Why do RPGs have rules?

@clearstream , just a quick read of the recent exchanges. I think you can need to revise the conceptual model you’re working from if Blackjack dealer (“referee”) = (or even approximates) player is folded into the calculus.

* Outside of rote technical responsibilities and social courtesies as a professional, a blackjack dealer has nothing at stake hand-to-hand or in the throughline of their shift.

* A Blackjack dealer runs a simple script with no decision-points. There is no “play” for the dealer; their turn is automated.


It’s hard for me to understand how you could conceive of Blackjack dealer = player (the point of the design of the game is precisely to remove dealer = player from the equation) given the above bullet points. Participant? Sure. Player. No.

If this informs some of your thinking on these matters, then that might explain some of the daylight between us? Perhaps this was just a bad paradigm to illustrate your overall point? If not, it would be interesting to see how you’ve arrived at Blackjack dealer = player despite the above dynamics. And how the above bullet points not being a total confounder to paradigmatic playership (let’s call it!) contributes to your thinking on TTRPGs game engines and principles.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
In a non fixed situation resolution will always be subject to what the GM decides to introduce next.

...it produces predictable plots that tend toward genre emulation and relies on GM force.

A GM can do that no problem. What we want the mechanic to do, is unify us in the face of our collective desires and then potentially spit in our faces. So when Miss Loverlorn approaches Mr Cad and declares she loves him, we all want that love to ring true and to touch Mr Cad’s cold heart. The conflict resolution mechanic steps in and says ‘no, maybe it won’t.’

Now if the GM can introduce new pieces ad hoc, then they have sole control of the situation and thus all further positioning. As an example, imagine you’re three sessions into an AW game and the MC introduces a new heavily armed gang from over the horizon. They’ve basically subverted the existing situation and created a new one. So any previous conflict resolution means what? Well it does have some effect but it’s been heavily neutered. (edit: in practice I've found it has as much effect as the GM wants it to have except when it comes to characters inner states and values, which is why you can still get character arcs in Intuitive continuity play)

On the GM thing. It can really be whatever you want no? In gamism you absolutely need an impartial adjudicator for the whole thing to even run. So they can be a player or a means. I strongly prefer for the GM to be just another player in resolving the situation but I don’t think that’s like an objective aesthetic fact or anything.
@pemerton's latest indirectly helped me get a bit clearer on what was bugging me. I'll try to lay it out.

Where GM is just another player (pGM) in resolving the situation it's meaningful to include them in finding resolution-Rw welcoming and resolution-Ru unwelcoming.​
Where GM isn't a player, it's not (nGM). This maps to the sort of testimony you hear like "I just put the trap there, it's up to players to stumble into it" and all that ilk. When a Traveller nGM inserts an encounter, it's up to players what happens as a result. When a Traveller pGM inserts an encounter, they take a side.​
This proposed disavowal fits with what Edwards says in the video you link: GM should leave to players how conflicts are resolved because only players have a stake in it. Was it really right to picture Traveller pGM's side-taking as identical to that of players?

It's not so much that GM necessarily a player, but whether they are or are not a player they have additional power, and that power changes their relationship with resolution of the situation. Suppose Traveller pGM has a stake in NPC-Jo terminating the players' characters. It's unwelcome to Traveller pGM that the PCs survive. Consistent with their side-taking, they don't want that. And for the sake of argument let's agree that termination isn't welcome or wanted by the players.

A reading of Baker's arguments cited in and linked from the OP that I find appealing, is that what Baker cares about is the unwelcome and unwanted from the perspective of players. So what happens when GM is counted a player?

I'll leave it there. The above sketches out an explanation for much more, but would value thoughts on these facets before committing to them.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
@clearstream , just a quick read of the recent exchanges. I think you can need to revise the conceptual model you’re working from if Blackjack dealer (“referee”) = (or even approximates) player is folded into the calculus.

* Outside of rote technical responsibilities and social courtesies as a professional, a blackjack dealer has nothing at stake and-to-hand or in the throughline of their shift.

* A Blackjack dealer runs a simple script with no decision-points. There is no “play” for the dealer; their turn is automated.


It’s hard for me to understand how you could conceive of Blackjack dealer = player (the point of the design of the game is precisely to remove dealer = player from the equation) given the above bullet points. Participant? Sure. Player. No.
I'm not saying that I conceive of Blackjack dealer as a player, but rather drawing attention to what may be being counted as playing the game.

Picture a form of football where referee is supposed to sometimes kick the ball. Would that automatically make referee a player?
 
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I'm not saying that I conceive of Blackjack dealer as a player, but rather drawing attention to what may be being counted as playing the game.

