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System matters and free kriegsspiel

pemerton said:
A few weeks ago I ran a session like this for my family - one of my daughters wanted to do a murder mystery for her birthday.

I adapted a murder scenario from an old Traveller module, and wrote up some characters (one for each other family member, plus a couple for their entourages, plus a small number of important NPCs whom I played). There was no action resolution in any mechanical sense - the players described what their PCs were doing, and who they were talking to, and I delivered up information as seemed appropriate (eg what they found if they searched a stateroom; what a NPC said if they spoke to him/her; etc).

This is an example of puzzle-solving: the players' goal is to acquire enough information to be able to infer to the hidden bit of my notes (ie whodunnit). It is a different experience from watching an episode of Death in Paradise or The Mentalist, as there is the first-person description element to it. But it doesn't really involve very much more agency.

One way to invest this play with agency is the following:

For every move the group makes (go to place x to investigate, interrogate NPC y, read newpaper article z to suss out connection), their final score is subtracted from a predetermined tally. The less moves they make before solving the puzzle, the better score they get (eg starting at Sherlock Holmes and ending at Amateur Dick).

Done well, that would invest play with a Skilled Play goal and the scorekeeping apparatus to divine the skill.

Yet another way to invest this play with agency is the following:

The 2 players play characters around a murder mystery (not a detective) with a dramatic need (perhaps a card is drawn at the outset of play with a pithy agenda on it). Each player has 1 Relationship Point, 1 Alibi Point, and 1 Clue Point. They can use their Relationship to oblige the GM to have someone important to them enter a scene and can orient that NPC in anyway the player sees fit (the GM then plays it out). They can use their Alibi to oblige the GM to affirm either their alibi or an NPC's alibi when some matter of that alibi is in question (which could have significant trickle down effect up-to-and-including taking the character off the table for the crime). They can spend their Clue to place an item or a piece of forensic evidence in a scene. This can't pin the crime on someone but it can point in a direction. When they spend any Point, they roll 1d6. On a 4-6, they get what they want. On a 2-3, they get what they want, but something else is true that they wish wasn't (perhaps they were going to visit the newspaper next to speak to the lead author of a piece...but they've just showed up in the morgue!). On a 1, things go bad.

Done well, that would invest play with Story Now protagonism where they get to significantly impact the shape and trajectory of the unfolding mystery (including their character and and their characters' relationships orientation to the final outcome).



Without some version of either of those two and without some form of clear, concrete, and game-specific metagoal ("have fun" is none of those things) and corresponding intentful design which allows players to skillfully/artfully pursue it (fulfilling or failing)...I don't see where play invests the players with much agency. Revealing an already written mystery for the sake of the excitement of a well-conceived case-unraveling is fun as hell...but its certainly not brimming with agency.
 
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pemerton

Legend
One way to invest this play with agency is the following:

For every move the group makes (go to place x to investigate, interrogate NPC y, read newpaper article z to suss out connection), their final score is subtracted from a predetermined tally. The less moves they make before solving the puzzle, the better score they get (eg starting at Sherlock Holmes and ending at Amateur Dick).

Done well, that would invest play with a Skilled Play goal and the scorekeeping apparatus to divine the skill.

<snip>

Without some version of either of those two and without some form of clear, concrete, and game-specific metagoal ("have fun" is none of those things) and corresponding intentful design which allows players to skillfully/artfully pursue it (fulfilling or failed...I don't see where play invests the players with much agency. Revealing an already written mystery for the sake of the excitement of a well-conceived case-unraveling is fun as hell...but its certainly not brimming with agency.
I think the first thing you describe has some overlap, as a mechanic, with The Green Knight. The difference is that in The Green Knight the score is maintained on a dynamic basis and iterates back into your success chance.

When I ran the game for my family agency was really not at the top of my list. My daughter wanted a puzzle and that's what she got! The solution was on the borderline for fair, but generated no complaints:
The killer is not one of the cast of characters. She is the twin of one of the NPCs, which explains why she can be in two places at once.

