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.



  1. Tommi said,

    6 May, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Assuming the GM has some standard (that’s not a good word; criteria; principle is better, I think)…

    So, assuming the GM has some principle to go with, then the decision making is not arbitrary in that it is not ruled by whim, chance or impulse, but rather by the principle and reason.

    It is still arbitrary in that it is based on individual judgement.

    (I used the two first definitions as provided by ).

    The fiction is a powerful force when it is accepted to be a powerful force. It is not a powerful force in the same sense that gravity (or electromagnetic force or the other two) is a powerful force. I don’t think this is controversial. I don’t think anyone is claiming that fiction is something that can exert physical influence.

  2. Callan said,

    8 May, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Hi Tommi,

    I’m pretty sure I’ve previously brought up the subtle yet important distinction between ‘it is’ and ‘it can be (something similar)’, and gotten into quite alot of discussion? 😮 🙂

  3. Tommi said,

    8 May, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Well, in this case specifically: Fiction has the potential to be a powerful force in play. Almost all roleplay that I have taken part in have used fiction as an important adjudication method, so this power is often realised. Hence, it is a powerful force.

    (The exceptions were Universalis and one experimental game that I created several years ago; a Donjon clone that did not really work.)

  4. Callan said,

    10 May, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Gah, Tommi! Your blurring ‘could be’ into ‘is’. It’s like saying a battering ram IS a powerful force, when it’s just sitting on the ground. And what were talking about doesn’t even have a physical presence like an inert battering ram has.

    And in regard to ‘adjudication’, I think your using it as if it would meet my defintion of adjudication, when it doesn’t.

  5. Tommi said,

    11 May, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Say, we are defending a castle from sieging army and then we notice that they have a battering ram, whereas before they had only used siege ladders and archers. We’ll do our best to figure out a way to disable their new weapon or counter it or at least mitigate the damage it will cause. Still, none of this the battering ram physically caused.

    On more general level: There mere existence, mere potential, influences the actions of people. Would you cause such a factor a force? I would. I’m trying to see if our definitions match at all here.

    What do you mean by adjudication?

  6. Callan said,

    13 May, 2009 at 1:20 am

    The force that animates their actions is not in front of their eyes, it is behind them. Perceiving that force to instead exist in the battering ram, is a perceptual error.

    And I don’t mean anything by adjudication – I haven’t used the word 🙂

  7. Tommi said,

    13 May, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Force: That has something to do with causality. Okay, I got it now. Regardless, I’d say that in context of roleplaying I am justified in thinking of anything that influences human behaviour as a force. You are free to disagree, of course, but what we are doing is disagreeing on definitions, not necessarily the actual substance, which is what matters.

    Adjudication: If you don’t mean anything by it then how can my usage of the word not fit your definition? Your definition is by your claim the empty set, so whatever meaning I give to adjudication, it can’t conflict your definition.

  8. Callan said,

    14 May, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Were not talking about what does influence human behaviour. Were talking about what can influence human behaviour. It’s like that guy who decided for a year to take the bible literally. It’s not that the bible does influence his behaviour, it’s that it can and he decided to let it influence his behaviour.

    Deciding to let something influence your behaviour is alot different from something that just does influence your behaviour. But your blurring ‘letting’ into ‘does’. The prediction is that in five to eight years that distinction will be commonly held. I’m sitting five to eight ahead of my time, I’ll say in case anyone reads it at that latter point, so as to indicate “Yes, that’s where he was, back then. And he knew it”.

    With adjudication, I wasn’t trying to convey any meaning to you in using the word. So I can’t clarify what I ‘mean’ by adjudication. If you just wanted my defintion, I don’t see the profit (over effort) of defining – I was just trying to avoid a pothole I percieved in two people using the word differently. I just want to avoid the pothole, not fill it in.

  9. Tommi said,

    14 May, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Difference between can and does: Of course.

    I’m just saying that when talking roleplaying games, or more generally about games or play, the entire activity is very much voluntary. Following rules is voluntary. Respecting setting is voluntary. So, I think that in order to discuss roleplaying games meaningfully one must accept the power of voluntary restrictions. One can’t talk about play otherwise. (One can talk about rules as formal systems, though, but that is only one and very narrow way of viewing games and play.)

