Designing for a rules-lite, Immersionist supporting game?

What would that entail?

For the purposes of this thread, let us assume that Immersion is Fun, and something lots of players of RPGs really groove on. Let's also put aside other types of gaming fun that folks may shoot for, and just focus the conversation on supporting immersionist ( in character) fun.

Further, I'd like to focus on rules-lite design. I'd like to keep it there because I think there is ample evidence that people can achieve immersion even with heavy mechanical designs. I want to talk about the other end of things.

One of the things that I like which has come out of dirty-hippie-indie design is the concept of hard-coding things that otherwise tend to end up as advice or Best Practices in more mainstream designs.

Here's my example of something that might appear in a GM advice section of a more mainstream design:

To help your players really get into the setting and envision the scene, be sure to use more senses in your descriptions than just what the characters see.

Hardcoding it dirty-hippie style might look more like:
When a GM sets a scene, they mustuse at least two of the five senses when describing it.

Okay, that's my cheap and dirty example.

What are some of yours, and how could that fit into a rules lite/mechanically lite design, meant specifically to support Immersionist fun and do it easily?
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Comments

  • edited April 2016
    Basically it is very easy to support immersion, by not doing the things that tend to disrupt it.

    My crunchy mostly-trad game Soul's Calling (a work in progress) is built around the idea of supporting immersion. Many of the techniques it uses could easily be ported into a rules-light RPG. One of them is that before the game the GM gets everyone to close their eyes and envision being their characters, answering (privately, in their heads) various questions as their characters would, such as "what really matters to you right now?" and "why?". In this process each player is encouraged to privately identify and focus on a "golden motive", their PC's single core drive and burning desire.

    Another tip is that you can require each PC to have an identifiable voice and identifiable mannerisms, to help people get in the zone.

    My "trindie" game Implodarc (also a work in progress; willing playtesters please identify yourselves!) is intended to be rules-light (by my yardstick, which is still pretty crunchy to some people) and supportive of immersion for those who want it as well as other styles. The main thing is not having intrusive social mechanics. The game does have social mechanics, but they have been designed to work around immersion rather than disrupting it. Simply put, you roll before the interaction takes place, and the roll merely biases the GMing of the scenario. Because many people find it easier to maintain immersion when their knowledge mirrors that of their character and when they can be involved in the game at all times, I use the concept of the Deputy GM (in the Intro to the Implodarc book) so that you can split the players into two groups but keep both groups fully occupied, when the PCs are split as a group.
  • Basically make a game that fades into the background and just lets you run theater of the mind style in character sessions. The less the players and GM notice the mechanics, the more immersive it will probably be. Having any kind of requirement, even the one in the OP, could potentially trip that up (because you always have to do it, even when it doesn't feel right or might be completely unnecessary). I tend to go very minimal when it comes to describing things, precisely because I don't want my players focusing on my words, I want them imagining things as immediately as they can. General advice I would give is the system should always give way to the realities of the table. If you have to shoehorn a mechanic in, it is more likely to interfere with immersion.
  • As I have said elsewhere, you can do a lot worse than pure freeform, when it comes to supporting immersion!
  • Well, outside of "pure freeform" let's come up with some mechanics that can, potentially, help with immersion. As discussed in the other indie games thread, there are plenty of people (myself included) who don't care about the details of a very granular / specific skillset of my character - such as hacking a computer terminal or piloting a complex starship. What would pull me out of my immersion as my character is reminding myself (out of character) that I don't actually know what I'm doing.

    I want to say, confidently, that my character knows what she's doing and is capable of pulling it off, because they're a star-pilot-hacker. If I had to adequately describe or justify through out of character knowledge those abilities, then that would pull me out of the situation.

    The flip of that is the GM/group/self-adjudication part. Would my character be able to pull this off? Yes, no, maybe, etc. I think for a very rules light approach, you'd have essentially three bands of difficulty that the GM/group/self would decide upon:

    - Is it impossible for this character to fail at this specific action in this specific context? If yes, don't roll. If no, roll.

