Vincent Baker on mechanics, system and fiction in RPGs

I've personally been in a much higher frequency of "writer's room" situations when playing D&D than I ever had with the roleplaying games that detractors told me should be breaking my in-character immersion or roleplaying. Same is true for many of my players. 🤷‍♂️
So what is good for us to recognise, is that different people think differently, so what is or isn't immersive is rather subjective. Personally what I find most immersive is LARP, where there are really no rules at all, just pure inhabitation and representation of character, followed by relatively rules light tabletop RPGs with simmish logic (i.e. the rules merely represent diegetic concepts) where it is mostly just freeform roleplay with occasional quick rolls.

What I find unimmersive is when the decision making process of the character and the the player get diverged, when I as player need to decide things the character doesn't. With quantum gear and flashback Blades has quite a bit of those, and the at least to us the resolution mechanic often requires more OOC pondering than simple D&D skill checks would. Not that D&D (any edition) is really optimal in this regard either, as they are relatively crunchy systems and fiction to rules connection is sometimes unclear. But basic out of combat, "do stuff, perhaps roll some skills" gameplay is pretty smooth.

It is probably due my LARP background that I am not terribly fond of ruleifying certain things, as I feel that when good immersions and expression of character is going on, people should be just allowed to do their thing and the rules should not get in the way. For example I utterly hate rules that tell how my character should feel, as that is for my internal mental model of the character to decide, and if rules conflict with that it is one of the most immersion shattering things I know.
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
So what is good for us to recognise, is that different people think differently, so what is or isn't immersive is rather subjective. Personally what I find most immersive is LARP, where there are really no rules at all, just pure inhabitation and representation of character, followed by relatively rules light tabletop RPGs with simmish logic (i.e. the rules merely represent diegetic concepts) where it is mostly just freeform roleplay with occasional quick rolls.
Hmm... so to continue my thought just above, it directs toward assessing the mechanic as technique. We should ask Goethe's three questions. In this context - what is it trying to achieve? how well does it achieve that? was that worth doing?

One can easily see that offering a chance to prevaricate would not satisfy the goals of this mechanic. And of course, preferences play a large role in deciding if we then find that what it achieves is/is-not worth doing.
 

Aldarc

Legend
So what is good for us to recognise, is that different people think differently, so what is or isn't immersive is rather subjective. Personally what I find most immersive is LARP, where there are really no rules at all, just pure inhabitation and representation of character, followed by relatively rules light tabletop RPGs with simmish logic (i.e. the rules merely represent diegetic concepts) where it is mostly just freeform roleplay with occasional quick rolls.

What I find unimmersive is when the decision making process of the chracter and the the player get diverged, when I as player need to decide things the character doesn't. With quantum gear and flashback Blades has quite a bit of those, and the at least to us the resolution mechanic often requires more OOC pondering than simple D&D skill checks would. Not that D&D (any edition) is really optimal in this regard either, as they are relatively crunchy systems and fiction to rules connection is sometimes unclear. But basic out of combat, "do stuff, perhaps roll some skills" gameplay is pretty smooth.

It is probably due my LARP background that I am not terribly fond of ruleifying certain things, as I feel that when good immersions and expression of character is going on, people should be just allowed to do their thing and the rules should not get in the way. For example I utterly hate rules that tell how my character should feel, as that is for my internal mental model of the character to decide, and if rules conflict with that it is one of the most immersion shattering things I know.
Did you know that Vincent Baker designed Apocalypse World for his wife Meguey Baker's preference for freeform roleplaying?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
And Im sure you'll retort that you don't care about that, but that doesn't correlate with how defensive you've been in regards to these games.
...
At this point I think you're just making up your own jargon for the hell of it...
...
That just because you say you have related experience to given subject doesn't actually make you an expert in it.

But you're still avoiding the question, which leads me to believe you don't like Improv and don't want to admit it.

Which is fine. Its seemed for a while now that any time we get close to you having a reason to finally agree on something you find a way to ensure we don't establish any mutual understanding.

