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An interesting take on "fictional positioning" and adversity in RPGing

pemerton

Legend
I was poking around Ron Edwards's Adept Play website and found this interesting video:


The notional topic is about torches in tunnels in dungeon-oriented RPGing, and if/how we might want to think about fire and smoke and air quality. But there is a lot that he talks about of a more general nature.

He uses two (non-literal) labels to characterise, and contrast, elements of the fiction:

furniture -​
elements of the content that are mere colour but not really dynamic aspects of play (eg typically the leaves of the trees in a forest, which appear only as part of the GM's atmosphere-establishing narration, might be like this; also the guards who are narrated as standing on the parapets when the GM narrates the PCs' entry into a walled city);

people - elements of the content that have, or are expected to have, some sort of "life" in play - like the NPCs who push back against what the PCs want (or attack them, or whatever) or the doors which get in the way of the PCs and the traps which attack the PCs and so on.​

One point he makes is that a lot of furniture is implicit - eg if the GM has narrated those guards it probably follows that they have helms and some sort of arms and armour, even though the GM hasn't actually spelled that out. Or if the GM narrates the ruins of a banquet hall with its tables and wooden seats and fireplace with a mantlepiece, even if an old candelabra isn't mentioned it's easily understood as implicitly there.

A second point he makes is that furniture can "awaken" and become a person. Eg if a player has his/her PC insult a guard that was merely furniture then the GM (exercising authority over the guard as an element of the fiction) might have the guard speak back or even strike back. A lot of the interest and excitement of RPGing comes from this sort of thing. But maybe it's also a point of potential conflict at the table, if it's not clear what the principles are according to which furniture "awakens", especially if it "awakens" into adversity to the PCs?

A third point he makes is that a lot of what we might call "skillful" play - or that, in D&D, might fall under the heading "creative use of magic" - occurs when the players identify implicit elements of the furniture, and "awaken" them. Some of that is old hat by now, like standard uses of Transmute Rock to Mud, but this is where a lot of creativity in problem solving is to be found. The video doesn't say anything about how this sort of action declaration might be resolved, but I think it's interesting just to have it called out as a distinctive and important aspect of RPGing.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I haven't watch the video, but (furniture/people terminology aside) that seems like a reasonable broad overview of the contents of the world. I imagine most of us think of it in a similar way, though they might term it differently (fluff, or descriptive elements, or something).
 

pemerton

Legend
I haven't watch the video, but (furniture/people terminology aside) that seems like a reasonable broad overview of the contents of the world. I imagine most of us think of it in a similar way, though they might term it differently (fluff, or descriptive elements, or something).
There's certainly nothing magical about the terminology. But I think the careful attention to the range of ways in which furniture can "awaken" - including at player as much as GM instigation - is interesting.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
There's certainly nothing magical about the terminology. But I think the careful attention to the range of ways in which furniture can "awaken" - including at player as much as GM instigation - is interesting.
I mean, I'm not sure if it's useful. It's just what everybody does naturally. It's a bit like saying "I've noticed that the world is divided into two types of things: things which move, and things which don't move". Sure, it's true, but what are the applications of this observation?

(Admittedly I haven't watch the video, just responding to the post).
 

TheSword

Legend
I’d like players to be comfortable taking those assumptions about furniture (both descriptive and actual furniture) and fold those into their decision making and action planning without being led to it.

If my player says I want to grab the guards cloak and trap it in the tower door. I can say sure X is the outcome. Or ask for a roll. Without having to prompt the PCs with elaborate descriptions of every element.

It will take time but I need to think of the best way to enable this in my games. Not shutting it down by responding ‘the guard isn’t wearing a cloak’ would be a good start. But I don’t think that alone will be enough.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I mean, I'm not sure if it's useful. It's just what everybody does naturally. It's a bit like saying "I've noticed that the world is divided into two types of things: things which move, and things which don't move". Sure, it's true, but what are the applications of this observation?

(Admittedly I haven't watch the video, just responding to the post).
See @TheSword's post for one instance. More generally but in the same vein, a table may wish to think about who has what sort of authority over "awakening" furniture, especially implicit furniture.

A designer may wish to think about what elements of the fiction to default to "furniture".
 