    - Is it possible for this character to fail, but also possible to succeed? If yes, roll.

    - Is it impossible for this character to succeed? If yes, don't roll. If no, roll.

    Basically you'd have a possibility spectrum - Impossible to Fail, Challenging, and Impossible to Succeed. The game would reside strictly in the "Challenging" band, if your specific character would always succeed at this particular task then there's no need to engage with a randomizer or specific mechanics, and the reverse is true also. It's just those finnicky middle parts, and that's where some interesting tension comes into play.

    Continuing this train of thought, a very simple system that employed some sort of Rank or Modifier for particular Skills or Action groups:

    - 1d6 + Mod
    If even rolling a 1 the character would always succeed, then don't roll.
    If even rolling a 6 the character could never succeed, then don't roll.
    Otherwise, roll.

    So you'd have mods say of -2 to +4, and Difficulty TNs of 1 to 11. A totally maxed out character might roll 1d6+4 for a particular action, so anything with a TN of 5 or less wouldn't necessitate a roll.

    Likewise a character with 1d6+1 could never accomplish a task with TN of 8 or more.

    I'm not sure this system above would be particularly fun, but I could see it working and essentially "getting out of the way" in a concrete, unobjectionable way. The only question would essentially be "What TN is this thing?"

  • If even rolling a 6 the character could never succeed, then don't roll.
    If another character (or another player!) suggested the action, and if even rolling a 6 the character could never succeed, don't roll, and the character's player may disdainfully (or whatever) state that such a thing is nigh impossible and only a non-expert would think it is possible. If they do, they take +1 to next roll of that type.
  • If even rolling a 6 the character could never succeed, then don't roll.
    If another character (or another player!) suggested the action, and if even rolling a 6 the character could never succeed, don't roll, and the character's player may disdainfully (or whatever) state that such a thing is nigh impossible and only a non-expert would think it is possible. If they do, they take +1 to next roll of that type.
    Ha yes, that'd be fun. Put another way, you could have in-setting-awareness that some characters could achieve a task, even trivially, while others simply couldn't. You could take a -1 penalty to your roll for each non-skilled ally you help, or something.

    Point being that it allows for specialization without a lot of GM fiat, and clear distinction of what a character can do, can't do, and can't not do.
  • Don't roll dice - instead, just push tokens forward to indicate different things. Perhaps the system could be bidding-based, or perhaps bluffing-based, you push certain cards forward face down and you only flip them at particular times. Don't ever roll dice and announce results. Just roleplay man.
  • Here's a take on this off the top of my head:

    Choose an interesting, static fictional situation that has a low entry threshold. By "interesting" I mean something that is likely to compel people's imaginations and make them want to experience it. By "static" I mean that the overall situation depicted in the fiction is not prone to change of disruption; there may be activities, but they are part of the routine, not its end. By "low entry threshold" I mean that you need to be able to organize a gaming group with sufficient entry-level knowledge of the fiction you'll be playing without too much trouble.

    Once you've got something along these lines (think Houses of the Blooded, or whatever it is that floats your boat), the majority of the design work will concern the activities of the GM, who is the only player upon whom we may make actual demands of learning and conforming - everybody else will be allowed Immersion, which pretty much implies that they will not be useful participants in "running" the game in terms of learning and applying systems. Therefore the game will necessarily be built upon an auteuristic model of creative responsibility: the GM presents the players with the chance to immerse.

    The things we can design here fall into two important categories:
    * Analytical structuration of the setting material we chose earlier; there needs to be a game plan for how, what, when the GM is going to present to the players. What kinds of activities occur in the game? How often, in what order? What kinds of Color has to be delivered? All this material can be proffered for the GM in the form of structured lists and tables and even adventure design sheets and tables they can use to compose their own content and game plan for when they'll need to become the holodeck during the actual session of play. This is not mere setting design in the traditional sense of writing fiction; the fiction can also be structured for the GM's optimal use, and that's where the majority of the game design for this sort of thing lies.
    * Advice for how the GM should conduct himself during gameplay, perhaps with exercises they can use to improve their performance. What is conventionally considered "rules" falls into this category, but because we want to go rules-light, what we want to do is to not make the players worry about the rules. Rather, they will be rules of conduct and strategic initiatives for the GM; sort of like if Apocalypse World had the GM moves but not the player moves. These are things like "ask the player explicitly for a decision, so as to help them get in the mindset of their character".

