I totally wasn’t into the gonzo wierdness anyway I just let it go and played along waiting for the game to end so I could go do something else.

So when you say: “Well, in Storming the Wizard’s Tower in particular, the game’s world’s internal logic and causality isn’t communally owned, it’s the GM’s. Bob’s obligation (his “recourse”) is to reevaluate, from the ground up if necessary, his own sense of how the game’s world works. To bring his own sense of reasonable causality into line with the GM’s. At the very least to extend the GM every benefit of the doubt.”

My reaction is “fuck that shit”. If that’s my only recourse, then I can’t see why I would ever want to play that game…at all. I’m not saying I’m a control freak and want to be able to say every single little thing…but if something winds up being important to me I’m going to want more than just the expectation that I have to be the one to change my mind.

With the structure I outline, things don’t wind up being important to you because your either giving the GM the nod to make the call, or by chance it matches up with your sense of realism and you know it was by chance.

And of course Ralph made universalis, which has a large number of procedures for handling this when it gets important.

I’m kind of thinking what were looking at is the divide of sim/gamism(or nar, for that matter). Either you support that importance Ralph talks about, but then it becomes the preoccupation of play, or you do my procedure and that kind of importance and passion will not show up.