• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

More DMing analysis from Lewis Pulsipher

billd91

Earl of Cornbread
Isn't that the same thing? GM gimmies and freebies are metagame advantages; the only difference seems to be that they are not controlled by the player. I can see how this would trade control for both an easy life and perhaps easier immersion, as long as the players remain unaware of the metagame balancing that is going on. A player who becomes aware of the metagame boosting, however, might find it irritating.
I strongly suspect it is not what pemerton meant. My guess is he would prefer it built into the character's abilities by the rules of the game and a known quantity to the player rather than based on the game management skills of the GM.
 
that doesn't seem to me to change the fundamental truth that there are two quite separate mechanisms at work:

1) The desire to have the game-world fully reflected in the rules, and hence conversely have the physics of the game world defined by the rules (the rules may "dictate" the world, but the players dictate the rules used, so it really is two way - the determining direction is just a matter of timing).

2) The desire to roleplay using a setting (game-world) that is to some extent familiar and felt to be understood, which means including a healthy dollop of either "reality" or genre (or, most usually, both).
Your description of mechanism (1) moves from "reflected" to "physics".

The gameworld can be "reflected" in the rules without the rules being any sort of "physics" of the gameworld, because (for instance) the rules produce world-appropriate outcomes in a transparent fashion that can be seen just by reading the rules.

I would say it is entirely possible to play Toon using the system as a literal "cartoon physics" - again, it's all down to the scope of imagination.
But there is no such thing as "cartoon physics" - for instance, there are no conserved quantities, no transmission of such quantities, etc.

You can play Toon in such a way that the outcomes remind the participants of a cartoon, but that is genre emulation, not simulation of causal processes.

In the sense that peasants could launch stuff into space? No, they really aren't, because that's not what the result of the rules would be; there is no "momentum" in these systems.
In the sense that there is no limit to the speed at which an item can be moved in 12 seconds, provided that it is moved by being passed from hand to hand of characters who are each within 5' of one another: in the first 6 seconds, each but the first readies an action, to pass the item to the next person upon receiving it; in the second 6 seconds, the first person passes the item to the next person, thereby triggering the readied action, etc. The result is that the item moves along the chain of people in no more than 6 seconds, however long that chain, which is to say that it can be accelarated to any speed.

Whether it is literally a railgun depends upon how the GM handles improvised attacks with thrown weapons - if the last person in the chain readies an action to hurl the item, it can deal damage. If the GM uses velocity to determine that damage, then it might be quite high.
 

Balesir

Villager
Your description of mechanism (1) moves from "reflected" to "physics".

The gameworld can be "reflected" in the rules without the rules being any sort of "physics" of the gameworld, because (for instance) the rules produce world-appropriate outcomes in a transparent fashion that can be seen just by reading the rules.
If the mechanical system gives those outcomes in game-world-physical terms, then that describes the world physics. Physics in general need not be limited to the forms we observe in the real world. Of course, in the real world it seems to hold fast to those forms - naturally, since that is the way the real world works and we have spent a great deal of effort identifying the ways in which it works (so we have many of them well identified). But there is nothing inherent to the range of possible realities that says this is how it must work - the single example we have may work that way, but it's only one example.

Just for clarity, the reason I said PrimeTime Adventures et al don't work this way, earlier, is that they don't generate imagined physical outcomes - they simply define who will describe those outcomes. That is not a "world physics". Characters losing a quantised amount of "plot energy" (hit points), on the other hand, could be.

But there is no such thing as "cartoon physics" - for instance, there are no conserved quantities, no transmission of such quantities, etc.
If I imagine a cartoon world I imagine it having causal processes, ergo it has "world physics" as I envision it. They are not much like real world causal processes or physics, but I don't regard that as the slightest obstacle to them existing. What is more, if other people didn't view them in much the same way, I don't see how the genre "cartoons" could exist. Unless there is a clear(ish) model of how cartoons work, how can expectations about how events will transpire in a "genre appropriate way" be formed?

You can play Toon in such a way that the outcomes remind the participants of a cartoon, but that is genre emulation, not simulation of causal processes.
Right - but genre generates expectations, which implies some expected model of how the genre world works, surely? And physics is nothing more or less than a model of how the (physical) world works.

