Why do RPGs have rules?

thefutilist

Explorer
PART ONE

Yeah. Note before I begin: I was going to try doing this without theory terms because they can muddy the water, that proved too hard, so if I use a theory term I’ll explain it as it pertains to this specific mode of play.

So in collapse play what you as a group (including the GM) are doing, is collapsing a situation. Situation specifically means characters with conflicting interests which are in tension. The collapse is the collapse of the tension, the situation (the characters interests) will change during play such that at some point there is no tension between them any more. I.E the situation has collapsed. This produces a story and probably a theme.

So to take a short example. We start with the situation that there are three characters, Bob and Dick. Bob is Dicks son and he is visiting his father to persuade him to visit his dying mother Marge (Dicks ex-wife).

Bobs: Interest (get his dad to to see his mom)

Dick: Interest (not see Bob’s mom)

Marge: Interest to see Dick

Now we don’t yet know the specifics of why there is a conflict of interest so that’s going to have to be made up within the parameters already set. There’s going to have to have to be a procedure for that, so let’s take some basic improv in character dialogue as the means by which we’re establishing the conflict. We also have to frame a scene, which is someone’s job or maybe reached by consensus, but leave that aside for the moment. Framing a scene means deciding which characters are in a location. Let’s say Bob and Dick.


SCENE ONE

Bob: Mom’s dying and she really wants to see you.

Dick: Screw that, she cheated on me, I never want to see her again.

Bob: Well then don’t do it for her Dad, do it for me, your son.

At this point the conflicting interest is thematically charged. What triumphs? vengeance or filial loyalty.

So conflict resolution, in this specific game mode, means the method by which we see which interest wins out. Dick or Bobs. Say we roll a dice and odds Dick, evens Bob. It comes up even.

Dick: (sigh) very well son, but I’ll do it for you, you ya hear, not for that lying bi…

The scene is resolved but there’s still conflicts of interest, mainly because it seems there’s got be a conflict between Dick and marge.

SCENE TWO

(we’ll establish and resolve in the same way as before)

In the hospital with Dick sitting beside Marge’s hospital bed.

Dick: You wanted to see me

Marge: The guilt of what I did to you has weighed on me and now I’m dying I want to ask for your forgiveness, this is the last chance I’m going to get.

We’ve got a fleshed out conflict right here because we’ve previously established Dick’s priorities. So let’s roll again, evens for Marge, odds for Dick. We get odds, Dick’s vindictiveness has won.

Dick: I’ll never forgive you, I hope you die drowning in the guilt. (he storms out)

So as a consequence of this interaction, we decide that we still need to resolve Bobs new interest. He’s gone and spoken with his mother and his new interest is telling his father to do screw himself.


SCENE THREE

Dick and Bob at Dicks house.

Bob: Mom told me what you said to her.

Dick: I just couldn’t do it son, I couldn’t forgive her..

Bob: And I can’t forgive you, you’re dead to me (Bob storms out)

Now we still to fully resolve Dick’s new priorities, so we have one more scene


SCENE FOUR

Several years later. Dick is sitting alone in his darkened house, looking blankly out the window. For a moment it looks like he is about to cry but then his face distorts into a mask of anger before becoming dead again.

Which I think pretty much does it. What’s the theme? I dunno, maybe something about how not being able to let go of anger ruins you, or something. The point is we didn’t have to think about it.

Any apologies for the fan fiction level of writing, I’m just trying to belt out whatever comes to mind.
 

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thefutilist

Explorer
PART TWO

So this exact sequence could appear in both modes of play but here are the differences as I experience them.

We’ve got all the characters on the board before play begins and are pretty constrained by them. Someone can’t just decide that aunt Daisy turns up (that would be expanding the situation not collapsing it)

The scene framing is specifically keyed off where the characters interests conflict or are in tension. So we know what to scene frame because we know our overall goal. Which is always collapsing down towards the resolution.

I didn’t mention anything about a GM. Both players are really doing the same kind of thing. If you use a GM in this mode then what they’re doing probably isn’t that different to the players. They’re looking for where the conflicts of interests happen and framing scenes towards collapse.

One thing I’m leaving a little ambiguous is how much is pre-established. In the examples above, very little is established about motives. They were more fully fleshed out in play. You could flesh out the motives a lot more before play begins though. Like maybe we establish that Marge cheated and Dick’s angry about it before play. In some ways the above is a possibly misleading example because I think sketching out the broad priorities of characters is actually quiet important. This is because. Depending on the context, choosing a motive may have the same impact on the situation as some one introducing aunt Daisy. Or alternately, they’re basically taking unilateral control of the situation. Imagine if Dick’s player, sitting at the side of Marge’s bed, suddenly says ‘I know you’re trying to get back into my will and I won’t allow it, die poor.’

This is getting long but I’m going to provide another extended example from an actual session we did tonight.


THE SITUATION

Me and a friend brain stormed several characters.