  10. Callan said,

    15 May, 2009 at 7:54 am

    I dunno. We might be talking past each other. But I’ll say that it isn’t a voluntary restriction, as I understand it. It’s like allowing yourself to have your knee tapped – and it gives its reflex reaction. That’s the opposite of restriction. It’s actually lowering a restriction you normally have (normally you don’t allow people to tap your knee, yeah?). Allowing the prior narrated material to move you is similar – its not a voluntary restriction or inhibition of action – quite the opposite. It’s a responce upon contact, not a restriction of behaviour.

    I’ve made the distinction of ‘can be’ and ‘does’ because the way someone responds to it depends alot on who they are as a person and what they decide to do. Like with my bible example – two people following it for a year may behave in very different ways. Those different ways don’t come from voluntary restriction, it comes from the exuberance they have after coming into contact with whatever parts of the bible they end up coming into contact with.

    Probably what you’d describe as in your own play as respecting setting and restriction, I’d call exuberance after coming into contact with fictional materials.

    And exuberance has no structure that we can talk about except by an individual to individual case – it just manifests as it will, in each individual.

    As far as I can tell, there is no ‘power’ there to talk about. Just the way an individuals exuberance might explode upon contact with fiction.

    So I’m lost here – following rules is a voluntary restriction. But responce to fiction isn’t, as far as I see it?

  11. Callan said,

    16 May, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I’m thinking about it, Tommi and I’m thinking you mean something like this. A voluntary rules restriction is like that your character sheet gives you +3 to hit on top of a D20. If you roll a 12, then you add it up to 15. Not 18, not 3, a 15. Of course its voluntary that you follow that, but declaring anything but 15 is not following that.

    Now in contrast, I think your thinking if the setting rule was, say, “No unicorns” then you’d say that’s voluntarily respecting the setting. And you’d probably say that if someone came up with a donkey with a horn on its snout, that isn’t following that restriction as much as, in the above example, a 18 or 3 is not following the voluntary restriction?

    If you were inclined to call the former example cheating, you’d call the latter a clear cut case of cheating too?

  12. Tommi said,

    17 May, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I think about it on more abstract level but the point remains. Fictional restrictions tend to be fuzzy, though. I suggest reading a bit on fuzzy logic, as it makes thinking about fuzzy sets much more precise.

    So, the latter would probably be a case of breaking the established rules. I’ll have to mention that rule such as “no unicorns” feels very strange; artificial, I’d say.

  13. Callan said,

    18 May, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I can’t see any established rules, in that regard. I can follow the voluntary rule of D20+3 for a to hit roll, so clearly I am capable of percieving that rule and following it. I can’t see any pre established rules in the fuzzy logic your talking about.

    I don’t want to get into ‘orbiting teapot’* territory, where I have to disprove something you’ve not given any evidence toward these rules having indeed been established. Saying it’s fuzzy logic doesn’t add any evidence, as far as I can tell.

    Five to eight, the teapot will have faded away.

    * The old Richard Dawkins example of a teapot orbiting the sun, but so small telescopes can’t see it. Can we prove it’s not there? No. Is that a reason to take it to heart that it is there – hardly.

  14. Tommi said,

    18 May, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I am explaining a model, not presenting evidence. Once you understand the model I am trying to explain you can use it or or not use it, up to you. I hope you can see how this is different from proving something.

    First a bit on fuzzy logic. Standard binary logic assigns every proposition the value of true or false (1 or 0). It is used in mathematics and information technology and possibly other fields. Fuzzy logic generalises binary logic to the interval [0,1] (or sometimes some smaller interval, but we’ll work with the largest usual one). So, propositions have truth values between 0 and 1, inclusive. Truth value 0 means something is false, 1 means that something is true, and 1/2 means that something is partially true. Fuzzy logic (which is as exact as all other logic and mathematics) deals with concept such as “hot”. Is the weather hot? Zero degrees is certainly not hot (degrees in celsius; I can use Kelvin if you find it easier), while thirty degrees is hot (in Finland, at least). What about 20 degrees?Maybe it is hot, maybe not. I could assign it hotness 3/4, for example.

    I think fuzzy logic is a good model for how fiction is handled when roleplaying. “There is a featureless plain ahead of you.” implies that there are no high towers there. “There is a castle in front of you.” tells that maybe there are high towers, but does not say it explicitly. “There are high towers in front of you.” tells it explicitly. The way I think about this is that the case gives the proposition “There are high towers.” very low truth value, maybe even zero. The third one gives it very high value, perhaps one. The middle one gives some intermediate value, like 2/3.

    That is, in fiction, there are constantly a huge amount of uncertainties, but some things are much more uncertain (or certain) than others. People are far more willing to accept something in the fiction once it has been foreshadowed; that is, it has truth value above zero and higher is better. Likewise, adding something with very low truth value to the fiction may meet undue resistance. Armour made of few hairpins, say.