    I think that with this recipe there is no particular reason why one couldn't accomplish a highly immersive, rules-light game. I've friends who play in this exact manner, though without any game-text support. The weak point here is trust in the GM, but that is a) something we can design for (in the second category of design above: e.g. start the game with some trust exercises or other didactics), and b) often enough caused by creative agenda conflict when a player is not satisfied by the creative contract of the game as presented here.

    I think that it is a shame that games in this mold have not been designed very often and very well. In fact, considering game texts, I think that something like Ars Magica beats the pants off most of the rules-light immersion games in their own game: it's got the appropriate type of static immersive setting, it's got the highly-supported princess play, many, many GMing tools and all - you could strip out all the dice and character sheet tomfoolery and still end up with a better rules-light immersion game than most of the actually dedicated texts I've seen.
  • edited April 2016
    @Eero_Tuovinen, the game doesn't have to be immersive for all the players bar the GM; why can't it be immersive for all the players bar the GMing team? As I've said upthread, the Deputy GM is a key tool in making the game maximally immersive for the pure players. Sometimes this can be because for the sake of a player's own immersion each player is, as you suggest, allowed free reign - to the extent that that player is not required to help the other players' immersion. So you can have a table with five people not consciously contributing to anyone else's immersion, and only one person (the GM) consciously doing so; that's fine of course because the players are still subconsciously doing lots of things that tend to help each other's immersion, but it may be that bit better for those five players that you add a seventh person, the Deputy GM, who helps the GM in making the game immersive for the other players. I would even go so far as having two Deputy GMs and one GM for four pure players. This also helps make the game more inclusive for friends of yours who are not looking for immersion; the Deputy GM's toolkit is much the same as the archetypal storygamer's and quite similar to a GM's.

    @ other posters upthread, personally I find it counterimmersive if a significant action has an absolute certainty of failure or success with no possibility of the GM in his discretion deciding to require a roll - however I prefer to design mechanics that allow that chance of failure or success to be almost negligible (say, around 1 in 144 for some tests in Soul's Calling; harder to calculate for Implodarc but possibly a much smaller probability given how the dice "implode" in a complicated way), provided that there is at least some chance. And the GM always has discretion not to allow/require a roll. Rule Zero addresses this just fine.
  • @Omnifray regarding the possibility / impossibility, it is so that you don't have to rely strictly on GM fiat. And having any kind of mechanism that is 1/144 would be well outside of the realm of "rules light" for me.

  • What are some of yours, and how could that fit into a rules lite/mechanically lite design, meant specifically to support Immersionist fun and do it easily?
    My favorite one right now is "Describe things only from your character's point of view", though I can't remember right now from thich indie game I took it from.
  • edited April 2016
    I think I have used up my quota of "my unpublished game Delve does that" Story Games posts. So I'll just link to the last one: here. Nailing down some techniques for productive dialogue and fiction-communication is part of this approach, so, @komradebob, you could certainly formalize any of the key call-outs from these examples. I've already sorta done that by giving the players "3 options to always say to the GM" (those being "I survey the area," "I look for ____," "I try to judge if ____").

    Separately, I'll also note that immersion requires engagement, and engagement requires having something to do. So the players and GM need to put some actionable goals in play, and undertake whatever set-up is required for that.

    I haven't seen it mentioned here, so I'll also bring up ad-libbed dice. When the group agrees that an action might or might not succeed, guesstimate a probability and then grab the best dice on hand to simulate that probability.
  • edited April 2016
    Separately, I'll also note that immersion requires engagement, and engagement requires having something to do. So the players and GM need to put some actionable goals in play, and undertake whatever set-up is required for that.
    Agreed, but I would open your definition from "something to do" to "taking an active part". "Something to do" sounds, to me, that it's something physical, but "taking an active part" could be active listening, forming a picture in the participant's head, or something similar to that.