In the sense that there is no limit to the speed at which an item can be moved in 12 seconds, provided that it is moved by being passed from hand to hand of characters who are each within 5' of one another: in the first 6 seconds, each but the first readies an action, to pass the item to the next person upon receiving it; in the second 6 seconds, the first person passes the item to the next person, thereby triggering the readied action, etc. The result is that the item moves along the chain of people in no more than 6 seconds, however long that chain, which is to say that it can be accelarated to any speed.
I understand the game mechanism, sure, but nothing in the rules of the game suggests that the item so passed gains momentum from its journey. Generally, the range and damage of the item if thrown by the last in line will be unaffected by how far it might have travelled in the turn it is cast. To get the idea of "momentum" we have to additionally impose an artifact of real world physics. We are free to do this, of course, but (a) it's not the same as following the rules as "world physics" and (b) if it causes problems with the rest of the rules it doesn't mean that the rules themselves create an inconsistent or flawed world - simply that mixing the game-world's physics with real-world physics doesn't work out well (surprise, surprise!)

Whether it is literally a railgun depends upon how the GM handles improvised attacks with thrown weapons - if the last person in the chain readies an action to hurl the item, it can deal damage. If the GM uses velocity to determine that damage, then it might be quite high.
Exactly - if the GM ignores the game rules to impose a partial implementation of real-world physics alongside game-world physics then things break. This should not really be surprising. If one does thought experiments changing the laws of physics (as we understand them) only slightly, but then say that our change does not apply to specific exceptions, one gets bizarre consequences and should expect to do so. Trying to apply specific exceptions to the laws in the real universe works pretty much the same way, most of the time (but, since we know that we are missing certainty on such basics as where most of the universe's mass is hiding, we have to be careful since our models are undoubtedly flawed to some extent, anyway).
 
Last edited:

Balesir

Villager
I strongly suspect it is not what pemerton meant. My guess is he would prefer it built into the character's abilities by the rules of the game and a known quantity to the player rather than based on the game management skills of the GM.
You might be right, but regardless of [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s original thoughs or preferences (which I'll refrain from guessing at), the point that such games seldom abandon balance but rather balance up "weak" characters with metagame advantages is valid. Whether those metagame advantages come from the game system or from the GM is not really relevant in terms of arguing that games are seldom, in reality, too far unbalanced as a result of the addition of these advantages.
 
I understand the game mechanism, sure, but nothing in the rules of the game suggests that the item so passed gains momentum from its journey.
But the rules of the game do suggest that, no matter how long the chain of peasants, the item can always be transmitted along it in exactly 12 seconds.

But I have never heard of anyone playing 3E or 4e as if this was actually a truth about the gameworld. Rather, it's treated as an oddity of the action economy when it is put to work in a corner case. Hence my contention that the action economy, in these games, violates ingame causality and so does not acbieve the purist-for-system sim design aspiration.

(You don't need to go to peasant railguns, either, to get these oddities. [MENTION=386]LostSoul[/MENTION]'s example with the motorbike - or any other shadowing/shepherding example - will do, plus various other curiosities of motion and positioning that result from the turn-by-turn resolution.)

Just for clarity, the reason I said PrimeTime Adventures et al don't work this way, earlier, is that they don't generate imagined physical outcomes - they simply define who will describe those outcomes. That is not a "world physics". Characters losing a quantised amount of "plot energy" (hit points), on the other hand, could be.


If I imagine a cartoon world I imagine it having causal processes, ergo it has "world physics" as I envision it. They are not much like real world causal processes or physics, but I don't regard that as the slightest obstacle to them existing. What is more, if other people didn't view them in much the same way, I don't see how the genre "cartoons" could exist. Unless there is a clear(ish) model of how cartoons work, how can expectations about how events will transpire in a "genre appropriate way" be formed?
No dispute over PTA and similar games.

With cartoons, I think it is very easy to have a shared genre without any notion of "cartoon physics". Just as I can tell whether or not something fits the genre of Dr Strange or X-Men without needing a "sorcery physics" or a "mutant physics". The genres are characterised by trope associations, what is permitted and what is not - not by rules that identify and model the transmission of certain conserved quantities.

