People who have trouble reading the game's imaginary space

edited November 2010 in Story Games
A wordy post, but it's a very simple matter.

PREFACE
Roleplaying is a bunch of people talking around the table. As we talk, we establish what's going in this fictional world, with these fictional characters, blah blah.

GM: "You're standing in a room, there's a table and a chair there."
Player: "I sit on the chair."

It's a big cloud hanging over the table in front of us and what we say gets fed into it. But we also have to read the cloud. Sometimes, we have to correct, negotiate or revise. Sometimes we're reading the cloud one way but we're not saying it and as a consequence, the cloud starts to drift away from us in relation to the other players, because we're not really contributing.

Player: "I sit on the chair."
GM: "Oh I forgot to say, it's a giant's chair, it's too big for you to sit on."

We need to talk and get those images out of our heads and feed them into the cloud, so that we're all on the same page.

SOMETHING FISHY
Sometimes we get lazy, sometimes it's the game mechanics' fault, and it just kinda falls apart. There's is no cloud. If there is, it's vague. We have enough to go by in real-world cues that we don't really need to read the cloud, and since we don't need to read it, there's no need to add to it.

Player: "I attack. I rolled a 18!"
DM: "That's a successful attack, roll damage."
Player: "That's 7 damage."
DM: "He's got 18 HP left."

Sometimes this drifts to the point where people aren't really able to conceptualize fictional game stuff (read/write) into the cloud, even when it's asked of them.

GM: "So what are you doing?"
Player: "I'm killing him."
GM: "No, I mean, what are you doing? Like, in the game, in the fiction...What does your character do?"
Player: "I'm rolling my sword skill yeah?"

For me, the imaginary space is what makes RPGs RPGs, so I have trouble with this "weak cloud" stuff sometimes. It doesn't have to be physical stuff either. I think it's what Luke calls "sacred space". When the player says "My character changes sides." and there's nothing on the character sheet, nothing on the dice that's informing this, but the cloud changes, and everything changes. But physical stuff is easier to talk about.

Player: "I jump back on the table, away from his sword."
GM: "The orc sneers at you and draws his loaded crossbow instead."

THE INQUIRY
A recent example: One of my players is playing a monk, his character grapples a troglodyte, which makes him exposed to another, adjacent troglodyte. He realizes this and shifts nervously in his seat. I say to him "well, you're grappling the guy, why don't you use him as a living shield?" and he's just kinda lost. "It's not by the rules." He can't make it happen with dice or numbers, or modifiers or rulebooks...it's too deep in the cloud. He's not reading the fictional situation as a, you know "real" situation. He's not reacting to the fiction or interacting with the fiction, just the real-world stuff.

I've noticed this happens a lot with certain players in Apocalypse World. I just keep repeating "this is the fictional situation, what do you do, this is the fictional situation, what do you do?" and they ask to do something that's completely irrational given the situation or hopelessly look to the rules.

What I'm interested in is: Do you have trouble with reading the game's imaginary cloud-space? Do you know someone who does?

I'd like to talk about it. Since the fiction is so important to me sometimes, I often find myself at loss with players who pay no attention to it, ascribing no importance or authority to it or just don't (can't?) perceive it as something tangible.

Comments

  • edited November 2010
    Nope no trouble reading the cloud but see next sentence.

    A lot of games I've played in beat you out of the cloud so you don't want to read it anymore. (Edit: This reflects past gaming experience not current)

    ara


    EDIT: see edit ;)
  • I think your friend could use some serious 0e, Gregor! :)
    I think it might be key, though, to try getting your friend into cloud-sourcing (ha!) via a different game than what sounds like 3e. That game might just be the place where this person can't or doesn't know how to get back into the cloud.
    A game like Polaris, for instance, is all about the cloud. The "dice" (well, Key Phrases and one die) always drive you back towards the cloud. It's structurally essential to play - you can't somehow "avoid" the cloud and play in any way that makes sense.
  • If the fiction matters (what's in the cloud affects the mechanics), I'm all in!

    If the fiction doesn't matter, but the mechanics are light (quick to use), I may still be in.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, but the mechanics are light (quick to use) and are evocative of the fiction (inspire me to imagine), I'm all in.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, and the mechanics are heavy (slow to use), I'm out.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, and the mechanics break my suspension of disbelief (I'm a fighter who can't choke someone because that's a level X Monk ability), I'm out.

    It depends. It's not just, does the fiction matter? Or are the rules prescriptive or descriptive? Or what are the mechanics handling time? Or do the mechanics break my suspension of disbelief? It's a combination of all these factors.

    For example, a lot of D&D 4E players find it hard to care about the fiction because unless the DM uses page 42 or other often ignored optional rules, the fiction doesn't matter. Or the mechanics themselves break their disbelief. But some D&D 4E players don't need the fiction to matter and are very flexible in making sense of how the mechanics and fictions interact, But many of these players still find it hard to care about the fiction because the mechanics take too long! The game is already slow if you don't describe the fiction or keep descriptions to a minimum. Some people have such a hard time with the slowness of the game that they time their players and give them 30-60 seconds to choose and resolve their actions. With that pressure and the aforementioned factors, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Which is part of why so many D&D players feel so rewarded by sessions where they never roll a single die. They can focus on the fiction by using the game as inspiration while not dealing with the game directly. I have friends who said Shadowrun made them great roleplayers because they did everything they could not to roll the dice, which meant lots of roleplaying!
  • Posted By: jenskotBut some D&D 4E players don't need the fiction to matter and are very flexible in making sense of how the mechanics and fictions interact, But many of these players still find it hard to care about the fiction because the mechanics take too long!
    I play 4E the lazy way. The mechanics make most of the fiction for me; I just improvise around the edges.
  • edited November 2010
    I've done all of the following:

    Me: So I want to set up a honeytrap, inviting him to my castle, so I can sully his reputation later.
    GM: Right. I don't think that's practical. He's got armies ready to invade. He wouldn't come.


    Me: So I rip his prized possessions apart. What's going on here, I yell?
    GM: He looks really shocked. I don't know, he says.
    [It turns out he really doesn't know and I've misinterpreted the situation.]