Picture a form of football where referee is supposed to sometimes kick the ball. Would that automatically make referee a player?

You have to fill that out a bit more for me to answer. “Kicking a ball” in the forms of football I’m familiar with is a very specific thing with specific implications.

An American Football referee kicking a ball to a sideline ball boy to remove it from the field of play is not playing the game. An American Football referee accidentally kicking a football as they attempt to grasp it to get it to the Center for snapping might constitute a technical gaffe if it costs a precious second or two on a dwindling clock in a one-score game…but that still isn’t playing…that is user error.

So what do you have in mind? I’ve got Football and American Football in my grey matter so use one of those, please. Sorry Rugby fans!
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
You have to fill that out a bit more for me to answer. “Kicking a ball” in the forms of football I’m familiar with is a very specific thing with specific implications.

An American Football referee kicking a ball to a sideline ball boy to remove it from the field of play is not playing the game. An American Football referee accidentally kicking a football as they attempt to grasp it to get it to the Center for snapping might constitute a technical gaffe if it costs a precious second or two on a dwindling clock in a one-score game…but that still isn’t playing…that is user error.

So what do you have in mind? I’ve got Football and American Football in my grey matter so use one of those, please. Sorry Rugby fans!

For instance, the original Traveller rulebooks (1977) label the GM as a referee. They also tell us (Book 3, p 19) that

The referee is always free to impose encounters to further the cause of the adventure being played; in many cases, he actually has a responsibility to do so.​

That is not an instruction to be "impartial" in relation to the unfolding of the shared fiction. It is an instruction to take an active "side" in that respect.

When and under what conditions would you count Traveller referee as playing a game? Are they necessarily playing a game by imposing encounters?
 

When and under what conditions would you count Traveller referee as playing a game? Are they necessarily playing a game by imposing encounters?

I haven't run Traveller in three decades. I'm not equipped to answer that, unfortunately.

If you give me a "referee kicks ball" example from American or International Football like we were discussing above, I can talk about that though?

I can also talk about a TTRPG I'm sufficiently familiar with to engage with as well (lots of them!...I think you know the ones I've discussed in the past!), but I'd rather stay on this point because it piqued my interest about how you might think on these subjects and where the corresponding daylight is between us. If, though, its not pivotal to your mental model (maybe you didn't really mean Blackjack dealer = player?), we can leave the point be.

Finally, I'm going to copy/paste my side of a concurrent conversation as its important to spell out some important concepts about referee user error and/or professional sport rulesets that increasingly require in-situ referee interpretation/mediation. Neither of those things constitute referee = player, though they may (pending ruleset and the particular dynamics of a game situation and resolution) constitute referee noise contaminating the signal (and damaging the integrity) of play.

ASIDE OR RELEVANT TBD (Concurrent conversation C/P): Just to be clear, overcoming a degenerate rule system that increasingly places absurd interpretation requirements on officials (like both the NBA and NFL in the last 15 years) places the integrity of any given gamestate in peril (and therefore the final gamestate in question).

But this doesn’t constitute referee = player. It’s just “(increasingly) bad ruleset” and/or “user error prone ruleset” and/or “bad ref.” Right?

Contrasting those two rulesets with the NHL crystallizes things.

The NHL has IMPROVED their ruleset in the last 15 years and the gamestates and results has achieved a windfall of integrity (less referee user error contaminating the signal of actual play) as a result.

That should be what professional rulesets aspire to. But rules changes in Goodell’s NFL and Silver’s NBA aren’t about that (they're about liability, optics, reducing the prospects of player injury via decreased collisions/contact, and generating offense/pace-of-play).
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
I haven't run Traveller in three decades. I'm not equipped to answer that, unfortunately.

If you give me a "referee kicks ball" example from American or International Football like we were discussing above, I can talk about that though?

I can also talk about a TTRPG I'm sufficiently familiar with to engage with as well (lots of them!...I think you know the ones I've discussed in the past!), but I'd rather stay on this point because it piqued my interest about how you might think on these subjects and where the corresponding daylight is between us. If, though, its not pivotal to your mental model (maybe you didn't really mean Blackjack dealer = player?).
I supplied that example to question what folk might mean by playing. Is it "playing" if I hold a hand of cards that players' hands must beat? By analogy, is it "playing" if I in Moldvay Basic I roll a 1 on a d6 and place a wandering monster and subsequently decide its actions in an encounter with player characters?

