Why do RPGs have rules?

@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?
I think, from this perspective, you can look at something like PbtA or BitD style expressed goals/principles/techniques as being alignment mechanisms. They bring alignment between audience and play, and between GM and players.
 

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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In some forms of play I believe a GM, or another player, may introduce the unwelcome and unwanted via principles alone. This mostly works fine when comes to a GM as a neutral referee or a GM as a motivated storyteller because the things they want, and desire, are not in conflict with sustaining conflict in play.

However other forms of play require players and/or GMs to actively act against what they should desire in order to sustain meaningful play. This is possible, but highly fraught and fragile. Freeform play with extended casts that have intersecting personal narratives require a great deal of empathy and interest in other players' characters to be functional and worthwhile.

As part of my posts in my Vampire game it is important that my character (Laurent) provokes and sometimes actively acts against other players' characters interests in order for there to be conflicts to resolve. In order to know how to go about the provocation I need to be interested and invested in the other characters. Without the requisite empathy I cannot do the things the other players need me to do for the momentum of play to carry forward.

In doing so I (Campbell the player, not Laurent) will develop a level of fondness that means I do not want bad things to happen to these characters even when they must. So then having Laurent set up a surprise meeting for Alain Ferrier becomes something I do not want for Alain. So, it then becomes natural for me over time to have Laurent become more amenable to Alain, but then play becomes more and more conflict neutral. We can continue on in a principled it becomes and more and more difficult over time.

There are a few ways around this.

1. We can step back and take more of a writer's room approach and not be as directly invested in individual characters, instead become invested in the drama. That's generally what I find happens in most freeform groups. You start engaging more in a shared novel with a lot of negotiation of how it works. That's mostly how we are handling this first phase of the game.

2. You introduce mechanics that reinforce character and let that sustain the momentum. Stuff like Virtue, Vice, Nature, Demeanor in Vampire that gives you resources when acting in a manner befitting your character in order to sustain the momentum of play that way.

3. You introduce mechanics that help to sustain the momentum of play on their own like AW Basic Moves.

Basically, once we need to desire things to maintain play that also cause us to act against preserving the momentum of play, we are in a position where we are constantly having to rely on Willpower and introduce things that unwanted and unwelcomed by ourselves. In situations where we like and value our fellow players (and their characters) this can inordinately fraught.

A lot of what Vincent talks about comes from this place where I as a player adore your character and want good things for them, but if play is going to continue bad things must come their way at least intermittently. He speaks at length about how that was a struggle in their Ars Magica game. That they grew to like each other's characters too much. That play started to become more conflict neutral.
 
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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
As an addendum I do not think a freeform group where a player introduces something unwanted and unwelcome to another player (that they themselves do not find unwelcome in some way) is very functional. Because that would suggest that the player in question does not have a personal investment or much interest in the other characters. I do not see how they would be able to reliably support other peoples' play.
 

pemerton

Legend
A blackjack dealer must play a hand, but they can do so without taking a side in the result (they do not bet.) The sentence quoted says nothing about partiality to the result of introducing the encounters (whether they should be welcomed or wanted by the referee.)
A blackjack dealer can, in principle, be replaced by a machine. They have almost no discretion. (I've never played at a professional blackjack table - perhaps the dealer has to make some decisions around marginal cases of what counts as a flipped/revealed card?)

The analogue of the blackjack dealer, in playing Traveller, would be an assistant whose job it is to roll everyone's dice.

The Traveller referee, as per the passage on p 19 of Bk3, has to exercise a wide discretion, making significant decisions - they have to identify the adventure being played, and come up with ideas for encounters that will further its cause and then "impose" those encounters - that is, add to the fiction in ways that will discharge their responsibility.

Furthering a cause is too broad. It includes instances that will not count as playing a game. A football referee has a unity of purpose with players, furthering the cause of a fairly played match, but does not have a stake in the scoring of goals.
The football referee does not have an obligation to further cause of a fairly played match. They have much more particular obligations - for instance, to adjudicate a particular tackle as permissible or not. Some decisions may require the referee to judge whether a particular action performed by a player is consistent with the spirit of the game. An analogue to that sort of refereeing decision, in a RPG, would be deciding - in Torchbearer - whether or not an attempt to invoke a trait is "reaching". These are not the same sort of task as introducing new content into a shared fiction in order to further the cause of the adventure being played.
 

As an addendum I do not think a freeform group where a player introduces something unwanted and unwelcome to another player (that they themselves do not find unwelcome in some way) is very functional. Because that would suggest that the player in question does not have a personal investment or much interest in the other characters. I do not see how they would be able to reliably support other peoples' play.
I think in theory it could work but not well in practice.
 

pemerton

Legend
When a Traveller pGM inserts an encounter, they take a side.