    GM: So how are you attacking?
    Me: I'm shooting him!
    GM: Yes, but how? Are you saying anything as you do it? Are you towering over him?
    Me: No, I'm just shooting him!


    Do those count?

    It's interesting that you locate the problem within the guy who can't read the situation. Not, for example, within the guy who can't communicate the situation. Or the group, which has two different views of what's happening.
  • Gregor,

    I find one of the worst ways to communicate about fiction during play is to use the SIS or big cloud way of looking at things. It really all comes to communication, social dynamics, and meta-understanding (understanding what other people are understanding). In a real way a good system provides a language for enhancing all of these during play.

    So the short answer is yes, I have some difficulty "reading the cloud" during play because:

    1) The cloud doesn't actually exist - if you think carefully about communication during play this falls out. So we're really talking about reading what a group of people independently believe to be the case in the fiction - this is actually quite hard.
    2) As a heuristic for communicating during play, the cloud approach falls apart when you want to get into some of the more detailed or complex things I like to do - explicit unthinking and context framing via questions.
    3) A good system means that I won't need to sacrifice performing the mechanical and non-mechanical aspects of play to bolster a general unity of fictional content.

    - Mendel
  • Mendel,
    I would add my two cents here and say that, ultimately, creating the SIS is like a highway cloverleaf with lots of yield signs - every time someone with authority injects some new, important thing into the fiction, everybody has to "yield" (i.e. accept it) or protest.
    Most of the time, we're yielding, taking turns yielding to one another, and adding new content that feeds this process and keeps it moving.

    Sometimes, we get a player who screeches to a halt because he either can't merge safely into oncoming traffic, or he mistakes the yield sign for a stop sign, and waits until things clear up. And if my playtest the other night was any indicator, sometimes a player blows right through the yield sign and gets mad when I rear-end him. Since only one person can talk to the whole group at a time and still be clearly heard, I think the analogy makes sense.
  • I don't usually have trouble reading the cloud, but I've known enough people who do that I think I know at least part of the why: you read the cloud better when the people you're playing with communicate better towards you. That is, when you play with people whose references and ways of thinking are in harmony with yours, it's easier to get what they're driving at with less complete and comprehensive communication. This can often even cause difficulties for the other people in the group when you have a good thing going and just start nodding at your partner - the communication between you two is working, so you can visualize each other's additions to the fiction even when everybody else gets lost.

    I get this noticeably higher level of communication with a few people I play with regularly, such as Sipi and Sami. I'm reminded of a recent game where we got this several times with Sami, perhaps because we had the most experience in playing together out of everybody in the group: my character was a priest in a fantasy world that had Christianity, but did not have such things as Israel or Rome or any of the other places referenced in the book. As a side-detail I described how my character studied his "Revised Bible", on which Sami immediately picked up my intent that needed to be explained to the others: the book would necessarily have been revised to match the world into which Christianity had been transported, as the original did not match the nature of that world sufficiently. Similar reading of the other's narrative intent occurred several times in the game, although we did our best to say the nuances out loud to the benefit of the others even where we saw that the other had already gotten the gist of it.

    That sort of thing is utterly common (it's unlikely that everybody would communicate equally well towards everybody else all the time), but it seems to me that the phenomenon of "not getting the cloud" simply happens when the level of communication is consistently better in a subgroup of players; from the viewpoint of that subgroup it seems that the outside minority is not getting it - which they in fact are not, as they're missing the subtle personal communication cues that the in-group is using to transmit the fiction between them. The cloud exists between those people, but there is an outside observer who keeps missing it because he's not party to all of the communication. Less extreme and occasional cases of this are not a problem (they can even be beautiful to watch as other people work together seemingly seamlessly), but consistently talking over the heads of part of the group isn't good, of course.

    My preliminary thesis therefore is that at least some of the cases of cloud-reading difficulty are because the cloud is not communicated sufficiently explicitly; sometimes the in-group may even enjoy playing over the heads of the "dullards", and in some cases the group has some genuine incompatibility in that some members just are naturally imaginative while for others picking up the sort of verbal narration that is the basis of rpg cloud communication is so much harder that playing together becomes difficult. This is probably not the only source of cloud-reading difficulties, of course, but it's one that I've encountered.
  • Zac,

    Since you can't actually make a SIS, you need to fake one. "Fake it till you make it" is an incredibly powerful heuristic which can be helpful in this case. I agree what you're describing is important, but even if every one is listening and doing their best to "yield" to each others contributions this does not magically turn the notion of the big cloud into a reality.

    Indeed most of the concerns I mentioned happen at a deeper level than your cloverleaf, mostly because you assume that the easy part is communication. Apparently in your analogy you receive new content and protest or yield - and the successful negotiation of the protesting and yielding is the risk. From my perspective this is important, but secondary to my overriding concern that receiving new content is not at all trivial.

    - Mendel
  • I think that the concept of Fictional Positioning is worth bringing up here.

    Essentially, you're talking about different expectations for what the game is, though. To you, it's a story, suggested by a game, to them, it's a game that happens to produce a story. Do I read the situation correctly?

  • Posted By: Levi KornelsenPosted By: jenskotBut some D&D 4E players don't need the fiction to matter and are very flexible in making sense of how the mechanics and fictions interact, But many of these players still find it hard to care about the fiction because the mechanics take too long!
    I play 4E the lazy way. The mechanics make most of the fiction for me; I just improvise around the edges.
    Also physical positioning can be as rewarding and serve similar goals as fictional positioning.

    Possibly related, I was listening to a D&D podcast discussing how 4E power flavor text was replacing players describing their character's actions. Wizards included the flavor text to inspire players but many players now just read the flavor text instead of describing anything.