The clues are (i) two sets of every outfit in the NPC's cupboard, and (ii) two meals being ordered for the NPC's room. My family members worked out that this NPC was suspicious, and they got both the clues, but they didn't join the dots. When I revealed the answer when we finished - in the fiction, that means when they arrived at their destination - there seemed to be acceptance that it was tricky but fair.
 

I just reread the last 4 pages of The Killing Joke, because I had a memory that it involves a conversation between The Joker and The Batman. My memory was correct. I think maybe this is an example of what @hawkeyefan has in mind - how do we work out what The Joker does, in response to Batman's offer to rehabilitate him?

The scenarios I offered with Batman (with the exception of the hostile takeover by Lex Luthor) are all examples that I’ve seen go a number of ways in comics and related media. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes another.

Meaning that there is support for either answer if we look to the fiction as guidance.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Why would you want to? But sure, you could. And it would likely turn rather quickly into Fiasco. With more dice. The few times we played that it turned immediately into "I cut off your finger." "No you didn't. You can't do that." There's no rules to fall back on and there's no Referee to be the final authority. Without much rules, you need a Referee to be the authority of the fiction. You could always try to go the other way, lots and lots of very precise rules to try to cover everything, but there will inevitably be a disagreement on the interpretation of those rules...and without a Referee to arbitrate, your game's done. Depending on how dug in players get. But I'd rather just play. Someone's the Referee and they run the show. As long as they're not arbitrary and open to questions about their decisions and use the fiction as their guide, it's all good. Let's play.
That's a terrible take on Fiasco, and I'm not sure how you ended up there. The game is clear that in the event of dispute, the current active player has the say. There's no such back and forth as you're presenting it -- and even trying to do that is bad faith play to begin with. Fiasco works great as a game -- you don't have to like it, but it works when played in good faith -- and it does not illustrate the need to have a GM to keep players from trying to maim each others' characters. There are plenty of other ways to resolve conflicts -- like Fiasco actually does -- that don't involve Bob says. Bob says is a perfectly fine choice, but it's not at all the only one nor has claim to being objectively better.
 

That's a terrible take on Fiasco, and I'm not sure how you ended up there. The game is clear that in the event of dispute, the current active player has the say. There's no such back and forth as you're presenting it -- and even trying to do that is bad faith play to begin with. Fiasco works great as a game -- you don't have to like it, but it works when played in good faith -- and it does not illustrate the need to have a GM to keep players from trying to maim each others' characters. There are plenty of other ways to resolve conflicts -- like Fiasco actually does -- that don't involve Bob says. Bob says is a perfectly fine choice, but it's not at all the only one nor has claim to being objectively better.

I've never played Fiasco and so cannot speak to the content here, but the way this is phrased strikes me as rather impolite. You've depicted the other poster somewhere between playing in "bad faith" (why would anyone do that with their free time) or just being totally incompetent in how they understood and played the game. As a person who knows of Fiasco but hasn't played it, your post comes across as "you're playing it wrong." Even if true, to my mind, it doesn't speak well of the game if someone can read the rulebook and get the basics completely wrong; if that's case it would seem that that's a problem of the game, not the player.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I've never played Fiasco and so cannot speak to the content here, but the way this is phrased strikes me as rather impolite. You've depicted the other poster somewhere between playing in "bad faith" (why would anyone do that with their free time) or just being totally incompetent in how they understood and played the game. As a person who knows of Fiasco but hasn't played it, your post comes across as "you're playing it wrong." Even if true, to my mind, it doesn't speak well of the game if someone can read the rulebook and get the basics completely wrong; if that's case it would seem that that's a problem of the game, not the player.
It's a really slick game. Fantastic really. One tagline is "powerful ambition & poor impulse control". You're playing a Coen brothers film, basically. But you need a group you can trust. Like a lot. It's very narrative heavy. There's no skills or stats. No task resolution. Conflict resolution is handled by playing through scenes. The short version is you: 1) pick a setting; 2) roll for connections and build a relationship web between the characters; 3) everyone takes turns being in the spotlight until the game resolves after so many scenes. That's a gross oversimplification of a really elegant game, but it's the only bit that's relevant.