For instance, if you're writing a cartoon and, at some point you have a character fall off a cliff, the genre rules tell you "Do something absurd that violates normal gravitational principles". But there is no "cartoon falling" rule that you apply.

Or if you're scripting Dr Strange, and the story calls for him to do something sorcerous, the genre rule tells you "Have Strange call upon the X..... of the X..... (eg Crimson Bands of Cytorak)." But there is no "physical rule of the world of Dr Strage" that tells you that magic must involve alliteration.

What I think actually causes a lot of confusion in analyses of fantasy RPGing (and I'm not suggesting that you suffer from this confusion) is running together "genre rules" - which are the subject matter of literary theory, history and sociology of literature, etc - and physical rules, which are the subject matter of actual or hypothetical empirical sciences. (And I am taking it for granted that genre rules can't be mathematicised or even regularised in the way that the empirical sciences can. For instance, genre always permits of novelty - whereas novelty in the emprical world is just the refutation of an empirical theory.)

So, for instance, you get people who read Tolkien and think about Galadriel in Lothlorien, and instead of admiring it as an attempt to confer post-mediaeval verismilitude upon tales of forests ruled by faerie queens, start trying to anayse the economics of Elven society (eg where do they grow the wheat for their Lembas?). As if it was a travel guide to a real place, rather than a work of fiction.

Even in 4e, that notoriously non-simulationist edition of D&D, they shunted all the Lothlorien-style stuff into the Feywild. Tolkien put it square into the mortal world, recognising that the "rules" of his composition are genre rules and not imagined empirical ones.
 

Starfox

Villager
Whether it is literally a railgun depends upon how the GM handles improvised attacks with thrown weapons - if the last person in the chain readies an action to hurl the item, it can deal damage. If the GM uses velocity to determine that damage, then it might be quite high.
Again, I feel this is a demonstration of Gödel's incompleteness theorem - how a system cannot ever resolve all situations that appear in the system. You will ALWAYS have these phenomena, the question is just how convoluted rules you arr willing to accept for an incremental reduction in the frequency with which such inconsistencies appear.

Has anyone ever actually had a peasant railgun appear in play?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Whether it is literally a railgun depends upon how the GM handles improvised attacks with thrown weapons
The rules for improvised thrown weapons are well-known, and do not include a damage bonus for speed before they are in the thrower's hands. There are several other places where one can argue the function of the peasant railgun, but this is sufficient to kill it as a weapon.

Now, if you want to talk about passing a halfling, and have a poor-man's teleport, that's a different discussion :)
 

Balesir

Villager
But the rules of the game do suggest that, no matter how long the chain of peasants, the item can always be transmitted along it in exactly 12 seconds.
In most of the rule sets I have used, actually, the 12 seconds is stated to be approximate, rather than exact. Game events happening in aliquots of time that are not mapped linearly to putative objective game-world time is a classic point of flexibility - much needed by rules trying to emulate a specific set of world-axioms - in my experience

But I have never heard of anyone playing 3E or 4e as if this was actually a truth about the gameworld. Rather, it's treated as an oddity of the action economy when it is put to work in a corner case. Hence my contention that the action economy, in these games, violates ingame causality and so does not acbieve the purist-for-system sim design aspiration.
I agree that this is a "crunch point" for Purist-for-System play priorities, but I think that the "backing away" from the rules being game-world axioms is a quite definite backing away from PFS. I think this is wirth exploring slightly more deeply; this is a bit "written as I think", so please bear with me.

In real-world physics we have a conceit - a belief, even - that there exists some set of universal axioms that really do determine how our world works - at least physically. We have the difficulty that we don't know what these axioms are - in fact, we cannot even prove that they exist at all - but have to postulate approximate "laws" of physics that fit the phenomenae that we observe. Using a process of postulating "laws" and updating them when we find a confirmed observation that disagrees with the existing "law", we have been astoundingly successful at evolving theories that fit an impressive number and range of observations - but we still don't have absolute knowledge of the underlying axioms.