    It reminds me of a study where a company sent out a memo to its employees, "we understand more than 25% of you come into work 30 minutes late several times a week, please stop or it will go on record for your yearly reviews." It partially worked as a few of the 25% stopped coming in late. But unexpectedly, many more people from the 75% that were originally coming in on time started coming in late once they found out how many people were getting away with it!
  • Mendel,
    After reading Kit's link about Fictional Positioning, I would first say, "I agree with you!" But I don't know how to help - there's been one person I've played with, of late, with whom I've had lots of communication problems, and I am honestly considering giving up on playing with this person again, precisely *because* we have such trouble arriving at a feasible SIS together. That may not be very helpful advice for you, but I think that, as you said, communication problems like that are deeper, and what I was describing with my cloverleaf is what play procedures can accomplish. I would say that what you're describing is a deeper Social Contract-level issue.

    Secondly, everybody,
    I would add that Story Now play adds another wrinkle to such positioning - breaking the "relational" SIS can be a feature, an engaging and interesting source of twists and surprises, as opposed to a rude awakening.
    There's also an element to some styles of play that are a bit more "meta" (as often happens with Story Now play), wherein such twists are not destructive or abusive to play because we can arrive at them with at least a modicum of sense-make. For instance, a best friend might turn out to not be so best after all if he's offered a million dollars to walk away and let the Mafia goons kidnap his friend. That could be an "oh, snap!" moment, where someone goes "against character" (and thus against the relational SIS) for the sake of doing something interesting and compelling. And such moments need to be possible, in order to safeguard player agency and the right to fully participate in creating the unfolding story.
  • edited November 2010
    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Avalanch'd. I don't really want to talk about theory, I want to talk more practical stuff, actual play experiences, but let's do this...
    Posted By: Zac in DavisI think your friend could use some serious 0e, Gregor! :)
    I think it might be key, though, to try getting your friend into cloud-sourcing (ha!) via a different game than what sounds like 3e. That game might just be the place where this person can't or doesn't know how to get back into the cloud.
    A game like Polaris, for instance, is all about the cloud. The "dice" (well, Key Phrases and one die) always drive you back towards the cloud. It's structurally essential to play - you can't somehow "avoid" the cloud and play in any way that makes sense.
    Thing is, I would be pooping all over his fun then. He derives a lot of his enjoyment of the game from system mastery. I used to run D&D very 0-esque, all fiat all the time and by god the game flies, but it negates a lot of his investment, because all those optimized builds don't matter then. If you can beat the monster by clever narration, you feel cheated for all those feats you took.
    Posted By: jenskotIf the fiction matters (what's in the cloud affects the mechanics), I'm all in!

    If the fiction doesn't matter, but the mechanics are light (quick to use), I may still be in.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, but the mechanics are light (quick to use) and are evocative of the fiction (inspire me to imagine), I'm all in.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, and the mechanics are heavy (slow to use), I'm out.

    If the fiction doesn't matter, and the mechanics break my suspension of disbelief (I'm a fighter who can't choke someone because that's a level X Monk ability), I'm out.
    Yes! In relation to my answer to Zac, above, I have developed lots of DM techniques over the years that make fiction matter, because the rules were not fulfilling my expectations. I'm talking about D&D specifically here. But that constantly came at the price of ignoring/downsizing/houseruling the shit of the ruleset.

    This was before I started really looking/listening to my players. Now I realize that this player wants a lot of the system, so I'm trying to really learn to play D&D raw, so to speak. This is VERY related to your thread, where you talk about how Iron DM guys just wing it all and don't play by the rules. Can I ignore the rules, favoritize the fiction and still make this guy feel like his mechanical input matters? Like, without a lot of illusion? In this light, I find oD&D is much much kinder for the DM, with the monsters being comprised of just three or four numbers, rarely more. But I don't really want to talk about this here.
    Posted By: jenskotI have friends who said Shadowrun made them great roleplayers because they did everything they could not to roll the dice, which meant lots of roleplaying!
    Hmmm. Super interesting. Again, not really what I'd like to talk about here, but I remember a lot of talk about how people tried to avoid the dice in oD&D, too. This could mean it was easier to develop and discover these emergent techniques that made the game work. James Maliszewski said in his opinion the "killer DMs" of old were the guys who tried to stick to the dice too much. But, not really in the scope of this thread!
    Posted By: GrahamI've done all of the following:

    Me: So I want to set up a honeytrap, inviting him to my castle, so I can sully his reputation later.
    GM: Right. I don't think that's practical. He's got armies ready to invade. He wouldn't come.


    Me: So I rip his prized possessions apart. What's going on here, I yell?
    GM: He looks really shocked. I don't know, he says.
    [It turns out he really doesn't know and I've misinterpreted the situation.]


    GM: So how are you attacking?
    Me: I'm shooting him!
    GM: Yes, but how? Are you saying anything as you do it? Are you towering over him?
    Me: No, I'm just shooting him!


    Do those count?

    It's interesting that you locate the problem within the guy who can't read the situation. Not, for example, within the guy who can't communicate the situation. Or the group, which has two different views of what's happening.
    Thanks, Graham. Yes, they count.

    I think the first two are just problems of communication, you were reading the cloud differently, or reading stuff into it. No biggie, happens all the time. We've been "rewinding" those moments from day one.
    Player: "I stab the prince!"
    DM: "Whoa, dude, what?"
    Player: "I thought he was the traitor!"
    DM: "Um, no no no."
    Player: "Ok, I don't stab him."

    The third example is more what I'm talking about. The question (that John pointed out) is: does it matter whether you're towering over him, or how you're shooting him? Is it relevant? In the example, you (as the player) obviously think it doesn't matter, the GM thinks it's relevant. Who is right? In this game?

    Here's an even better example, rules or no:
    GM: "Ok, he corners you, you're on the floor and he's standing over you with a big ass knife."
    Player: "I run through the door!"
    GM: "Um, dude, he's like, standing right there, he's blocking your way, and he's got a knife...what are you doing?"
    Player: "I'm running out."
    GM: "He's there, you can't just run out."
    Player & GM: "..."

    I think this possibly has a lot to do with blocking, as you describe it in Play Unsafe, but it's not so much for "playing safe" but for not really taking what's described in the fiction as "true". What has been established etc.

    I don't think I'm locating the problem in the guy, generally speaking. If there is a problem in communication, I think I can spot it. A misscommunication is when actions are rationalized from the point of some other interpretation of the fiction.

