The Principle of Legitimate Intentions

clearstream

(He, Him)
I've been mulling over a principle I use that enables a series of acts over an arc of play to successively revise fictional position, until it's legitimate to include the resolution of a conflict or larger goal in what we say next. Essentially, players draft legitimate intentions, describe acts and check the arrow of momentum (system | fiction), and then redraft legitimate intentions, so that it always and eventually best follows that what they describe doing matches what they intend to resolve. The principle is used to achieve something that rules can also be designed to achieve, such as the Skill Challenge rules in 4e. In this post, I don't aim to argue for one or another, but only lay out the concept to see if others find it workable for them?

I should add as background that I take RPG to involve ongoing authorship of a common fiction, through a continuous process of drafting and revising, that all participate in, with linkage between system and fiction. Momentum flows through that linkage. Everyone continually aims to say what best follows from their position (their fictional position, most importantly.) I won't dive into the full background on this, but fictional position is a powerful concept proposed by Vincent Baker and preserved on his old "anyway" site.

When I say principles, I don't mean rules, guidelines or preferences. I mean principles in the narrow sense of what I ought to do to have the play I'm aiming for. I don't mean that you ought to prefer that play, which is a wider kind of principle that feels a bit like a preference. Preferences don't matter to this discussion: only whether the envisioned principle if grasped and upheld could for others have the result described above. It might be that in my implementation I'm also doing something unnoted, so I'd like to understand that.

Legitimate Intentions​

So what are legitimate intentions? In short, the principle of saying what follows from fictional position is applied to player intentions. For example, intending to find a specific object inside a chest is only legitimate if it would best follow to say that object is there. This is easy to see if as a player I pick a random chest, say the one at the foot of my bed in the inn I'm staying at, and say "I search the chest for a vorpal blade." I tell the GM that my intention is to find the vorpal blade." That's usually not legitimate because it usually doesn't best follow that there's a vorpal blade in that chest without some other truths having been established to make it legitimate (such as that I stowed my vorpal blade in that chest last night.) In such a situation, a legitimate intention could be “I want to learn what is inside the chest.” Success at opening the chest = success at satisfying my legitimate intention (l learned what was inside the chest.)

One way to spot a legitimate intention is that the result of an action that player describes looks extremely likely to match that intention. Prescriptively, when the scope of an act’s effect matches a legitimate intention then its consequences include that which is intended. And while the consequences of success are constrained to what is legitimate based on what has been said to be true, it is legitimate to accept uncertainty. Players can guess at truths off-camera and success legitimately include validating their prediction. In that case, success = successfully validating or falsifying the prediction.

Legitimate intentions drive arcs of play, in which a series of acts successively update fictional position until players can describe an act whose consequences include resolving their goal or conflict. An example might be an act where I research vorpal blades. That sets me up down the line to break open the Azure Vault of Perfidious Petra with the legitimate intention of finding a vorpal blade there. (With probably a bunch of other acts needed in between, to update my fictional position until I can legitimately say that.) I can of course break open any number of vaults intending to find a vorpal blade, but the only legitimate intention I can form about that is the one discussed above, which amounts to an intent to learn if there is a vorpal blade within. Success = learning that (whether true or false.)

No Hidden Gotchas​

A related, and I think necessary principle is one I call no hidden gotchas. GM might at times establish truths that have not been shared with players yet. They ought to normally avoid hidden descriptions that would refute fiction that players have no reason to doubt. An example of this might be a clerk answering questions under a zone of truth spell. The clerk should not testify to veracity and certainty on matters that GM has established behind the scenes to be false. They could certainly establish imagined events that go against that, so this principle is saying that they ought not to. Where GM is the source of player knowledge of what is true about the world, they are in a unique position: the world seen through their words is something that they can make principled choices about.

This is roughly what results (each dot is an act)
LI acts.png
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Thought-provoking essay.

I think that the "legitimate intentions" and "no hidden gotchas" would generally fall under a rubric of a covenant of good faith between and among the players and the GM.

The areas I think would be interesting to explore would be these-

1. If a player has legitimate intentions, does it necessarily follow that the player can narrate a legitimate result?

2. Is there a method for determining if intentions are legitimate within the game? Who has the authority (if anyone) to declare an intention illegitimate? Should this be a rule within the game, or a general precept of gaming and/or being human ("Don't be a d***.").

3. What is the difference between a player's intentions being legitimate, as opposed to being unlikely? For example, if the character first walks into the character's room in the inn, and decides to search the chest (the contents of which have not been established beforehand) for a vorpal sword, is that illegitimate, or just something so unlikely it doesn't require a roll, or a positive response? What if we juxtapose that and say that the character has killed a kobold, and finds a chest, and searches that for a vorpal sword? Again, unlikely ... but not impossible?