Mod note:
Somehow, you have missed, or chosen to ignore, the frequent request we make to folks to not make discussions personal.

This thread should be about Vincent Baker's ideas on mechanics and system. It should not be about permerton, personally.

If you are not up to discussing the topic without tearing at your fellow posters, it would probably end better for you to find another discussion now.
 


The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
So what is good for us to recognise, is that different people think differently, so what is or isn't immersive is rather subjective. Personally what I find most immersive is LARP, where there are really no rules at all, just pure inhabitation and representation of character, followed by relatively rules light tabletop RPGs with simmish logic (i.e. the rules merely represent diegetic concepts) where it is mostly just freeform roleplay with occasional quick rolls.

What I find unimmersive is when the decision making process of the chracter and the the player get diverged, when I as player need to decide things the character doesn't. With quantum gear and flashback Blades has quite a bit of those, and the at least to us the resolution mechanic often requires more OOC pondering than simple D&D skill checks would. Not that D&D (any edition) is really optimal in this regard either, as they are relatively crunchy systems and fiction to rules connection is sometimes unclear. But basic out of combat, "do stuff, perhaps roll some skills" gameplay is pretty smooth.

It is probably due my LARP background that I am not terribly fond of ruleifying certain things, as I feel that when good immersions and expression of character is going on, people should be just allowed to do their thing and the rules should not get in the way. For example I utterly hate rules that tell how my character should feel, as that is for my internal mental model of the character to decide, and if rules conflict with that it is one of the most immersion shattering things I know.
Actually I'd even go a step further, the systems themselves perform differently in different hands-- the writer's room in DND tends to come in when the players decide to make a particular plot happen and wants to make sure the sequence of events can't be accidentally de-railed, which you can think of almost like the difference between a fight and a cutscene fight in a video game. But some players don't really do that, for them DND is immersive because you just do whatever, you don't imagine controlling things your character doesn't and you respect the GM as a 'Black Box' of decision making and happenstance.

If you expect to play DND in such a way where the resulting stories of that practice are acceptable, there are more consensus mechanics in some games in Baker's tradition (but I don't know AW enough to discuss if that's an incidental later addition by other designers or not) these can take the form of "and here the group would decide what happens next as a result of this die roll" or "someone will add a detail to the scene that wasn't there to explain the discrepancy, someone else can interject if it feels off-tone, the GM has final say"
 

pemerton

Legend
there are more consensus mechanics in some games in Baker's tradition (but I don't know AW enough to discuss if that's an incidental later addition by other designers or not) these can take the form of "and here the group would decide what happens next as a result of this die roll" or "someone will add a detail to the scene that wasn't there to explain the discrepancy, someone else can interject if it feels off-tone, the GM has final say"
From the AW rulebook (p 109):

Apocalypse World divvies the conversation up in a strict and pretty traditional way. The players’ job is to say what their characters say and undertake to do, first and exclusively; to say what their characters think, feel and remember, also exclusively; and to answer your questions about their characters’ lives and surroundings. Your job as MC is to say everything else: everything about the world, and what everyone in the whole damned world says and does except the players’ characters.​

And here is Vincent Baker on the relationship between improv/consensus, and RPG rules - the first passage is from 2003, the second (at the end of the same webpage) from 2004, and the third from 2008:

Doing Away with the GM
You need to have a system by which scenes start and stop. The rawest solution is to do it by group consensus: anybody moved to can suggest a scene or suggest that a scene be over, and it's up to the group to act on the suggestion or not. You don't need a final authority beyond the players' collective will.

You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth. That is, when somebody suggests something to happen or something to be so, does it or doesn't it? Is it or isn't it? Again the rawest solution is group consensus, with suggestions made by whoever's moved and then taken up or let fall according to the group's interest.

You need to have orchestrated conflict, and there's the tricky bit. GMs are very good at orchestrating conflict, and it's hard to see a rawer solution. My game Before the Flood handles the first two needs ably but makes no provision at all for this third. What you get is listless, aimless, dull play with no sustained conflict and no meaning.