    Take:
    -"I'm stabbing him!" -"But he's there to help you." -"Oh. Yeah, I'm not stabbing him, I hug him."
    Posted By: wyrmwoodGregor,

    I find one of the worst ways to communicate about fiction during play is to use the SIS or big cloud way of looking at things. It really all comes to communication, social dynamics, and meta-understanding (understanding what other people are understanding). In a real way a good system provides a language for enhancing all of these during play.
    Hm. I wasn't my intention to talk in terms of SIS. In fact I even kinda forgot that SIS existed as a term before you mentioned it. From how I determine my "cloud" it pretty much includes everything you already mentioned. If I say my character is an elf, I need to (1) communicate it, (2) it is approved/filtered/edited through our social space and (3) people understand, more or less what I mean when I say elf, and I understand that they understand. Maybe the book tells us what an elf is. If a specific elven trait comes up later, we can discuss it, edit, change, remove...whatever. Fact is that there is a shared assessment between us that yes, my character is an elf and that might or might not be mechanised. If I fail to complete any of the three steps, then it's not in the cloud. If I don't say "my character is an elf" to the group, it's not part of the "cloud". And later, when I do say it and it enters the cloud, the orc player is like "What, your dude is an elf? I hate elves, I stab you!"
    Posted By: wyrmwood
    So the short answer is yes, I have some difficulty "reading the cloud" during play because:

    1) The cloud doesn't actually exist - if you think carefully about communication during play this falls out. So we're really talking about reading what a group of people independently believe to be the case in the fiction - this is actually quite hard.
    2) As a heuristic for communicating during play, the cloud approach falls apart when you want to get into some of the more detailed or complex things I like to do - explicit unthinking and context framing via questions.
    3) A good system means that I won't need to sacrifice performing the mechanical and non-mechanical aspects of play to bolster a general unity of fictional content.

    - Mendel
    1. Don Quixote doesn't actually exist either. Or John McClane. Or Julius Ceasar if you wanna go really down and dirty with it. Yet we have a pretty good understanding of all these dudes. R'lyeh doesn't really exist, nor does ancient Rome. Yet we can interact with them, on many levels, and talk about them and have a shared, mutual understanding of them. Yes, we each have our own pictures in our heads, but the very fact that we're talking about these things shows that there is an intermediate as if existence. Roman Ingarden termed it purely intentional existence, but there are many ways to talk about this. I'm not sure it's something we should get into. Hell, if I say "horse" you know what I'm talking about, despite the fact that horse in German is "pferd" and "konj" in Slovenian and that the chess figurine of the horse is something different than the animal, and oh holy shit all communication is flawed!

    P.S.: If the things we're interacting with fictionally don't exist, then freeform is categorically impossible.

    2. I have no idea what "explicit unthinking" means, so maybe you wanna talk more about that. "Framing questions" are an excellent way to work with the cloud! So I'm thinking we're not talking about the same thing at all. Huh.

    3. Yes. Absolutely. Can you dig that for some games and some players "unity of fictional" content is completely irrelevant?

    I'm not sure I'm really following you, please keep it up! I wanna see what you're getting at.

    @Kit: A tentative yes. I'm thinking about the same lines, but I'm not entirely comfortable with "this is all this is".

    But goddamn has this veered off track. I really didn't want to discuss SIS. I thought "in RPGs we talk and collaboratively create a shared image of what's going on" was a given. So is "sometimes we don't really see it the same way or sometimes we are too vague about what we put in the picture, so there are mistakes made and we revise". I don't see those as problematic.

    I want to talk more about how players either interact with these things in the imag(in)e-cloud as though they are tangible game pieces, or regard them as (sic) cloudy and without game a game function.

    In other words: "I don't have a gun anymore, I pick up the coffee mug on the table and throw it at the villain!" vs. "I don't have a gun on my character sheet, I don't know what to do."*

    *and to emphasize further: it has been established and correctly communicated that the character is in a kitchen, with all the usual kitchenware (so it's not a communication problem)
  • Gregor,

    I guess I'm stuck in thinking of it as an expectations-thing. The player who uses the character sheet as a comprehensive list of things they can do is playing a different kind of game than the player who is willing to make ad-hoc alterations to the crunch through fictional positioning.

    I really default to thinking about things as theoretical issues, and this one hits close to a problem I've been struggling with for a bit now, so I keep veering into theory, but you've made it clear you're asking this as a practical question. So, that said, can you sit down with this player and describe how you see RPGs as functioning, and how you think they do, and talk about how to reconcile this? I am not quite sure what kind of suggestion you want.

    But thank you for bringing this up, as it's clarifying some of my thoughts on the rightward/leftward arrow tension problem I alluded to above.

  • I have been in games were players/ player thrive on vivid cloud imagery. They are the most great games for me.
    But I must admit I have noticed the lack of imagery when someone fails, in a dice roll or such randomiser.
    For example "you missed who's next " I became more aware of this after reading this article.http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/65/learn-to-explain-failure/
    The cloud doesn't work well when the group gets bigger I have found,
    Maybe the style of the GM creates wispy not substantial enough cloud imagery. I wonder if models and figures help here to create the imagined world. I personally like pictures models and have a friend who is a wiz at making prop scene's. Even passports and pic's. Once he had pictures of loved ones found on soldiers killed in a world war 2 game.(making a quite wrong, personal truth of their deaths.)
    So that is one way of bringing home the imagined world.
  • Posted By: kobutsuGregor,I guess I'm stuck in thinking of it as an expectations-thing. The player who uses the character sheet as a comprehensive list of things they can do is playing a different kind of game than the player who is willing to make ad-hoc alterations to the crunch through fictional positioning.I really default to thinking about things as theoretical issues, and this one hits close to a problem I've been struggling with for a bit now, so I keep veering into theory, but you've made it clear you're asking this as a practical question. So, that said, can you sit down with this player and describe how you see RPGs as functioning, and how you think they do, and talk about how to reconcile this? I am not quite sure what kind of suggestion you want.But thank you for bringing this up, as it's clarifying some of my thoughts on the rightward/leftward arrow tension problem I alluded to above.
    No, no, you're right. It's extremely tempting to talk about this in terms of expectations/agenda and, hell, it fits really nicely. The guy who's only looking to his sheet of real world mechanical resources is getting something else out of the game than the guy who's cannibalizing the game's fiction and can work without a character sheet.