    As I said in a previous thread, getting engaged/immersed is done in a circular way. The more information the person gets, the more the engagement will grow (shortly explained).

    image

    Here is another way of looking at it, this time from a video game perspective. Same circle, different terminology:

    image

    Add to this that the game designer's goal, in this case - being immersed in the role, should be part of the interaction of the game, and should also be different to the participants' goals (in roleplaying games: usually the characters' goals).

    image

    If we also buy into what I said about character immersion in the link above, that it's usually only about the character's Meaning, then create a game that has the participant create some personality traits (giving them Meaning) and see how the character would react in certain situations.

    The circle would then be a) players has a clue of how the characters are like, b) being faced with a situation, c) updates their own view of the character - either take a stance to follow the trait or change it to fit the situation (= being active). Repeat.

    The interaction of the game will then be about taking the characters' personality traits into account. The goal for the player could be something else, like enjoying the story, experience how the group will grow together, or survive the zombie outbreak.

    That's how I would design the game, anyway. Montsegur 1244 is an example of how it's done.
  • edited April 2016
    Some great stuff so far folks.

    Eero: Man, that's really good stuff, and pretty much where my mind was going. It was nice to see the concept so well laid out. I've also experienced that sort of play, from both sides of the screen, and have also wondered why, if that kind of play is relatively common, texts haven't really sprung up and supported it, then went a step or two further.

    I love that at a certain level, the whole concept goes: Fuckit, rules/mechanics are for the GM! That seems very old skool( subcategory Non-Gamist) to me, but in a good way.

    Omnifray: I like the Deputy GM idea, but find it a bit tricky when you name them as the 7th participant. Is there some way to use the concept, but with a smaller group.

    Also, a 1/144 chance? Is that a 2d12 roll, but with the d12s used like d10s to create a d% ?

    Dave Berg: Formalized callouts might be really great training wheels for players, a technique made into a formal mechanic, and a bit of what I was hoping to see in this thread.

    More thoughts later!
  • BTW: Did we end up with a working definition of Princess Play ?

    I think the concept is really useful, even if the term itself is a bit self-deprecating.
  • I have no problem with the term or its definition. That game I wrote last fall based on your miniatures ideas? Total princess play, 100%, all the way. Says so explicitly in the text. The GM preps a number of interesting miniatures for the players to choose from as the chassis for their respective unique snowflake characters, and afterwards works hard to affirm and legitimize the player's princessing, whatever form it takes, all in an effort to make them actually like their miniatures. Sort of an experiment in trying to encourage emphatic projection to increase the value of toys in the play space, while offering concrete props to build the princessing around.

    And yes, I think that it is a very useful concept, and one that will see currency for a long time yet - until it becomes accepted and thoroughly explored by everybody and their cat, at which point it'll join things like "conflict resolution" on the pile of obvious theoretical concepts :D
  • Oh I meant did we have a working definition to share? If one was to describe Princess Play in a sentence or two, what would those sentences be exactly?
  • Hmm, how about this:

    "Princess play" is a specific Simulationist technical strategy ("technical agenda" as it's sometimes called) wherein a player is entertained by developing and practicing an idealized fictional alter ego characterized by uniqueness, firm pre-play theming, protagonism and generally being interesting and exhilarating for the player to depict. "Character immersion" and "wish fulfillment" are relevant creative agenda concepts related to this focus of play.

    (Yes, I know that's full of Forge jargon. Can't help how I roll.)

    As you can see, that's more of a description than definition. This is realistic, I feel, because princess play isn't some sort of a theoretical deduction - it seems to be a naturally occurring creative mode, one of the common ones we see again and again in rpgs.
  • You are on fire, Eero!