Now, for a game world, there is no set of underlying axioms that are independent of ourselves. Any set of axioms must come either from the rules as written or from the imagination(s) of those playing. My understanding of PFS as proposed by Edwards is that it takes the first of these views, that the axioms of the game world are written in the rules.

The issue bound to arise with this approach, as [MENTION=2303]Starfox[/MENTION] notes, is with corner cases that either are not covered or give results that "don't make sense". My argument is that using "common sense" or changing the rules for these situations represents a compromise with PFS - a retreat from it - based on another agenda; that of "realism" (for whatever game "reality" is imagined separately from the rules).

With cartoons, I think it is very easy to have a shared genre without any notion of "cartoon physics". Just as I can tell whether or not something fits the genre of Dr Strange or X-Men without needing a "sorcery physics" or a "mutant physics". The genres are characterised by trope associations, what is permitted and what is not - not by rules that identify and model the transmission of certain conserved quantities.
My contention is not that it is impossible to have a shared genre without "genre physics" - it is that Purist-for-System play as I'm defining it, using the rules as the axioms of the game world, is quite possible for cartoon or other genre worlds. In other words, there is nothing about PFS play that says the game world must conform to the features of real-world physics. I think you can roleplay in a setting intended to mirror the real world without using rules that explicitly model real physics, so that it should be possible for "unreal" settings seems to me to be obviously true.

For instance, if you're writing a cartoon and, at some point you have a character fall off a cliff, the genre rules tell you "Do something absurd that violates normal gravitational principles". But there is no "cartoon falling" rule that you apply.
Most or all cartoons that I remember have a very clear set of "cartoon gravity rules". You don't fall under gravity until you notice that you are no longer supported, and then you have a pause just long enough to express surprise and horror at your predicament (and maybe attempt to grab a ledge, if you are quick) before you fall under instant acceleration!

As an aside, here, although we generally assume that real physical rules are deterministic (although the subatomic world seems to challenge that) there is no fundamental reason that imaginary worlds' axioms should not be stochastic in nature.

Or if you're scripting Dr Strange, and the story calls for him to do something sorcerous, the genre rule tells you "Have Strange call upon the X..... of the X..... (eg Crimson Bands of Cytorak)." But there is no "physical rule of the world of Dr Strage" that tells you that magic must involve alliteration.
Well, if in such a game I might try to use magic without alliteration to test whether the rules really are the world axioms or just a set of empirical guidelines to a set of axioms that the GM has as an envisioned world model :)

What I think actually causes a lot of confusion in analyses of fantasy RPGing (and I'm not suggesting that you suffer from this confusion) is running together "genre rules" - which are the subject matter of literary theory, history and sociology of literature, etc - and physical rules, which are the subject matter of actual or hypothetical empirical sciences. (And I am taking it for granted that genre rules can't be mathematicised or even regularised in the way that the empirical sciences can. For instance, genre always permits of novelty - whereas novelty in the emprical world is just the refutation of an empirical theory.)
If the genre rules really cannot be "mathematicised" then this might be true, but I'm really hard pressed to imagine any sort of rules about physical outcomes that cannot be represented in logical/mathematical terms if fully understood.

Of course, there is a perfectly valid play style that does not want to understand or quantify the (intuitively "known") physical rules. The PTA strain of rules would generally fit here.

So, for instance, you get people who read Tolkien and think about Galadriel in Lothlorien, and instead of admiring it as an attempt to confer post-mediaeval verismilitude upon tales of forests ruled by faerie queens, start trying to anayse the economics of Elven society (eg where do they grow the wheat for their Lembas?). As if it was a travel guide to a real place, rather than a work of fiction.
Tolkien may well not have troubled himself about the matter, being concerned with literary rules, and roleplayers need not trouble themselves, either. But those who explicitly want to play in a defined game world are also free to assume that there exists some explanation of these matters. If you start from the point that Middle Earth must be consistent/coherent, then it follows that there must be some aspect of the world's physics that allows for faerie queens and lembas and elves living with no apparent agriculture or whatever.