    The "suggestions" bit was tangential, as it touches directly on my D&D game, and a lot of what John was writing in his "player rolls, GM describes" thread. I'm not really looking for suggestions how to "fix" my game, it was more of a rhetorical question.

    I'm just looking for people who have had this disconnect or know people who do, and actual examples of such disconnects.

    Yes, it has a lot to do with the arrows. If you want to talk about it in those terms (anyone who doesn't know clouds and boxes, just skip the next part):
    I'm looking for actual play examples of cloud-to-cloud not meshing with dice-to-dice (or "boxes", to keep the origial term:)). Moments where a veritable crack appeared between the boxes and the clouds. Ie. when a person cannot fathom to make a decision that's purely in the cloud, by "moment of judgement", or vice versa.

    4E has been mentioned above. While I admire a lot about 4E and can see the merits of its design, and think it's a good game and can totally have fun playing it, I can't imagine it scratching my roleplaying itch, precisely because it has very few rightward pointing arrows (or cloud feedback).
    Posted By: Paul88The cloud doesn't work well when the group gets bigger I have found,
    ---
    Maybe the style of the GM creates wispy not substantial enough cloud imagery. I wonder if models and figures help here to create the imagined world. I personally like pictures models and have a friend who is a wiz at making prop scene's. Even passports and pic's. Once he had pictures of loved ones found on soldiers killed in a world war 2 game.(making a quite wrong, personal truth of their deaths.)
    So that is one way of bringing home the imagined world.
    Yeah, this keeps being linked back to John's thread. In a big group, the GM is responsible for the coherent fiction, by narrating and summarizing, because it's hard to really collectively build it.

    Oh, I think props definitely help, but I think they can be detrimental, too. Minis in D&D, while they certainly help to strengthen the "who's where" image, also make it static and boring, because they can quickly become the actual image, instead of a representation (prescriptive instead of descriptive).
  • When I read your original post, Gregor, immediately I began to think of it as an individual-interaction-with-fictional-positioning issue. I often find myself a little confused about how well a game's rules line up with the FP tableau: if I'm standing on a crowded street trying to sneak up behind someone and get them without them seeing and I'm using all kinds of environmental factors, I don't have to think about these factors because I have ten thousand sensory and intellectual inputs monitoring my positioning in the world for me. In even the most successfully sim games, though, we haven't got all these passive inputs; we have to ask questions and roll dice and take risks in order to do things like just notice the police officer on the other sidewalk glancing our way, the direction of the wind, etc. Instead of just reacting to every positioning input, we have to prioritize (often inexpertly) based on concrete mechanical interactions.

    In my case I know I may tend to get a little gunshy in games in which I don't totally understand the FP-to-mechanics/rightward-pointing-arrow business; I get scared that anything I say can and will be used against me, so I don't talk as much or describe things as vividly as they appear in my head because of the risk to my character or other people's characters. It's a bad habit, but game design is mind control and these things happen sometimes. If I'm a little tired or this reticence goes on for a little while, it becomes a set habit and I have to haul myself out of it with some effort, but in the meantime my quality of play drops somewhat.
  • edited November 2010
    Posted By: LulaIn my case I know I may tend to get a little gunshy in games in which I don't totally understand the FP-to-mechanics/rightward-pointing-arrow business; I get scared that anything I say can and will be used against me, so I don't talk as much or describe things as vividly as they appear in my head because of the risk to my character or other people's characters.
    Great!

    I really wasn't thinking along these lines when I started this thread, but I have since already connected it to Play Unsafe and I think this can't be a coincidence...

    Ok, let me try to word this.

    The fundamental reason for relying on hard, mechanical stuff, rather than the fictional content is uncertainty. The fiction needs to be judged. Reliable vs. Unreliable currency. This uncertainty, coupled with blocking, forces the players to turtle in the firm structure of the game's rules, avoiding contributions to the fiction or reliance on any fictional element. Of course there are other motivations, system mastery, tactical, gamist play etc. but it boils down to optimisation, conservative, economical play. Safe play. The rules have structure, they are reliable. This is the holy grail of "balanced" games: pure mechanical equivalence. The fiction is treacherous.

    On the other end of the spectrum is the "yes, and" improvisational flow of the game, where our brains "just do it". There's no explicit need character sheets, fundamentally it's freeform. Mechanics interject in a very different way. We don't turtle from the fiction, but take it by its horns. We shy away from the dice because they disagree with the fiction and they are "random, fickle and unreliable".

    The purpose of rules as such in these two ends of the spectrum is completely different.

    Holy shit it all makes sense now.

    This isn't what I came here for, but damn.
  • Everyone, allow me to say "I'm thinking." for a bit.
  • Zac,

    It looks like we haven't been getting through to each other. I don't see what Fictional Positioning in particular has to do with what I was talking about, and any of the opportunities and difficulties I was talking about should be first addressed with social and cognitive heuristics before delving into the territory of explicit Social Contracting.

    In any case, it seems Gregor doesn't want this thread to cover the cloud/SIS to this level of depth, so I'll be stepping out, unless you or someone else wants to continue in whispers or another thread.

    - Mendel
  • Hey, Mendel, two things:

    One. Can you please reply to my three points? I'd like to hear what you think. I'll repeat them, for the sake of clarity:
    1. All communication is problematic, this is not unique to RPGs. Works of art, particularly literature "don't really exist" either, which doesn't stop us from communicating about them and discussing them as if real. Intentional existence. In short, I don't see how this is inherent to RPGs at all, and I don't see the merit of discussing it. Yes, the cloud is not "really real", that's why we call it "fiction", but if it wasn't real, then freeform couldn't work at all.
    If my character is carrying a dagger, I can hide it in my sleeve. If my character carries a spear, I can poke the trapped ceiling with it. Those weapon properties are nowhere in the rules, there's nothing really real about them, we can't hold it, can't look at it. We can only see it in "our mind's eye", and it's very clearly part of the shared vision, once spoken aloud and asserted.
    2. What is explicit unthinking? What are contextual framing questions? I don't know what you mean by these. The way I understand framing questions is very supportive of the cloud, so I don't know why you're saying that the "cloud approach falls apart". Please help me out here.
    3. A good system etc. Yes, tried and true. I'm not sure what you are getting at here. Maybe unpack?