Anyway, just wanted to give comments because I know these things aren't easy to write. ;)
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Thought-provoking essay.

I think that the "legitimate intentions" and "no hidden gotchas" would generally fall under a rubric of a covenant of good faith between and among the players and the GM.

The areas I think would be interesting to explore would be these-

1. If a player has legitimate intentions, does it necessarily follow that the player can narrate a legitimate result?
Yes, subject to their resolution mechanic. Typically, success means that what the player described, happens.

2. Is there a method for determining if intentions are legitimate within the game? Who has the authority (if anyone) to declare an intention illegitimate? Should this be a rule within the game, or a general precept of gaming and/or being human ("Don't be a d***.").
There are similarities and differences with what applies to fictional positioning generally. For system to fiction momentum, typically system and fiction together, legitimate. For example, if I've no means to fly it's not legitimate in system or fiction for me to say I fly. If I say that I strike the centurion, that's prima facie legitimate in fiction but typically requires system to also legitimate (in the form of a dice roll)... particulary if said centurion does not care to be struck.

Principles lack any mechanic to confirm what's legitimate. The group reflect on what they each have said up to now and then they nod - it's legit - or ask questions. "How did you say you were flying, again?" GM usually already has that job to do.

3. What is the difference between a player's intentions being legitimate, as opposed to being unlikely? For example, if the character first walks into the character's room in the inn, and decides to search the chest (the contents of which have not been established beforehand) for a vorpal sword, is that illegitimate, or just something so unlikely it doesn't require a roll, or a positive response? What if we juxtapose that and say that the character has killed a kobold, and finds a chest, and searches that for a vorpal sword? Again, unlikely ... but not impossible?
The legitimate intention incorporates the uncertainty. I can legitimately intend to have a 33% chance of finding the bean under the cup. When I lift the first cup, success = falsifying or validating the prediction that I will find the bean under this cup (at that probability). When I lift all three cups, success = finding the bean under a cup. I would say that we do this in real life all the time: we form intentions about uncertainties that accept that uncertainty. If I place a bet on a horse race I intend to win... but what I legitimately intend is to have a chance of winning.

Anyway, just wanted to give comments because I know these things aren't easy to write. ;)
Thank you! Forsooth, they are not.
 



I'm not sure what this does?

So a player can't just say "oh I find ten vopral swords under my bed...again!" Ok, that's great. But what about anything else?

A typical player might say "I think there is a vopral sword over in the Cliff Ruins". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player walks over to the ruins and says "I think the vopral sword is in a vault under that rubble right there". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player's character gets a vopral sword. Fun game for all?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'm not sure what this does?

So a player can't just say "oh I find ten vopral swords under my bed...again!" Ok, that's great. But what about anything else?

A typical player might say "I think there is a vopral sword over in the Cliff Ruins". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player walks over to the ruins and says "I think the vopral sword is in a vault under that rubble right there". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player's character gets a vopral sword. Fun game for all?
That is the opposite of what the principle of legitimate intentions says they ought to do.
 

That is the opposite of what the principle of legitimate intentions says they ought to do.
But how?

It's great for a player in an RPG to be the GM Author too, but how does one do that? How would a player "just know" what the limits are? When can the player alter game reality and when do they just have to play through the game?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'm not sure what this does?

So a player can't just say "oh I find ten vopral swords under my bed...again!" Ok, that's great. But what about anything else?

A typical player might say "I think there is a vopral sword over in the Cliff Ruins". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player walks over to the ruins and says "I think the vopral sword is in a vault under that rubble right there". So, 'pop' game reality is altered as the player said something on a whim?

So the player's character gets a vopral sword. Fun game for all?
To explain in more detail using a canonical example. Suppose the player characters intend for the queen to distrust her most trusted advisor. The princple of legitimate intentions raises the question "from what fictional position would it be legitimate for a player to describe that happening?" i.e. from what fictional position would the scope of effect of an act legitimately include that?

In 4e D&D a group might use a skill challenge to resolve it. They might say that Diplomacy is a primary skill. A success or failure on some act using Diplomacy will advance the clock of the SC toward final resolution. Under the hood, what this mechanic relies on to make sense is that players will describe doing things that - from their fictional position - legitimately could result in progress.

This "covenant of good faith" can be leveraged to constrain an arc of play toward an ends.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
But how?

It's great for a player in an RPG to be the GM Author too, but how does one do that? How would a player "just know" what the limits are? When can the player alter game reality and when do they just have to play through the game?
The principle says they ought to respect what they have established as true and what is legitimate for them to intend to be included in the scope of effect of an act.
 

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