A key feature to realise with this approach, though, is that it makes no sense to say that "the elves existing like this is impossible". Tolkien said they exist like this, ergo they must exist like this. Whatever the axioms of the literary/game world may be, they MUST be such as to allow th elves of Lothlorien. This occupies the same conceptual space as an observation in real science. In other words, if the "theory" (= game rules) disagree with the observed world (= as written by Tolkien) then it's the theory that is wrong. If this means that Middle Earth's axioms cannot be those of the real world, then so be it. Any set of "physical outcomes" rules for Middle Earth that allows everything that Tolkien wrote to be true could be used as game-world axioms for a Middle Earth RPG in PFS style. That is, of course, not the only way to roleplay in Tolkien's Middle Earth.
 
Last edited:
Has anyone ever actually had a peasant railgun appear in play?
I agree that this is a "crunch point" for Purist-for-System play priorities, but I think that the "backing away" from the rules being game-world axioms is a quite definite backing away from PFS.
I assume that no one has ever had a peasant railgun appear in play (whether in its weaponised or its transportation/communication version).

But the mere fact that it is possible is an afront to purist-for-system play, because the fact of its possibiity shows that the game rules are violating ingame causality (on the premise that we know that, in game, the peasant railgun is in fact causally impossible).

Because of the limits on rule design, I think that any game system is going to be imperfect as a purist-for-system vehicle, but there are degrees of imperfection. I remember in my own RM play the rules for scrying defences also had odd side effects: you could place a scrying defence on yourself containing (say) a message, and then when an ally tried to scry on you using even a low-level scry spell they could read the message - which was a cheaper way of communicating then using the higher-level telepathy spells. We looked at various ways to eliminate this undesired consequence of the scrying defence rules, but couldn't get rid of it completely, and so a gentelemen's agreement was reached simply not to use this particular abuse.

That was a compromise in respect of a somewhat secondary mechanic, which we were able to tolerate within an overal purist-for-system approach. But compromises in respect of the core mechanics of the action economy are something else again. That's why there are so many published initiative systems for Rolemaster: RM players want a core action resolution mechanic that conforms to, rather than violates, ingame causality.

for a game world, there is no set of underlying axioms that are independent of ourselves. Any set of axioms must come either from the rules as written or from the imagination(s) of those playing. My understanding of PFS as proposed by Edwards is that it takes the first of these views, that the axioms of the game world are written in the rules.
But Edwards is also taking it for granted that there are game-rule-independent standards of adequacy - as do the actual design of games like RM, RQ, Classic Traveller, etc. Here is the key general description:

In this sort of design, there's no possible excuse for any imperfections, including scale-derived breakdowns of the fundamental point/probability relationships. The system must be cleanly and at the service of the element(s) being emphasized, in strictly in-game-world terms. A good one is elegant, consistent, applicable to anything that happens in play, and clear about its outcomes. It also has to have points of contact at any scale for any conceivable thing. It cannot contain patch-rules to correct for inconsistencies; consistency is the essence of quality.

As I see it, Purist for System design is a tall, tall order. It's arguably the hardest design spec in all of role-playing.​

There are two things that make it hard. First, the need for consistency. Second, the need to serve the elements being emphasised. I am particularly emphasising the second of these: in the design of RM, RQ, Traveller, etc we have a rules-independent conception of those elements (eg motion is contiuous, not freeze-frame).

Typically, that conception is drawn from the real world (eg how we think a sword fight or gun fight should go), with deviations for reasons of fantasy, sci-fi etc. (There is scope for presssure here, of course: eg why does anti-magic shell not stop a dragon flying or a ghost existing at all? As a RM GM I used to allow dragons to fly in anti-magic, but ghosts and other incorporeal beings woud wink out of existence while it was in effect. I'm sure other GMs have resolved the same issue in different ways.)

The problem with the peasant railgun is that the mechanics that permit it fail to "serve the elements that are being emphasised" ie such elements as that human beings in the gameworld are subject, more-or-less, to the same physical limits as are human beings in the real world, and hence can't accelerate objects arbitrarily fast in 12 seconds if only you have enough of them in a line.

using "common sense" or changing the rules for these situations represents a compromise with PFS - a retreat from it - based on another agenda; that of "realism" (for whatever game "reality" is imagined separately from the rules).