    Two. James' last comment changed the landscape of the thread for me, and its purpose also. That's why I said "I'm thinking", it's too early to say what I want the purpose of this thread to be now. Consider its original purpose moot.

    I'll be back later with a follow-up post summarizing my thoughts.
  • Hey I was thinking of times when there's not one cloud but two clouds in conflict with each other type thing.

    A scene I remember where this happen was at a climatic moment trapped in a Lab type room, these creatures in stasis tanks, fluids draining for there release and then supposed battle with the group. One of the characters states his intention to chop at a trunking pipe going to one of these tanks along the floor.
    GM describes after his successful roll you see no damage. After three attempts and with the same response from the GM a big argument blew up.
    Surly says the player I'm denting this. I cant tell you that says the GM cus you might not carry on.(or some such reply). Now was the GMs cloud a fictional one or a "your fucking up my climatic scene one?"
    Another is when a statement is taken as final, "I know was holding on to the rope, but I'd let it go if it was pulling me over the edge. Just give me a reaction roll to let go if you think I wouldn't."
    These aren't total disconnects with your cloud I know but they are disconnects with each others.
    In sometime frustrating ways.
    Hidden outcomes required by the GM stop him from seeing your cloud.
    Its not customary to say is this a imagine cloud. or a situation I cant change. If you did the response might be along the lines of " I cant tell you that cus you might stop."
  • Paul!

    I forgot about this: there is only one cloud. Only one at any time.

    In your first example, the player kept attacking the pipe because the GM refused to inject the information into the cloud. It simply wasn't there. The damage to the pipe was obfuscated, absent, zip, nil. That's completely bullshit play. That's not even a problem of communication, that's just crap.

    Whatever's in your head, is in your head. It doesn't matter. Until you "put it on the table" so to speak, it doesn't exist. Sometimes we don't quite understand what other people put on the table ("Dude, what's that?"), and sometimes we think we've put enough stuff on the table so that we're both seeing the same thing, but we don't. That's communication problems.

    Purposefully hiding stuff like that is just making me mad.

    No, what I was talking about is about either (a) not knowing what to do, or (b) refusing to do anything with the "stuff on the table" (in the cloud), even after we've put it there, and removed the communication issues.

    I think I know why (b) happens, but (a) is mystifying to me, although I suspect (a) happens when you've been doing (b) for too long.
  • Gregor,

    1) I'm not interesting in the philosophical discussion on the reality of fiction. My point here is simple. The Shared Cloud is at best a useful conceit, and on many occasions can be problematic for understanding and playing RPGs. It is just another mental short cut for dealing with a group, and as such it is less accurate than understanding what is really going on, even if it may save time and thought.

    Of note, when you claim communicating fiction is easy you seem to only be concerned about communicating definite events - but one of the hardest things to communicate is the scope of possibility, certainly you can't have a proper situation without it. This seems awkward considering that nearly all of your problems are with how people perceive and communicate what is possible in the fiction.

    2) Explicit unthinking - is (loosely) ensuring myself and/or possibly others retain unformed perspectives relating to a topic of which I have good evidence others have made definite conclusions. Context framing via questions - using questions or options to change the perspective space of one or more players. For example, offering an unlikely suggestion without authority to change the option space away from unmentioned, less severe options - depending on the context and player saying "we could always slaughter the prisoners" could shift the decision space away from more mild forms of torture and violence by associating them with the extreme. To use these techniques effectively you need to understand how different people (including yourself) perceive the fictional content and constraints of play differently.

    3) One use for a system is to provide a language for possibility in fiction. In detailed gamey* systems these will be game mechanics in freeform systems these will be ad hoc socially optimized description. I'd argue that this is why you find it frustrating when there is a clash in communicating about possibility in the fiction, both you and the other player are trying to repeat terms slowly in your respective "native tongues" to resolve it, but it doesn't work unless you actually start translating.

    If you stop worrying about the cloud, and trying understanding players, you can work on grasping their system language (or dialect) and integrating it within your own, learn their expectations and ultimately get folks on the same page about what you all can and shake out things when you all can't.

    - Mendel


    *not to be confused with gamist or Step on up
  • Hey I get you now, Light bulb on!

    I try to be dynamic with the fiction, but what holds me back would be my frame of mind, or other peoples lack of interest and input.
    What I mean by frame of mind is, this works best for me when I'm not fussing over which rules would apply. Its the two sides of the brain thing, one for Logic the other for imagination.

    also its like symmetry, when at a dinner table Which side is yours? napkins are all equally set out but off to one side.
    So when its your turn to add or start the fiction what part of the fiction is yours, what gives you authority. Do you add to the fiction until someone like the Gm says no, or player and ask's for this to be validated by rules or random method plagued with modifiers and values.

    The group I game with chew over this problem now and then, but this is the most clear understanding I have had yet.
    Thanks for the post.
  • I had a player one time who would constantly stop the game to ask "where is everybody standing". It wasn't for any particular tactical advantage, it was just that she really liked knowing where everyone was in relation to each other, it helped her visualize.
  • I ask that question, "Where is everybody in relationship to each other?", as the GM a lot. I like to check in, anchor the scene, facilitate blocking, and imply tactical choices (because someone will almost always consider the tactical answer to this question) before they're absolutely necessary. Among other things, asking this question before the trap goes off or the monster attacks or the fire starts implies that the characters are capable enough to consider their positioning before trouble starts. It goes to capability.
  • I wrote a thing about this a while ago, on my bloog.
  • Hi Gregor,

    Here are my rules of thumb:

    1) Player: before acting in character, forge agreements (asking, reminding, etc.) on any fictional facts relevant to your decision to undertake that action.