Orc warlord: Head of a huge Orc army who has suddenly lost his taste for violence and death.

Warlords son: Is aggrieved by his fathers sudden change of heart. He’s not yet had the chance for glory himself.

Human King: A bit of a fool, out of his depth when it comes to war and easily swayed by his advisors.

Human General: Advisor to the King and a hard headed realist about the realities of war and the inevitability of volence.

The Kings daughter: Peacenik but also the lover the General.

A sinister mage: Advisor to the King. Out to increase his own power.

An ancient war golem: Sickened by war by struck by the inevitability of it. Bound to the sinister mage.


SCENE ONE

The warlords son and his father. The warlords son raged about not having his chance at glory, conflict resolution happened in his favour. The warlord, with a heavy heart, agreed to go to war again but warned his son about what the horrors of war do to your soul. His son didn’t care.

SCENE TWO

The King, the mage, the General.

The conflict was about persuading the King. The general wanted to prepare for war, right now. The mage wanted to send a peace envoy to further his schemes. The mage won.

SCENE THREE

The Kings daughter and the general. The daughter has decided to be part of the peace envoy and the general wants her to go with elite troops, for her safety.. They argue and the daughter refuses the offer and kicks the general out of her room, saying he’s blood thirsty.


And so on.

So what happens if there is a GM?

The GM plays the npc’s in the same way that a player would. The big difference is that you’re not framing npc v npc scenes and the GM does have sole control over who would prevail. I’m not saying the GM necessarily plays the scene out in their head, they might just have a vague notion of how it goes.


Anyway back to differences. So the biggest important difference for me, between the two modes. Was in value challenge mode, there wasn’t much of a sense of a situation (for the obvious reasons). Sometimes a fixed situation would arise but it wasn’t certain. So the producing fiction tended to heavily revolve around the interior states of the characters. I also found it all a bit contrived but obviously that’s preference based. Also when I was GM in that mode, the really big difference was that I was doing something different to the players. Where in collapse mode we were all finding out how the situation collapsed together.

Anyway I hope that isn’t too garbled. Clarifying questions are welcome. As are disputes, to me the modes really do seem different at the core but maybe others don’t feel as strong.
 

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.
I think SOME of the difference can be formulated in terms of premise and overall focus. So, Apocalypse World focuses heavily on interpersonal conflict and its effects, both on the PCs and on the milieu generally. The premise is basically "harsh world, you must fight for what you need." I'd think that USUALLY would cater to 'value challenge' type play, but maybe not always. You'd have to focus your game more on something external though. Now, lets imagine a game of 'The Seven Deadly Sins" where the characters are magical heroes enmeshed in a complex conflict, where a lot of their motivations and basic drive focuses on winning the overall conflict and accomplishing subgoals, as well as more personal challenge stuff. There are a lot of questions there, too. Are the 'good guys' really good? If they play dirty, what happens to the world, not just what happens to themselves? There's a wider focus, and that leads to your other sort of play.

However, I haven't personally participated in a Narrativist type game where personal challenge of some kind wasn't a central part. I think it will always be there. In fact I would almost say that its lack would represent a shift to something closer to 'neo-trad/OC' kind of play where the focus is on envisaging the character 'as designed', not challenging their very nature. T7DS as a game could play that way too, depending on how you approached it (there is, AFAIK not an RPG specifically for that milieu, I'm just sort of imagining what it would be like if it was faithful to the source material).

EDIT: I see you have a good bit more interesting stuff I think we cross posted a bit. I'll have to digest that, but interesting stuff!
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
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.

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 read these to be related observations. Truly indifferent participants are an impossibility, or if they are a possibility then how could they judge that a play event was unwelcome/unwanted, or form any motivation to procure it?

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.
I agree with the last part (about TB) but my focus just for the moment is on the first part. From "The Role of the Referee in Soccer Officiating" (and mirrored widely)

Soccer referees play an essential role in overseeing the game and ensuring that it is played fairly and with integrity.
"Fairly" is defined to include "impartial decisions, enforcing the rules, and upholding the principles of fair play and sportsmanship", which are then further explained as
1. Impartiality: The code of ethics emphasizes impartiality. Referees must remain neutral and free from bias, ensuring that all teams and players are treated equally.

2. Fairness: The code underscores the importance of fairness. Referees are expected to enforce the rules consistently and make decisions that are just and equitable.

3. Sportsmanship: Upholding the principles of sportsmanship is a cornerstone of the code of ethics. Referees promote respect among players, encourage fair play, and discourage unsporting behavior.

4. Safety: The code of ethics also places a premium on player safety. Referees are responsible for preventing dangerous play and ensuring that the game is played without unnecessary risks.