In our co-GMed Ars Magica game, each of us is responsible for orchestrating conflict for the others, which works but isn't radical wrt GM doage-away-with. It amounts to when Emily's character's conflicts climax explosively and set off Meg's character's conflicts, which also climax explosively, in a great kickin' season finale last autumn, I'm the GM. GM-swapping, in other words, isn't the same as GM-sharing.

Any solution to this is bound to be innovative. There's not much beaten path.

Resolution, Why?
. . . The only worthwhile use for rules I know of is to sustain in-game conflict of interest, in the face of the overwhelming unity of interest of the players. . . . Any rules that don't do it, you're just as well off if you ditch 'em and play freeform. Lots and lots of RPG rules don't reliably do it.

Startling or very bad outcomes are pointless, sometimes disruptive, if they don't serve the game's conflicts. Hence fudging. Very good outcomes, or even very expected outcomes, vindicate the group's use of the rules, if the outcomes serve the game's conflicts.

You know the thing that happens where a group starts out playing Ars Magica (say) by the book, but gradually rolls dice and consults the rules less and less, until the character sheets sit in a folder forgotten? At first the rules served to build the players' unity of interest, so they used 'em. Now that the group's got unity of interest, it doesn't need the rules anymore. The only thing that's going to win that group back to using rules is something better than unity of interest.

Unity of interest plus sustained in-game conflict is better than unity of interest alone. . . .

Let's say that you're playing a character who the rest of us really like a lot. We like him a whole lot. We think he's a nice guy who's had a rough time of it. The problem is, there's something you're trying to get at with him, and if he stops having a rough time, you won't get to say what you're trying to say.

Our hearts want to give him a break. For the game to mean something, we have to make things worse for him instead.

I'm the GM. What I want more than anything in that circumstance - we're friends, my heart breaks for your poor character, you're counting on me to give him more and more grief - what I want is rules that won't let me compromise. . . .

We have a shared interest in the game - we both like your character, we're both interested in what you have to say, we both want things to go well. We also have an ongoing, constant agreement about what's happening right this second - that's the loody poodly. The rules should take those two things and build in-game conflict out of them. . . .

What a bunch of . . . games do is stop short. They establish our agreement about what's happening right this second, they contribute to our shared interest in the characters and setting - and that's it. They don't provoke us. I can, by the rules, back off your character's issues, let the conflicts fizzle, compromise and go easy, and we sit there going "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" all night. . . .

So: resolution, why?

The answer is: because interesting play depends on good conflicts, and creating good conflicts means hitting characters you like right where they're weak, and hitting a character you like, whose player is someone you like, right where she's or he's weak - it's not easy.

The right rules will show you how to do it. They'll make it the only natural thing.

Rules vs Vigorous Creative Agreement
I really dig the term vigorous creative agreement . . . if all your formal rules do is structure your group's ongoing agreement about what happens in the game, they are a) interchangeable with any other rpg rules out there, and b) probably a waste of your attention. Live negotiation and honest collaboration are almost certainly better. . . .

As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create. And it's not that you want one person's wanted, welcome vision to win out over another's . . . what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table. You want things that if you hadn't agreed to abide by the rules' results, you would reject.

If you don't want that . . . then live negotiation and honest collaboration are a) just as good as, and b) a lot more flexible and robust than, whatever formal rules you'd use otherwise.

The challenge facing rpg designers is to create outcomes that every single person at the table would reject, yet are compelling enough that nobody actually does so. If your game isn't doing that, like I say it's interchangeable with the most rudimentary functional game design, and probably not as fun as good freeform.​
 



kenada

Legend
Supporter
This book is not cheap, especially in dead tree versions
Even the kindle or nook versions it's US$45
I could buy an RPG book for that kind of money lol
Technical books tend to be expensive (even as eBooks). If you have access to the O’Reilly library, Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design appears to be included.

Adams has another book, Fundamentals of Game Design, that is cited as the source of the genres used in Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design. I looked into it, but it appears oriented at video game design.
 
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