    2) Whole group (especially GM): make #1 as easy as possible.

    3) Only communicate about other fictional facts to the extent that it's fun.

    In my experience, if everyone is onboard with this agenda, efficient techniques develop quite naturally.

    Player: I'd love to put this guy in a hold. Do I have the position to try?
    GM: I'm not sure, but wait, he's wearing a gorget.
    Player: Oh, okay. Maybe I can knock him over.
    GM: The floor is wet...

    I could say more but am not 100% sure I'm on topic, so I'll wait.
  • Simon, yeah, I remember that post, it's a great one.

    Will, Jason, questions rock my world. They're really really useful for establishing "what's going on", and lots of other things, too.

    Mendel:
    1) I'm not saying communicating fiction is easy. I'm saying it's problematic, but that's true of all human communication (sic).
    But, let's imagine that we've communicated the fiction, or more specifically the situation correctly and successfully. If I say "You're in a room, there's a table, a window and a chair." you already have a pretty good picture of the situation. You can ask more questions, like "how big is the room?" "what is the table made of?" "what colour are the walls?" etc. to strengthen the image in your mind. You can imagine being there, right? With these things around you?

    The black hole: How is then the scope of possibility not communicated along with it?

    2) Ok, I understand the definition of explicit unthinking. Can you talk about what it does?
    I think I understand the context questions, too, but I still don't see how "the cloud approach falls apart" in their presence...

    3) I'm not worrying about the cloud, not at all. I'm also pretty sure I understand the "gamey system dialect", although it find it "foreign". I think you're reading problems that aren't there into this...I went and re-read all our exchanges throughout the thread and I'm really not seeing anything problematic anywhere.

    Ok, I think if figured how to phrase it in this context: I'm not trying to learn the strange foreign language. I'm interested in researching its etymology. You dig?

    Like, above you said
    A good system means that I won't need to sacrifice performing the mechanical and non-mechanical aspects of play to bolster a general unity of fictional content.
    To me that's like saying "The grass is green.". I shrug and I'm like, yeah, so what? To what I point out that in some systems/games unity of fictional content doesn't really matter. So I ask are you saying they are bad games?
    And to that you say that "gamey systems" there is a "different language".
    And again, that makes me go: "well duh", which makes me think that I'm reading you saying things as if they were problems, whereas they feel really transparent to me. I'm lost. This is why I said I didn't want theory, and attempted to avoid jargon in the OP. Saying "cloud" was more chance than intent. I never wanted to bring up SIS, or argue about it. For all intents and purposes I am NOT talking about the SIS as defined anywhere.



    The thing that really clicked for me in this thread is the sudden alignment of certain things that were talked about in John's thread (Player rolls, GM describes), OSR principles, the (apocryphal) history of D&D and the concepts of Improv (Keith Johnstone, Graham Walmsley, Paul Tevis). This is something I was not expecting, but suddenly made complete sense in the given context.
  • Posted By: David BergHi Gregor,

    Here are my rules of thumb:

    1) Player: before acting in character, forge agreements (asking, reminding, etc.) on any fictional facts relevant to your decision to undertake that action.

    2) Whole group (especially GM): make #1 as easy as possible.

    3) Only communicate about other fictional facts to the extent that it's fun.

    In my experience, if everyone is onboard with this agenda, efficient techniques develop quite naturally.

    Player: I'd love to put this guy in a hold. Do I have the position to try?
    GM: I'm not sure, but wait, he's wearing a gorget.
    Player: Oh, okay. Maybe I can knock him over.
    GM: The flooriswet...

    I could say more but am not 100% sure I'm on topic, so I'll wait.
    Hey, Dave. I crossposted with you.

    Yes, ontopic and that's great stuff. What I'm poking at is the moment at the very beginning of your imaginary exchange, you know the moment when the player says "I'd love to put this guy in a hold.". The issue at hand immediately precedes that statement. The player might never says those words, because of a variety of complicated reasons.

    One of them is miscommunication, but let's remove that. Miscommunication is common and easily fixed with some simple tools. There's always going to be miscommunication

    What are the other reasons? Let's also remove lack of motivation. Let's say the player/character really wants to get rid of this guy.

    What else? I think Mendel used a very nice term above: "scope of possibility". The player is not aware that this is a possibility. But, given that we've removed the miscommunication about fictional positioning, if we've pretty clearly established that it's these people, in this room, how does it not enter the scope of possibility?

    Because the fictional situation is not being read as "real", there are different assumptions at work. The player is not (he won't or can't) using the situation as something tangible. He's not manipulating its contents directly. When you ask him "What do you do?" he's not thinking in terms of the fictional situation, but looking to his real-world resources.

    I think I understand the whys and the hows of that pretty well, but as I said, I'm not trying to learn the language, I'm trying to look at the etymology.

    Is this making sense to you?
  • edited November 2010
    Yeah, that makes total sense. For etymology, my prime suspect is still miscommunication. I say this based on (a) plenty of games where the GM said "treat the fictional world as real" and everyone did and everything went fine, compared to (b) plenty of games where the GM said "treat the fictional world as real" but didn't really follow through on supporting that, especially in applying formal rules. Everyone can go in wanting to treat the fiction as real, but the second you employ some die roll that removes agency or produces a stupid result, the interface is shattered, and everyone's left interacting with the numbers or social processes ("Will the GM let me do this?") that define the game, rather than with the fiction. Likewise with non-consensual railroading, failure to compromise on what's possible/likely, etc. Some of my cartoons illustrate how I think this communication can be better managed.

    Most gamers I know who have trouble treating the fiction as real are either used to mechanics-derived play (i.e. formal capital-G Games) or scarred by insincere attempts to treat the fiction as real from prior play.
  • David, I think that your (b) is a perfect example of the kind of pathological-play that I was thinking of in terms of misaligned expectations and agendas earlier. But I think that the key thing is Mendez (James)'s observation that this can come from a sort of fear. A once-burned, twice-shy kind of thing.

    It then becomes a kind of therapy, almost, to get people to trust that you will give the fiction it's due.