Finally, I'm going to copy/paste my side of a concurrent conversation as its important to spell out some important concepts about referee user error and/or professional sport rulesets that increasingly require in-situ referee interpretation/mediation. Neither of those things constitute referee = player, though they may (pending ruleset and the particular dynamics of a game situation and resolution) constitute referee noise contaminating the signal (and damaging the integrity) of play.
Perhaps your last sentence grasps one of the things I'm questioning. Supposing referee were a player, then referring to "referee noise contaminating the signal (and damaging the integrity) of play" would on surface be equivalent to referring to "player noise contaminating the signal (and damaging the integrity) of play" which is absurd (or paradoxical, take your pick.)

Hence I'm prodding folk to decide. Is GM a player? Or is GM a referee? Is there any reason to suppose these are mutually exclusive? And then supposing GM were a player, are they a player on the same terms as other players?
 

I can certainly understand what the underlying question is in terms of games generally and 'ref-like' or 'gm-like' participants. I think it's not worth getting too hung up on though. We can certainly agree that, in the case of most RPGs we usually discuss, player and GM are fairly different participant roles. GMs may be held to have pre-lusory goals, and subject themselves to lusory means.

Those goals and means are clearly not identical with those of the players. Thus we must, logically, conclude that there is some asymmetry there. Principles like those present in AW, or usually implied in most traditional RPGs, then explicate the GM's role in terms of how it relates to the overall play experience and the roles of the players.

I'm not sure if it's really worth debating terminology here.
 

I supplied that example to question what folk might mean by playing. Is it "playing" if I hold a hand of cards that players' hands must beat? By analogy, is it "playing" if I in Moldvay Basic I roll a 1 on a d6 and place a wandering monster and subsequently decide its actions in an encounter with player characters?

<snip>

Hence I'm prodding folk to decide. Is GM a player? Or is GM a referee? Is there any reason to suppose these are mutually exclusive? And then supposing GM were a player, are they a player on the same terms as other players?

I think the line of questioning sometimes is probably too atomized, at other times too abstracted, and at other times still lacking integrated context. I think the best way to approach the question is to get specific; specific games, specific moments of play.

Take D&D4e as an example:

* When I'm framing obstacles in Skill Challenges, I am absolutely not a player. My concerns (and often my "play pieces) are structural, systemic, and meta.

* When I'm foregrounding and meting out decision-points related to consequences in Skill Challenges, I am absolutely not a player. My concerns (and often my "play pieces) are structural, systemic, and meta.

* When I'm setting up a battlefield array for a combat, I am absolutely not a player. My concerns are structural, systemic, and meta.

* When I'm managing a Minion NPC in a combat, its probably 90/10 split whereby I'm performing the rote, script-based operations of a Blackjack dealer (minions are designed to reduce cognitive overhead and handling times for GMs by optimizing for ease-of-use and the intersection of thematic, genre-based conventions married to game engine chassis) with the extremely remote number of Minion turns being underwritten by minor decision-points that share DNA with "playerdom."

* With Standard NPCs its probably closer to 50/50. With Elites its probably closer to 20/80.

* Ok, finally we arrive at Solo NPCs in 4e combat. Complex resource suites, refresh dynamics, and action economy that interact in complex ways with the battlefield array, Team Monster, and Team NPC. Here? Here I am about as close to "playerdom" as it gets in all of TTRPG-land. Throw in a nested Skill Challenge related to this Solo NPC's motivations and that "GM as player" coefficient amplifies further.




But this analysis only holds for D&D 4e. The analysis would be different for any given game one GMs.

For instance, due to the nature of the conflict resolution mechanics and how Towns and the overarching setting and premise are constructed, it feels (for the GM...not sure player-side) much moreso like the GM is performing as a player might. Its not however (full-fledged "playerdom"), because there are still significant meta-agenda (at every moment, drive play toward conflict and escalate, escalate, escalate; meaning at any opportunity that is remotely feasible) concerns that I have to fold into my decision-tree as I manage the unfolding crises, NPC motivations, the fiction I marry to my Raises and Sees, and the ways I handle my dice pools.

GMing Dogs in the Vineyard is a very different beast in many ways (though kindred in others such as "follow the players lead about what is important" and "cut to the action") than D&D 4e both experientially and obviously process-wise. Hense, the broad zoom question around "is a GM a player" and the moment-to-moment interrogation of that same question is going to land differently.
 

thefutilist

Explorer
@clearstream

Oh I think I get your point now. So the way I view it is that the unwanted is always in terms of the audience and you can’t legislate that away. You can advocate for a character as author but you can’t tell people who to root for as audience. I mean that’s obvious really but it’s worth being explicit for conceptual clarity.

If we put the Vincent issue another way. -If we all root for the same character (as audience) we may very well go too easy on them. -

So given you can’t legislate away the audience part of a person it doesn’t matter (in this specific regard) whether we make them a player or a lusory/means GM. They’re still an audience member and can’t not be.

Did I get your point?
 

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