<snip>

Was it really right to picture Traveller pGM's side-taking as identical to that of players?
For the sake of clarity: I did not say that the Traveller referee is in an identical position to the "player" of Traveller. Nor did I say that they take a side in conflict, or in an encounter. What I said is that they have to take a "side" (the scare quotes are deliberate - I mean that they have to take a stand on a matter, form a view) as to what the unfolding fiction is about, and what will further it. They are not just impartially adjudicating the fiction.

The point can be elaborated by drawing a contrast: p 19 of Book 3 of Classic Traveller states 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."

Nowhere is that proposition, of some equivalent or approximation to it, found in Moldvay Basic or in the AD&D rules. When Gygax talks about "imposing encounters", he refers to additional wandering monster checks that are imposed by the GM when players have their characters perform actions that - in the fiction - have an additional chance of attracting attention (eg breaking down doors) and that - at the table - are attempts to get extra advantages (such as bypassing doors) and therefore should be counter-balanced by extra risk (ie additional wandering monster checks).

Even in 1977, RPG rules were being written which presented the role of the GM in different ways.

EDIT:
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?
Notice that the process of GMing Moldvay Basic, as set out in the quote, is quite dissimilar to what the Classic Traveller referee is enjoined to do. The Basic D&D GM does not have any obligation to impose encounters so as to further the cause of the adventure being played. Basic D&D doesn't even have a notion of "the adventure" that is being played such that its cause might be furthered.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I don't think player versus non-player is the best distinction. I think actively seeking to shape/influence play is the right one. Like even if a Vampire Storyteller is not considered a player no one argue they are a neutral arbiter. Same for an Apocalypse World MC. They are actively putting their fingerprints all over play.
 


thefutilist

Explorer
Honestly, after watching the video, I don't think Ron was being particularly critical of AW/PbtA. All he really said was that he feels that his enjoyment would be greater playing it in a style where the fronts are pretty 'hard' and their evolution and impact is largely prep and not so much predicated on what the PC's situation is. I get what he's saying, though how far you go in that direction is going to matter. Too far and you're just back to trad play, basically (albeit a certain flavor of that).

For me, that flavor of trad play is Narrativism at it’s best. Although it’s a bit more complex than that because I think there are two fundamentally different modes of play that people call Narrativism. (and for the critics out there, yeah yeah Narrativism really should be applied solely to agenda but hopefully people get what I mean)

In one you seek to collapse a situation and in the other you seek to challenge a characters values. What’s tough is that people use a lot of the same language to describe both modes and a lot of people play the same games but using different modes.

The challenge values mode tends towards high improv in terms of off-screen activity, scene framing and what the GM is allowed to introduce. In many (although not all) cases the resolution system is used as an improv system.

When I’ve played in challenge value style games, the GM will insert stuff on the fly that, well, challenges the characters values. For instance, if you’re playing a Paladin that is torn between compassion for the poor and loyalty to the law. They might, on the spur of the moment, decide to frame a scene where a poor thief has been caught for stealing food. What do you do? And so on.

There also tends to be less of a direct link between the resolution system and the characters actions. One example is that a players character is at a ball, say persuading the Duke to try a peaceful approach. A miss is rolled and the GM uses that as permission to introduce a character, say they invent the Dukes niece on the spot, and further use that as an opportunity for drama, she starts agitating for war.

On the other hand, the collapse mode looks and plays really similar to trad games. The resolution system tends to hew fairly close to trad games as well, in so much as you’re really looking at whether the character succeeds or fails (more or less, it’s a little more complicated).

Anyway this is a bug bear of mine and I should probably just go and write an essay on it rather than constantly bringing it up in threads only tangentially related. In my defence, I think if it was widely recognised there were two modes it would be easier to separate out what techniques and principles best serve which mode.
 

pemerton

Legend
For me, that flavor of trad play is Narrativism at it’s best. Although it’s a bit more complex than that because I think there are two fundamentally different modes of play that people call Narrativism. (and for the critics out there, yeah yeah Narrativism really should be applied solely to agenda but hopefully people get what I mean)

In one you seek to collapse a situation and in the other you seek to challenge a characters values.

<snip>

the collapse mode looks and plays really similar to trad games. The resolution system tends to hew fairly close to trad games as well, in so much as you’re really looking at whether the character succeeds or fails (more or less, it’s a little more complicated).
Can you say more about the "collapse mode" as you understand it?
 

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