5. Integrity: Upholding the integrity of the game is a fundamental ethical duty. Referees are expected to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

How this connects with TTRPG for me is that there is a unity of purpose between participants that continues whether they are performing as referees or players. A pillar of their unity of purpose can be explained in terms of what I've called the lusory-duality (player is simultaneously author and audience) expanded to a trinity (GM is simultaneously author, audience and referee), or it can be explained in terms of personal investment or empathy. I can (and must) appreciate that a play event is unwelcome/unwanted and be invested in procuring it, even if it is not impacting me in the role of player.

A further duality has been observed in the relationship of players to games, which is making oneself subject to game. It is open to say that GM is not subject to game in the way that players are even while they are perforce audiences (invested and empathetic.)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
The football referee's ONLY job is to ensure a fairly played match. That horse collar tackle in the Superbowl was impermissible because using it unfairly put the person tackled at greater risk of injury. The referee's job is to spot that unfair play and balance it with a penalty thereby evening up the game and making it fair again. Allowing unsportsmanlike conduct is unfair to the spirit of the game and the referee evens things up to make it fair again. It wouldn't be fair to just drop the ball anywhere after the play, so there is a ref whose job it is to get it as close to perfect as possible to ensure fairness. All the refs do is make sure that the game is fairly played.
 

The football referee's ONLY job is to ensure a fairly played match. That horse collar tackle in the Superbowl was impermissible because using it unfairly put the person tackled at greater risk of injury. The referee's job is to spot that unfair play and balance it with a penalty thereby evening up the game and making it fair again. Allowing unsportsmanlike conduct is unfair to the spirit of the game and the referee evens things up to make it fair again. It wouldn't be fair to just drop the ball anywhere after the play, so there is a ref whose job it is to get it as close to perfect as possible to ensure fairness. All the refs do is make sure that the game is fairly played.
Nonsense, they enforce the rules of play. That's all they do. There's nothing 'fair' or 'unfair' about a horse collar tackle as you put it. It is simply dangerous, so it is banned, because injured players cost owners money, etc. If it was legal, then both sides could do it, and there'd be nothing 'unfair' about it! Unsportsmanlike conduct is not 'unfair' either, it is merely disagreeable and refs discourage it by levying penalties. It has zero to do with fairness.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Nonsense, they enforce the rules of play. That's all they do. There's nothing 'fair' or 'unfair' about a horse collar tackle as you put it. It is simply dangerous, so it is banned, because injured players cost owners money, etc. If it was legal, then both sides could do it, and there'd be nothing 'unfair' about it! Unsportsmanlike conduct is not 'unfair' either, it is merely disagreeable and refs discourage it by levying penalties. It has zero to do with fairness.
That danger is why it's unfair to use it. Fairness is not just equality, but also justice and using a dangerous tackle is unjust and therefore unfair. Using it is also cheating since it's against the rules, and cheating is unfair play.

The primary job of a referee is to ensure fair play.
 

That danger is why it's unfair to use it. Fairness is not just equality, but also justice and using a dangerous tackle is unjust and therefore unfair. Using it is also cheating since it's against the rules, and cheating is unfair play.

The primary job of a referee is to ensure fair play.
I find your terminology badly conceived. Fair play is about equality of access to the 'lusory means', nothing else. All a ref is obligated to do it enforce the rules, whatever they are, equitably. That's their obligation to fair play. What those rules are, that is a whole other matter.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I find your terminology badly conceived. Fair play is about equality of access to the 'lusory means', nothing else. All a ref is obligated to do it enforce the rules, whatever they are, equitably. That's their obligation to fair play. What those rules are, that is a whole other matter.
Correct. The rules aren't relevant. Cheating, though, is and the ref's primary duty is to ensure fair play by making sure both teams follow the rules. They penalize players who cheat and violate the rules by throwing flags, taking away downs and yardage, ejecting players, etc. Enforcing the rules = enforcing fair play. Cheating = unfair play.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I read these to be related observations. Truly indifferent participants are an impossibility, or if they are a possibility then how could they judge that a play event was unwelcome/unwanted, or form any motivation to procure it?

Sure, but there are levels to our interest and empathy. I do not find it all that controversial to stipulate that those higher levels of interest and empathy in a given character would make it more difficult to rely on principles alone. Just like it's harder for me to eat cookies that are at the store than right in front of my face.

I also do not find it bizarre to stipulate that on a normative basis if empathy and interest are necessary in order to provide a given play experience that on a normative basis that type of play will have higher interest and empathy towards the characters in question.

Just to have functional play in Apocalypse World the GM has to understand who the characters are as people in order to create PC-NPC-PC triangles, in order to make GM moves that places characters under pressure, etc. The active use of empathy is decidedly nonoptional from a principles of play perspective. So then too the importance of procedures becomes more paramount to maintain separation at important times. You need the dice to make you do it because if you are doing everything else right you shouldn't have the heart to do it.

This is decidedly different from a B/X referee who is actively striving for stoicism the entire time they are sitting at the table.

I personally don't think it's very useful to flatten these differences for sake of discussion because then we end up in a place where really the only answer we can give to anything is "it depends".
 

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