  15. Callan said,

    18 May, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    I don’t really see the difference between describing a model and proving something? If the model relies on something that just isn’t possible or isn’t there, then that model collapses. In order for me to understand it as a model, it must be a model that does not collapse. Otherwise any potential understanding collapses.

    In terms of fuzzy logic, I have dealt with it in the distant past but looking at its wikipedia article, it notes that it’s subjectively set. That while there might be truth values, what triggers a truth value is someones subjective opinion. You even indicate this yourself with your reference to 30 degrees is hot…atleast in Finland. It’s all subjective – and the model collapses as a structure at that point, because the prior arranged agreement rests upon stuff the other person couldn’t possibly know – ie, the subjective settings that person works from. Only the law has the chutzpah to declare and operate on the hypocritical attitude that ‘ignorance is no defence’. For anyone else operating from the model that people have agreed to things they had no idea about, is operating from a collapsing model.

    Over in the “Fiction ‘Material reference’ mechanic” thread, we talked about people trying to answer in the same way other people would answer, because it’s fun. The operative word is trying, because it is merely second guessing the other person. The actual agreement isn’t that cars operate the same, for example. The REAL agreement is to second guess how everyone else thinks cars work, then because/if it’s fun to support that shared undersanding, it’s fun to give an answer that fits that shared understanding. That’s fun! That’s a social contract that is entirely doable.

    While you are, or appear to be, describing a social contract that rests directly on this fuzzy logic – and thus a social contract that rests on agreements with things people had no idea about. And that to answer ‘invisible unicorns!’ would actually be a breach of social contract – like cheating or even like kissing someone elses girlfriend (not the same level of betrayal, but still a betrayal). So it not only doesn’t work, its actually very dangerous in social terms.

    I think it’s possible, especially in light of you seeming to think the material reference thread is okay, that what you want to do is entirely doable. But the way you try to get to it, the social contract you try to get there by, is one that cannot hold itself up and will collapse. And take everyone with it.

    Well, maybe the ‘take everyone with it’ is too much. But that gameplay operates off ‘fuzzy logic’ does not mesh with prior agreement, because of the hidden subjective values.

    But an agreement that its fun to try and answer as everyone else would and it’s not a big deal to fail at that but we should keep giving it a go because of the fun factor? That works. And that doesn’t involve fuzzy logic – it just involves second guessing other people on how they imagine stuff.

  16. Tommi said,

    19 May, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    On models: They don’t need to be real to be useful. Even natural sciences use flawed models all the time (some of the assumptions made by classic mechanics are flat out wrong, as shown by the theory of relativity). When it comes to humanities, there being several contradictory models is not a problem; all of the can’t be true, but all of them can be useful.

    On fuzzy logic: People don’t have perfectly same understanding of how things are or work, but they do have fairly similar understandings. I’ve said this before. Do you disagree?

  17. Callan said,

    19 May, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    This slipped off topic/off course a couple of posts ago and I didn’t catch it then. You said “I think about it on more abstract level but the point remains”, but now you say your just describing a model.

    I’ve been engaging your idea that the point remains – this description of a model, if it’s not there to prove that point, is off topic. In case we don’t get back to it, I’ll wrap up by saying I don’t see the point as having been made/the point does not remain.

  18. Tommi said,

    20 May, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    The model is the more abstract level I think in. It also illustrates how fiction restricts the way one can add more fiction. Is it in any sense true? That I don’t know.

    What is clear is that something similar happens in actual play all the time. Fiction restricts further fictional input. Most rules also restrict further fictional input. My model is the way I think about this process. You are free to disregard it, of course, if some other model is more useful for you.

    Regardless, could you answer the question I asked at the end of my previous post? It has come up at least twice already and is likely to manifest yet again.

  19. Callan said,

    21 May, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Well, were 98% genetically similar to orangutans, or some such high percentage. A little difference goes a long way.

    And I don’t agree that they ‘do’ have similar understandings. By chance, often darwinistic chance, people often have similar understandings, I’d agree with that. But I don’t agree they ‘do’ have similar understandings, like its something that exists like gravity. Gravity just exists – understanding between men may exist. Indeed, it’s kind of chilling that way.

  20. Tommi said,

    21 May, 2009 at 9:23 am

    That similar understanding is what I am talking about.

    I think I’d have hard time roleplaying with people from entirely different cultural background.

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