Everyone takes turns being in the spotlight. You do that with scenes. When it's your turn, the scene is about your character. You get to pick whether you establish the scene or resolve the scene. If you establish, the table resolves; if you resolve, the table establishes. Establish meaning you decide the who, what, where, when, and why of the scene. Flashbacks, flashforwards, everyone's there naked in a sauna or everyone's bundled up tight in the back of a freezer truck bound for Alaska...as long as the scene is about the spotlight character. Resolve meaning decide how the scene ends in a positive or negative for the spotlight character. Very much a shared-authority, high-trust game. Sounds like an absolute dream on paper...unless you play with "that guy." And we did.

The trouble is there's no conflict resolution for what happens within scenes...except for this: "To be perfectly clear, you don’t set stakes as such (although it’s OK to say what you want), you don’t roll the die to determine an outcome, and the only limits on your description are those imposed by your friends on a social level − if they balk, figure it out together as players, with you (the player whose character is in the spotlight) having the final say."

So whoever is in the spotlight controls the scene, basically. Push comes to shove, the entire table disagrees...doesn't matter. The rules are clear: the spotlight player has the final say. They have carte blanche. So when the spotlight player decides their character is going to hack bits off of other players' characters...despite the entire rest of the table objecting...that's that. The other characters are now missing limbs. Period. That was the first spotlight scene for that player. The second went about the same...before we stopped. Mid game. Booted the guy and never played Fiasco again.

Yes, that absolutely was an example of bad faith play. But it's also perfectly within the rules. So I'm not interested in shared authority. Gimme a good, old-fashioned Referee/GM/DM any day. This was years ago, when the game was new. Thinking back, there's a lot of things we could have done. Put in a house rule about a table veto, now we know about things like X cards (which they did in 2E), so could use that...but I'm not into RPGs with lots of tchotchkes. I was over the moon about that game. It's perfectly in my wheelhouse of interests and I still use it as an idea generator. But I'm over the idea of shared authority, especially anything to the level of spotlight = DM.
 
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S'mon

Legend
I refer to it as "principled illusionism" in the sense that the GM at least gives some thought to the player inputs and resulting outputs, compares it against the fiction state, and then resolves the action declaration . . . but would it matter either way?

There's a million ways an FKR GM / GM of Exceptional Force could modify the player inputs and/or resulting outputs to fit what they prefer without ever revealing the thought process or constraints to the player.

There's a mountain of "hidden backstory" in our current Tiny Frontiers game that only the GM is privy to. How much of that is influencing each and every action declaration and throw of the dice? I have know way of knowing. It's pure illusionism, but I can only hope it's principled.

OK, I don't think I agree with your use of Ilusionism. You seem to be saying that any opaque action resolution is Illusionism, but that's not how I understand the term at all. If the GM "gives some thought to the player inputs and resulting outputs, compares it against the fiction state, and then resolves the action declaration", and this process affects the declared outcome, it's not Illusionism as Edwards described it. And I think he came up with a useful term for a particular play style, a style unrelated to black-box GMing.
 

S'mon

Legend
This relates to @S'mon's post upthread about running the Congress of Vienna via freeform RP.

When I ran my freeform murder mystery last year, I adjudicated the NPCs freeform. But they were either mere ciphers (the steward, the captain) or were plot devices (the NPC who was murdered) or were antagonists with fairly clear (pre-defined by me) backstories and character traits that suggested natural pathways to answer the sorts of questions that would be posed during interrogation by the PCs.

Had things gone sideways - eg the PCs started using threats against family members, or torture or the threat thereof - then the game would have fallen apart, as I had no resources in my GM notes to respond to that sort of thing.

Likewise there was no scope, in the scenario as written by me, for an antagonist NPC to fall in love with a PC and confess, hoping they would be reunited once a prison term was served.

When should there be a chance, one way or the other? That in itself is a question of game design.

I think this gets to why I don't GM murder mysteries! I've read a ton of The Alexandrian posts on them, but I don't enjoy them as fiction, and I wouldn't enjoy them as GM. In an Agatha Christie the whole plot seems to exist as a Puzzle to be Solved - and I don't like Puzzle gaming (or IRL) either. It's as alien to me as my style is to some ram-headed folk.