<snip>

here is nothing about PFS play that says the game world must conform to the features of real-world physics.
In reply to the first of these two passages - of course! But sticking to the mechanics and tolerating the peasant railguns is a compromise as well - it is to proceed with flawed mechanics, that fail to "serve the elements being emphasised" because instead they distort them. That's why purist-for-system design is hard.

This is why I posted, quite a way upthread, that many of those 3E playes who describe themselves as sim aren't really sim by my purist-for-system standards. Because they tolerate a system that, under application, can fail to serve the elements being emphasised and instead violates ingame causality.

My obsessing over peasant railguns from a purist-for-system perspective is precisely an instance of what Edwards describes here:

The few exceptions have always been accompanied by explanatory text, sometimes apologetic and sometimes blase. A good example is classic hit location, in which the characters first roll to-hit and to-parry, then hit location for anywhere on the body (RuneQuest, GURPS). Cognitively, to the Simulationist player, this requires a replay of the character's intent and action that is nearly intolerable. It often breaks down in play, either switching entirely to called shots and abandoning the location roll, or waiting on the parry roll until the hit location is known. Another good example is rolling for initiative, which has generated hours of painful argument about what in the world it represents in-game, at the moment of the roll relative to in-game time.​

If the only constraint was consistency, then provided the initiative rules weren't incoherent there would be no need for those hours of painful debate: we would just read the gameworld off the mechanics (eg it contains units of time called "the round", and those units end with a "freezing" of everyone/everything and being with an "unfreezing" that is staggered by reference to a range of factors, including personal reaction time/reflexes).

What motivates the hourse of debate is that we (the purist-for-system players_ have a mechanics-independent conception of "the elements to be served" ie that people in the gameworld are acting in continuous time just like people in the real world.

Now I don't dispute that the mechanics-independent conception of the elements to be served could come from somewhere else. In fantasy RPGs, this is the case for dragons (must model Smaug), magic (must model Ged), etc. In sci-fi this is the case for FTL travel, aliens, etc. (Even C&S has sorcery as well as chivalry.) But historically, "realism" has always played an important constraining role in purist-for-system design.

those who explicitly want to play in a defined game world are also free to assume that there exists some explanation of these matters. If you start from the point that Middle Earth must be consistent/coherent, then it follows that there must be some aspect of the world's physics that allows for faerie queens and lembas and elves living with no apparent agriculture or whatever.

<snip>

Whatever the axioms of the literary/game world may be, they MUST be such as to allow th elves of Lothlorien. This occupies the same conceptual space as an observation in real science.
Sure, but as has often been noted with reference to MERP, the more you emphasise this sort of thing, the less Tokienesque your game will feel.

Edwards says, of purist-for-system as a priority:

In play, these games offer a lot of diversity because both the character-to-player relationship and the GM-to-outcomes relationship are fully customizable. Players might well utilize Pawn stance as Actor stance or any other, and the GM may care greatly about a given goal or situation to be set up during play, or not at all. The only required priority is to enjoy the System in action.​

Once you are enjoying the system in action you are inevitably going to be emphasising aspects of the fiction - eg where does Lembas come from? - that play little or no role in Tolkien's fiction.
 

Starfox

Villager
But the mere fact that it is possible is an afront to purist-for-system play, because the fact of its possibiity shows that the game rules are violating ingame causality (on the premise that we know that, in game, the peasant railgun is in fact causally impossible).
If this is indeed the requirements for a purist-for-system player, then I think you're arguing for that purism-for-system is an impossible pipe dream. Much like Edwards (This is the Forge guy, right? I suck at names) claims that you cannot have player empowerment in a game with a plot (the impossible thing before breakfast).

Now, I don't agree with Edward's on that and I am the first to say that most imaginable kinds of play are possible. But I think what makes purist-for-system playable (and player empowerment in a plotted situation possible) is that the in-play application is not as absolute as you claim. Some situation produce weird results under any rules set. Each of us has to decide on a tolerance level. If your tolerance is very low, conflicting examples will crop up early. If it is high, it might never crop up except in theory (like the peasant rail gun). But constructing a game where it NEVER happens is IMO not possible. The only model of reality with 100% prediction ability is reality itself.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In his latest series of blog posts Vincent Baker covers very similar ground.