TheSword

Legend
See @TheSword's post for one instance. More generally but in the same vein, a table may wish to think about who has what sort of authority over "awakening" furniture, especially implicit furniture.

A designer may wish to think about what elements of the fiction to default to "furniture".
What methods can we use to awaken furniture the way you suggest, other than by the DM leading by example with NPCs doing it?
 

pemerton

Legend
What methods can we use to awaken furniture the way you suggest, other than by the DM leading by example with NPCs doing it?
I think one approach is basing it on checks - maybe Streetwise (to "awaken" a NPC who was merely colour) or some sort of appropriate knowledge/cultural familiarity check in the case of the implicit colour in (say) a city, or how NPCs are dressed like your cloak example.

I believe you mostly play D&D 5e, and as you can probably guess from the previous paragraph I'm not quite sure what the right skill/check framework is for that system.

Another option is just to "say 'yes'" to the players, but that can lead to them "awakening" their way out of a lot of conflicts/challenges which may not be desirable. Checks give you a chance to turn the tables if the check fails, narrating something adverse instead.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But I don’t think that alone will be enough.

No, it won't be. Folks who play video games are generally aware of this concept - that much of what they see is window dressing that cannot be interacted with in a meaningful way, and their job is to seek out the predetermined bits that aren't, which is pretty much opposite of what you're going for here.

So, it is rather like saying that you want the players to consider actions beyond what the rules lay out for them.

Broadly speaking (so, admitting there are some individuals who don't hold to this) players will gravitate to actions they expect will have some reasonable, or at least known, chance of success. That which is based on assumptions does not fit in that category, until you firmly establish that the assumptions the players make are reliably correct. That requires either mechanics that directly support such, or some long practice leading them to it until they internalize the possibility.
 

I have found that once players get comfortable with Fate, they will interact with anything and expect that it becomes as important as anyone cares it to be. A strong concept ion fate is that of the "Fate Fractal" -- which basically says that you can detail anything in as much or as little detail as you wants and (importantly) that this is normal.

So when I tell a player that there's a guard on a door, they know that if they start talking and interacting with the guard, that I'll add aspects to her and make her more fully fleshed out. And if I mention she has a nice-looking gun and the players steal it, they know that too will be fleshed out. And so on and so on.

From the point of view of system like Fate, the concept of "awakening" something to seems actually a bit old-fashioned. Your detailed character that you've been playing for a decade is just "grizzled piratical space captain" to the guard, and the guard is just "bored looking guard-for-hire" to the player -- one is no more furniture than the other, and when they interact, either players or GM don't need to change the state of either from "furniture" to "alive" -- they just decide how much detail they care about exploring today.

90% of the time, the guard will not be of interest to anyone and will be treated superficially. But all it takes is a player to say "how bored is this guard?" or "Is this guard human?" and I'll whip out a flash card and soon the guard will have more detail

As an example, in my Mindjammer campaign, I have an NPB "Seb, Caravan Leader" who the players wanted more info about beyond the three words I had given to him and so they uncovered some more aspects about him, including that he had some followers, and so I then fractal out his followers (see below for the Fate fractal on his organization) and now it looks like they're going to set him up as leader of the planet.

But the important thing for this convo is that the players know that every single person or item they meet has the same degree of detail there. It's potential, but no character is ever "furniture" turned into "real". There is no mental division in GM or player's minds that says one is just set dressing, and so players feel very comfortable asking for more detail. And a Fate GM who says "he's just a guard" is either trying to finish the session off in reasonable time (which I respect!) or not really doing the best job they could.




New Vision Merchants
Merchant Sub-Culture / Scale 2

Memes
  • Seb is the only leader with a true vision for the future
  • Individuals exist to serve the state
  • Survival is the priority
  • Violence is a tool, like anything else
Skills
+3 Security +2 Resources
+1 Contacts, +1 Structure

Stunts / Special

  • Mole: Your organization has long-term sleeper agents. For a fate point, once per session, you can declare you have one in a target organization.
  • Armament: Excellent equipment means successful security actions cause +2 stress

Stress and Consequences
Physical: O O O
Mental: O O
Credit: O O O

Minor (+2) ________________________________________
Moderate (+4) _____________________________________
 
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