I may create or use a Situation with NPCs that may superficially resemble the start conditions of a murder mystery - there might even be a murder - but I'm not interested in seeing it resolved according to the beats & tropes of murder mystery fiction. What I'm interested in is the people - PC & NPC - their motivations, personalities etc. I love seeing them interact in accordance with their goals etc, with no pre-determined outcome. If the PC detective falls in love with the murderess NPC and they run off together, that's certainly fine by me. I love me the immersion, the experience of being 'in' the fictional world. I don't find murder mystery fiction immersive at all; the world seems to exist only as a thin backdrop for the mystery/plot/puzzle.
 

S'mon

Legend
I spend much of my time on ENworld responding to posts that tell me that my RPGing either doesn't exist (because non-GM-driven play is impossible; because it was impossible that anyone might have enjoyed 4e D&D as a fiction-first, "story now" RPG; that Apocalypse World can't be used to play a mystery) or is irrelevant (because it does not turn up on the Roll20 stats or the ICv2 sales charts).

So now you want to put the boot in yourself? :D :D

J/K, you've been reasonable as always Mr P. But I get the same frustration when I see people refusing to engage with what you say about your play style, as I get when I see here people refusing to engage with what the FK-ers say about their play style.
 

S'mon

Legend
To elaborate on the Congress of Vienna - I think it's very hard to get inside the head of Metternich, or Castlereagh. With regard to the latter, for instance, how does one inhabit the mind of a representative of one of the most liberal states in Europe arguing that political stability depends upon affirming the most reactionary forms of government?
That feels like you've pre-determined what should be in question. What I loved seeing in my play was more akin to the 'representative of one of the most liberal states in Europe' coming to the conclusion that 'political stability depends upon affirming the most reactionary forms of government'. To me those are the golden moments. Sometimes they seem to change the worldview of a player as well as the worldview of their PC. I've seen players have political-moral epiphanies in-game. Right up there with "Are we the Baddies?" :D
 


Why are vegans wasting their time asking about something they don't like and won't like? Do they think the steak eaters are having badwrongfun?
To be blunt, Some definitely do. Both the metaphorical and the literal. But the metaphor is problematic.

In Alaska, and several other US states, "Vegan" has huge sociopolitical baggage which isn't comparable to the Traditional RPG crowd, nor, largely, to the storygame crowd, either. Many people in Alaska claiming to be vegan are very political about animal rights, and also tend to be animal rights activists, especially in Alaska, where most families consume game meat or game fish at least monthly. And many of those moved to Alaska specifically to object to the hunting, fishing, commercial meat, commercial dairy, and commercial fishing industries.

Oregon it's less so... but still, many who stick to the vegan "No animal products in my food" do get hostile reactions, especially if east of I-5...

Back to the gaming side.

Ignoring the bad metaphor... All 6 or 7 playstyle camps have their extremists who think the others are doing it wrong and are a bad influence on the industry, and some of that subset in each preach that.

Personally, I don't like FKR, and don't trust GMs who don't want me knowing the rules. I think Gygax's rule zero should definitely go the **** away as bad. I have no issue with groups agreeing to modified rules; I run my houserules changes past groups before using them. I want players to make decisions on game state issues every bit as much as on story state issues.

Are they doing it wrong? No. But often, they're describing it wrong.

Design cannot not matter. FKR is game design. There's no avoiding it. Stating it's not design is like saying fish aren't matter.
And this is highlighting a problem with the OSR crowd, the ultralight rules crowd, and the FKR crowd: The appearance of self-delusion by the adherents. Many of them can't or won't engage on a meaningful level in terms that Trad and/or Storygamers can grok. Or (as we've seen in thread) give answers that are meaningful only to their in-group, but meaningless outside.
 

S'mon

Legend
I'm ok with it, but it's nice to know certain things. As a Vulcan I'd know how reliable my nerve pinch is, for example. Sure, in the show it just works but the GM might feel that a roll is required. As a player these things are good to know, and not for some gamey reason, but for a sense of how my world works.