Vincent Baker said:
Hey, some RPG theory, how about? While we're waiting for me to actually make something.

A game has procedures. Procedures are things like "on your turn, choose a legal card from your hand and play it," "when your character gets into a fight, roll 2d6 and add your Combat Value," and "to make your meeple on the screen jump, push the A button."

A game has components. Components are things like a deck of cards and scratch paper to keep score, a conversation and character sheets and dice, and a controller plus a meeple in a level full of stuff on a screen.

A game has an object, or more than one, or none. Objects are things like "at the end of any hand, if anybody's reached 100 points or more, the game ends, and the player with the lowest score wins," "make the imaginary world vivid, make the characters' lives exciting, and play to find out what happens," and "run your meeple all the way to the end of the level without dying."

Together, these three things are a complete game. When you're making a game, you create its procedures, its components, and its object-or-objects-or-none. Then you publish.

But a game also has strategy and style. Strategy and style are implicit in the relationship between the other three, emerge from the other three, or lay over the other three without changing them.

On your turn, which of your legal cards do you choose to play?

When the GM turns to you and asks you what your character does, what do you choose to say?

At every moment of play, do you choose to push the A button now? Or what?

Take my game Murderous Ghosts. Murderous Ghosts has:
- Procedures. Two little books full of almost nothing but procedures, in fact.
- Components. The two books, the deck of cards, the conversation between the players.
- An object. If the explorer escapes unmurdered, the explorer player wins.

The strategy of Murderous Ghosts is really fun. It is, at heart, a gambling game, and a string of bad luck might always see you murdered. But if you play well, you can time your draws so that you make your riskiest draws when the stakes are lowest and your safest draws when the stakes are high. Meanwhile, the ghost player is trying to mislead you about which draws are low-stakes and high-stakes, to make you misstep. But the game text doesn't include any mention of this, it leaves you to learn your own way forward.

And then tucked into the back of the ghost player's book, there are two short essays: "What Ghosts Do" and "What Ghosts Are." These are pure style. Their purpose is to inspire the ghost player to say scary and ever-scarier things. In fact, while they include some assertions and an instruction or two, they're both over 50% made of pointed questions: "Is this ghost reenacting the horrors that it inflicted on others in life, or will it inflict on others the horrors that it suffered?"

You could play the game, see its procedures fully through, win and lose, and even enact strategies to try to win more and lose less, without ever reading these two essays.

Everybody with me? Procedures, components, object-or-objects-or-none, strategy, and style?
Link

I prefer the way Baker puts it because it doesn't attach degree of meaningfulness to either strategy or style. That's pretty much on individual players to do. I'll have more thoughts once I've had time to really digest Baker's posts, but in the meantime I thought I'd throw it out there for consideration.

One last note: Baker's blog posts are about his perspective as a game designer and not squarely aimed at players' conceptions, but meant to start conversations amongst game designers.
 
If this is indeed the requirements for a purist-for-system player, then I think you're arguing for that purism-for-system is an impossible pipe dream.
As I said upthread, I think it's a matter of degree.

In case it's not clear, I'm not here either to bury purist-for-system sim, nor to praise it, but to analyse it. I spent nearly 20 years GMing Rolemaster - thousands of hours of it - and so I think I have a pretty good understanding of the issues. Everything that Edwards says about it rings true for me, including the aspirations, the pleasures, and the potential sources of frustration.

My point of disagreement with [MENTION=6698278]Emerikol[/MENTION] and [MENTION=27160]Balesir[/MENTION] is over the issue whether purist-for-system sim, and "realism"-oriented play, overlap. I think they do, because the conception of ingame causality that purist-for-system games are trying to capture through their mechanics is derived, overwhelmingly but obviously not exclusively, from intuitions about reality. When you actually look at the games that have been designed and played along these lines - RM, RQ, Classic Traveller, GURPS, etc, that is what they are going for. For the fantasy ones, in particular, their market has always been D&D players who like the fantasy tropes but don't like the non-sim resolution. (Especially the combat rules.)