    Combined with you earlier post, Superhero roleplaying comes immediately to mind, especially based on the sorts of supers comics I read as a kid.
  • Yeah, it's a popular idea (and as far as I understand, superhero games commonly are played for the princessing kicks; that's why you've got such uncommonly wide leeway for each player to dress up their character however they want). Another common consideration is street glamour action hero stuff, like World of Darkness and Cyberpunk 2020 and so on.

    An acquaintance of mine in Helsinki has been working on and off on a game about dragons for a while now. I think that that's a pretty clever and compelling idea for a princess game: each player gets to set up their own dragon with its color schemes and horns and magical theme and obsessive behaviours, and then they're set loose in the fantasy world to wreak havoc, eat prey animals and sit on enormous mounds of gold. The game basically consists of talking funny, bickering with dwarves and intimidating puny mortals. Like Ars Magica for dragons, as I've characterized it.

    Myself, I am particular to literal princesses. Somebody write that game up (solid design, please - I won't be impressed by stat+skill) and I'll pitch it here to drum up some playtesting. Bonus points if it's all very, very Disney throughout :D
  • Heh, I had also thought of a similar sort of dragon game set up ( especially after I ended up with a rather large number of dragon miniatures).

    The Princess game sounds great, especially if there was accompanying Disney-esque art. Runaway Rogue Princess Band as a title?
  • Sure, it could be about a bunch of sisters trying to make their way and find themselves in the world. Will you find your True Love, or just settle for being a bad-ass general of armies or something? Could work well for a mid-length fixed-campaign game, like six sessions or so with a satisfying climax. (No, I'm not sure if fixed-length is compatible with princess play; I suspect that it would be, provided you offer the players the chance to truly depict their character concept thoroughly in the climax, but the rpg culture associates these two ideas with different historical camps, which makes it difficult.)

    I'd drop the team-based paradigm, though, and insert some tension over adventuring vs. court, so as to support merely being a princess from time to time. Like, maybe each player gets to independently choose between "adventure" and "court" at the beginning of each session (simultaneously reveal playing cards or such to make it a truly independent choice, maybe), and that's what their character does this time, and that's what provides the structure for this session of play. And every characters has their own mythology - what kind of kindom they are the princess of and so forth - so there's plenty of NPC cast to fuel all sorts of bickering and adventures. By making it a subjective player right to switch over every session if they want, you avoid locking the PCs down by setting logic, while still fully actualizing the idea that your character can be a "princess" with ball-gowns and marriages and perfection of being. The basic creative proposition of such a game would have to be that yes, you get to be both a protagonist and a symbol, in whatever mixture you feel like today.
  • Ars Magica style troupe play, with Princess subbing in for Mage, but with each player still having their special companion and some colorful/humorous grogs ( or pets or animated dinnerwear or whatever)?

    Heck, howabout that inverted set up where there's the princess and companions on an adventure, but it floats around who the focus princess on an adventure is from session to session?

    And how is it that these very diverse Princesses from different times/places/genres can get together to discuss their lives while have Magic Princess Tea Parties? Surely we've got an explanation for that?

    ( Unless they're all actually the same princess, reincarnating over and over and over...)
  • Hah, single-princess syndrome would be cool, but ultimately counter-productive to the ownership psychology when the players couldn't think of their own character as ultimately theirs. Not that it's impossible for players to princess it up together as a joint project, but e.g. the Ars Magica covenant doll-house is probably a more straightforward way for multiple players to contribute to a joint princessing project than suggesting that the different characters are one character.

    Maybe the entire campaign consists of "arcs" bookended by a framing narrative where the princesses are all together in one place, because congregating tends to be what royalty does. So, at the beginning of play the players determine the occasion for the ball (maybe somebody's getting married?), and then they launch into an extended 1-3 session adventure flashback or several, and then at the end of the arc return to the framing narrative. In the next arc they are again together for some other occasion, again ready to reminisce about what's happened to them since their last meeting. Like Baron von Munchausen, except with princesses.