I think as a player I'd understand that my attempt at a Nerve Pinch won't necessarily succeed, but I'd expect that if I successfully get in position & apply a nerve pinch to an unaware human, the human will collapse. So I'd expect any conflict resolution roll (etc) to take place before the pinch is actually applied. If the GM lets me apply the pinch but then gives the human target a saving throw, that's going to take me out-of-genre and feel immersion breaking - ie, poor GMing.

If the GM says "OK Subcommander Tolok, you go to nerve pinch NPC Captain Kirk, but something warns him and at the last minute he twists aside, grabbing your arm!" - well that seems absolutely fine. If my 'Exalted Redshirt' or 'Dragon' Romulan Subcommander PC is going up against NPC Captain Kirk, I ought to have a pretty good idea of how things are likely to go down...
 

S'mon

Legend
Are they doing it wrong? No. But often, they're describing it wrong.
I feel like I've made some pretty good attempts to describe what I do, only to be repeatedly stonewalled by at least one poster (to the extent I've now had to add to my ignore list). The feeling of repeatedly bashing head against brick wall is no fun. :(

Is it surprising that different people with different play goals may use the same or similar words to describe different things? And that this can lead to misunderstandings? That seems perfectly normal & to be expected, to me. What I struggle with is when people refuse to allow those misunderstandings to be resolved, and keep doubling down on them even when the other side says "No, that's not what we/they meant at all".
 

I feel like I've made some pretty good attempts to describe what I do, only to be repeatedly stonewalled by at least one poster (to the extent I've now had to add to my ignore list). The feeling of repeatedly bashing head against brick wall is no fun. :(

Is it surprising that different people with different play goals may use the same or similar words to describe different things? And that this can lead to misunderstandings? That seems perfectly normal & to be expected, to me. What I struggle with is when people refuse to allow those misunderstandings to be resolved, and keep doubling down on them even when the other side says "No, that's not what we/they meant at all".
When a subgroup adopts a terminology to mean something different from the parent group, it's problematic. Ron Edwards being amonst the worst offenders on that score. Simply put, we'd all be better off if we had a common lexicon.
We don't, and that really doesn't reflect well on the minority/outlier sub-group when they use jargon in discussions with the wider audience.
 
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Numidius

Adventurer
Do you have actual play you can post about?

Here are two Cthulhu Dark actual play posts, and one for Wuthering Heights (which I know you have seen).

The final line in the first Cthulhu Dark post is this: I don't think there's anything that CoC does that Cthulhu Dark can't do with a much smaller character sheet (name, occupation, and a sanity die in front of you) and a more powerful and flexible system.

To me, that seems consistent with what FKR people say. But maybe I've misunderstood them?

That's a step from rules medium/heavy to ultra light. There is another step from formalized ultra light to FKR.

Not necessarily because it needs even less rules, but because rules are not what is shaping the game a priori.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I'll try. Do players need to take into account extra diegetic, out of fiction stuff, looking at their char sheets, rules, follow procedures, in order to play the game?
If yes, then no FKR.
So if I look at my character sheet (likely just a note card) when playing Risus to remind myself how I ranked my clichés with dice does it stop becoming FKR?
 

S'mon

Legend
When a subgroup adopts a terminology to mean something different from the parent group, it's problematic. Ron Edwards being amonst the worst offenders on that score. Simply put, we'd all be better off if we had a common lexicon.
We don't, and that really doesn't reflect well on the minority/outlier sub-group when they use jargon.
What jargon are you thinking of, in the context of this thread?

Edit: I agree it's not good to take someone else's existing developed jargon/term-of-art, and use it to mean something else. Edwards did that when he twisted the GDS Threefold Model to create his GNS. And much woe was wreaked thereby. :D But I've not seen anything comparable here.
 

Numidius

Adventurer
So if I look at my character sheet (likely just a note card) when playing Risus to remind myself how I ranked my clichés with dice does it stop becoming FKR?
Yes. :D

Edit: Yeah, I think so. If your table relies on numbers of dice to inform their choices, and there is a formalized set of player facing rules they expect to follow in order to proceed in the game, then, as I understand it, it is not FKR.
 
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