    (I'm still not sure, Gregor, quite what you're seeking, but I guess I'm trying to explore the space a little.)

  • edited November 2010
    "Once-burned, twice-shy" -- totally. I just edited my last half-sentence above to replace "used to" with "scarred by".

    As for therapy, I've written instructions and the cartoon examples, but I think there's no substitute for playing with someone who can personally testify, "I've done it, and with this game, in my group, it worked. Oh, and also, it was awesome."
  • Gregor, I don't want to speak for Mendel but thanks to his last post I think I am seeing the blue water between a SIS/cloud perspective and an each player perspective.

    SIS/Cloud pays attention to what everyone has made explicit: "this room is white" "All noble elves are beautiful", "this elf wears silver robes". You can think of it as a declaration-based system, a bit like a computer program or set of logical statements. In both of those domains, you want to get everything explicit, or as much as possible. When there's a problem, you focus on where ambiguity is and try to eradicate this.
    SIS/Cloud operates on certainty through declarations.

    My take on Mendel's approach is that it treats the focus of our landscape as the players beliefs and wants. Rather than aiming for a highly declarative SIS, it would be happy with a situation where there are certain touchstones upon which everyone agrees - we're clearly in the throne room, and conversing with the high elves - but other elements are left largely defined. It is tolerant of ambiguity, as long as there we have ways of sharpening this into detail that satisfies everyone. This could include unthinking on certain areas, perhaps because another has authority, formal or informal. For instance, Ben's the one who is really into all the elf culture stuff, so when he interjects that the pontiff is wearing this silver robe, and is really beautiful, cool, that's what it is.

    speaking for myself, I can tolerate a fair amount of this ambiguity. I realise I'm quite shaped by improvisation here, as you don't attempt to lock down every detail in a scene - though who, what, where is key - and often as either audience or player I find myself having to retcon a detail that I'd assumed slightly differently. Often this is pleasing: it's revealed that the villains lair and the detective's office are neighbours in the same business park. At other times it's just a brief update in the head (it's not a handbag she carries on her shoulder, it's a tape recorder) and go on. That editing approach is non-problematic for me, though i recognise it's a technique that may bother others.
  • I ran Mentzer Basic D&D at Ice Station Nerdly. My players were veteran gamers with D&D experience ranging to a little 3E to none to "I played Keep on the Borderlands in 1980." All of them needed to learn how to play Old School (at least with regards to reading and manipulating the fiction). Actual play:

    The party has made their way to the Caves of Chaos, area A (a kobold lair). It's a cave that goes back about 30 feet and tees left and right. There's a huge pit at the tee intersection. After getting their asses handed to them by kobolds a couple times, I reminded them, "Guys, if you just stand toe to toe with these guys and use only what's on your sheet, you're gonna die. Think outside the box, outside the character sheet."

    So after licking their wounds a bit, they kicked some dry brush and debris into the pit and tossed a torch in there, and then waited outside while the smoke forced everyone out of the dungeon. Of course, they quickly realized that now they had to fight everyone all at once, and they retreated back to the keep after killing a few of the kobolds. Over time, they developed and honed their strategy until they could deal with the threats. And so did the kobolds, who started using small amounts of smoke for cover...
  • The more of this thread I read (and the more I talk to Dave Berg about immersion …), the bigger these questions grow in my mind: How do you get everyone to see eye-to-eye on how significant each individual object in the imaginary space is? Do some games self-regulate or encourage differing individual emphases while others require active policing?
  • Plenty of games put a lot of effort into saying exactly what you can and can't do with objects in the imagined space -- say, a 260-lb rock. But I haven't seen any textual advice on how exactly it's supposed to get communicated that the rock is present and 260 lbs. That's what I'm going for with the toons and the rules of thumb upthread. I imagine it'll work better for some players than others. I'd love to see other approaches!
  • Gregor,

    First, when we nail down specific details of a situation that is only one piece of a puzzle. Critically, there are different ways to think about situations - mental models of the fictional space as it were. These are informed by these details, by social expectations, by regularities we have observed over previous situations, and our own internal assumptions. The specific details communicated during play are filtered by our personal model into our concept of what is possible. You will literally conceive of different possibilities than I will. And what more, these models aren't static, they change and grow, sometimes because of what we learn, sometimes unexpectedly.

    The deeper levels of difficulty in communication are in slowly and through trial and error learning each others expectations and models, so that we can communicate more than the fact that "there is a table in the room" but also some common possibilities, "that we can use this table for cover" or "we can use this table to have a negotiation".

    When you are paying attention to the expectations of the other players you can then make choices about how your own expectations relate: choosing to not make your expectations similar to some other players, while juggling the awareness of what they are likely to think, can give you a greater creative freedom for solving a problem. Which you can't do if your expectations are based on the assumption that there is some consensus cloud which has some preferred notion of accuracy.

    Now as I was saying game systems provide a means for expressing details of situation expectation - after all a system transforms the situation from one form to another, so implicitly referencing the system gives you a description of what transformations are possible.

    The real clash we seem to be having is between folks who want to use the original system for discussing and thinking about situation expectation and those who use a freeform add on system for discussing expectation. First, realize there is nothing particularly wrong with either side here - a similar example would be some GURPS players playing D&D, and wanting to describe the situation using GURPS terminology. The pure D&D players will certainly want a translation, because they don't have a context to understanding the GURPS lingo, but overtime they'll pick some of it up and vice versa and eventually a common pidgin will emerge.

    But if we apply this to the freeform versus mechanic game languages I see the following caveats:

    1) In most of your examples, the game mechanical system appears less expressive - so using a second system for talking and modeling situation expectations grants an advantage.

    2) On the other hand, freeform systems are almost always dependent on dynamic social contexts. This can make translating the freeform ideas more difficult, since the game mechanical system will impose more consistency than the freeform system can sometimes comfortably take.

    But ultimately, the key to crafting a partially freeform pidgin tongue is to translate in both directions. Because the systems are more than just how you are expressing the details of the situation, they also represent the details of how you are thinking about those details. And that is the most critical piece to communicate.

    - Mendel
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