It's because of my own experiences as a refugee from D&D mechanics to RM as a preferred system for playing out FRPG tropes that I don't really feel the force of those who put forward 3E as a serious sim system. The only respect in which it is more sim than AD&D is saving throws and skills. But on hp it's arguably worse (because hp disparities are even bigger in 3E, both over levels and across characters), and on PC and monster build, and action economy, I would say it is definitely worse.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Again, I feel this is a demonstration of Gödel's incompleteness theorem - how a system cannot ever resolve all situations that appear in the system. You will ALWAYS have these phenomena, the question is just how convoluted rules you arr willing to accept for an incremental reduction in the frequency with which such inconsistencies appear.

Has anyone ever actually had a peasant railgun appear in play?
Ennh...I'm not sure RPG rules are the sort of thing that the incompleteness theorem _has to_ apply to. That is, many of the more low-resolution _or_ narrative/story-focused systems simply cannot create such an instance. Its the attempt to create some kind of physical model of the fictional world with a one-to-one correspondence of mechanic to event that causes the problem, AFAICT.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Tolkien may well not have troubled himself about the matter, being concerned with literary rules, and roleplayers need not trouble themselves, either. But those who explicitly want to play in a defined game world are also free to assume that there exists some explanation of these matters. If you start from the point that Middle Earth must be consistent/coherent, then it follows that there must be some aspect of the world's physics that allows for faerie queens and lembas and elves living with no apparent agriculture or whatever.

A key feature to realise with this approach, though, is that it makes no sense to say that "the elves existing like this is impossible". Tolkien said they exist like this, ergo they must exist like this. Whatever the axioms of the literary/game world may be, they MUST be such as to allow th elves of Lothlorien. This occupies the same conceptual space as an observation in real science. In other words, if the "theory" (= game rules) disagree with the observed world (= as written by Tolkien) then it's the theory that is wrong. If this means that Middle Earth's axioms cannot be those of the real world, then so be it. Any set of "physical outcomes" rules for Middle Earth that allows everything that Tolkien wrote to be true could be used as game-world axioms for a Middle Earth RPG in PFS style. That is, of course, not the only way to roleplay in Tolkien's Middle Earth.
This is a good point. I have many times thought about how different people's fictional favoritism seems to drastically impact their choice of gaming style or system. In fact, I suspect that it goes even beyond just those who prefer "defined world" games and extends to those who prefer narrative games as well. They just see a different set of rules as important.
 

Starfox

Villager
Ennh...I'm not sure RPG rules are the sort of thing that the incompleteness theorem _has to_ apply to. That is, many of the more low-resolution _or_ narrative/story-focused systems simply cannot create such an instance. Its the attempt to create some kind of physical model of the fictional world with a one-to-one correspondence of mechanic to event that causes the problem, AFAICT.
Yeah, you're right. RPGs are firmly a part of the humanities, while Gödel's theorem applies to natural science. So, at most, there can be a parallel. That's why I used expressions like "I feel like". It's a thought experiment, no more. Still, I do support the conclusions of my thought experiment.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Can you elaborate on this?
Sure. Strategy and style are both emergent features of play that come from utilizing the procedures of play to realize the objective(s) of the game. They actually exist in tandem and feed off of one another. In any good game there are going to be multiple successful strategies which is where stylistic choices come into play. Style is all about making aesthetic choices and form a basis of self expression. There can be some conflict between style and strategy - see the Magic player who is focused on killer combos when it hurts their chances of winning the match, but its not guaranteed to conflict.

I just realized I meant to bring this up in the Wish Fulfillment thread.

On an unrelated note one of the things I enjoy about the way Vincent Baker talks about role playing games is that he talks about them without trying to create the sense that they are meaningfully different from other games in a way that makes them somehow more meaningful. It's always about if you want this play experience here's a way to do it rather than classifying and categorization in a way that legitimizes one set of games as the real hobby. For instance when he mentions his time at The Forge he basically says the point was to set out to prove that you could make games with emotionally meaningful content that are still successful as games. No ists or isms to be found.
 

Advertisement

Top