    The weakness to that sort of structure would be that the players would have to compromise on their personal princess-time, though. Well-used, the troupe-methodology could be effective on spotlighting each character in turn, but the price is that you might spend many sessions hardly playing your princess at all as the story follows other princesses. It's probably psychologically more satisfying if every player get their fill of princess play in every session; less build-up and impatience and such, and I'm pretty confident that it's not a fundamental scheduling problem to fit a satisfactory amount of princessing for every player in every session. (By my experience it's quite possible to get your hit of this particular imagination-entertainment in five minutes, as long as it's the right five minutes. Often everything else is just set-up for allowing you to play your princess just right in that crucial moment.)

    Without putting all the princesses in one party, perhaps play could occur in sort of short vignettes round-robin around the table, with fictional time spent in e.g. weekly chunks. So you could have a quick succession of social scenes, some adventurous mishaps, then perhaps segue into some more complex (and multiple-princess-encompassing) centerpiece event that takes up most of the session, whether a royal ball or a civil war. Sort of like Ars Magica long-term play, except instead of seasons its weeks because princesses lead a much more interesting life in a much shorter time-span than wizards :D

    Or, maybe going all Sailor Moon on it is the most feasible solution. Party-based princess gaming has a long and worthy history, and it seems to me that there are certain subtle advantages to it. For instance, the negotiation over spotlight ("is it my time to shine yet") is more organic and allows more freedom when the fictional situation has all the characters sort of follow each other around. This leaves the players a lot of freedom for their individual psychologies: this guy gets his rocks off by micro-managing the everyday and being an organizer, so let him do that, while this other one is happy as long as his character gets to be the mysterious necromancer who's more mysterious than your character, so he'll be happy as long as there's an opportunity to be mysterious every few scenes, even in passing. A single plot, a variety of situations to highlight each character, and everybody is happy.
  • I think if you are going to use terms like Princess Play and Magic Tea Party, you might want to check and see if your personal biases are at work. I've never met anyone who describes their own style as such, probably because magic tea party sounds a bit pejorative. Use what language you want, but I don't think you are going to convince people who value these things by employing that kind of language (particularly when it only appears directed at styles that are outside your own).
  • Funny thing is Brendan, Eero has been talking about exactly play that he's engaging in.
  • I guess I am, increasingly so - we've been talking about trying to get an Ars Magica campaign off the ground here in Upper Savo, and that's certainly just about the most pure dollhouse game I can think of, right out of the book as written. I know I'll certainly be GMing it with that creative premise in mind.

    I don't know that anybody outside of the local circles would have really talked about princess play specifically... I think that the concept came up sometime in the tail end of the '00s at Story Games (or maybe at the Forge). Can't remember who named it - could've been me or Jason Corley or some other jackass with a shall we say ironic relationship to the self-importance of gamers. The reference is directly to the gender study notion that boy and girl cultures may emphasize being and doing respectively; "princess play" would then be a kind of static, emblematic play that focuses more on expressing character and less on plot and struggle, just like a "girl movie" might be more about showing how pretty the princess is, vs. a "boy movie" showing how the prince fights his way out of all sorts of dangers.

    For the record, I personally have nothing against princesses, and think that playing princess is just as legit as playing cowboys and indians insofar as childhood games go. I know that I've said it before, but it bears repeating: as we're a widely disparate bunch here, from different parts of the world, it is not a given that everybody uses feminine references in a disparaging way. It wouldn't even make any sense to get chauvinistic about princess play, considering how very, very princess-y some core gaming culture games are. Vampire: the Masquerade and modern D&D are both simple examples of games that, I think, are enlightening to consider in this theoretical framework. If princess play is for sissy boys, then so's the entire hobby :D

    As a non-gendered alternative, the term "unique snowflake" has some currency as a description of a princess play player character. It's usually used in a somewhat negative context, though, as a description of unwanted uniqueness and baseless spotlight hogging and grandstanding - all behaviors that are the meat and bones of this style of play, but that also become a problem if the game is supposed to be about e.g. problem-solving instead of looking cool for the cameras.
  • I am sure somewhere between 'princess play' and 'unique snowflake' exists a label that is neutral. I just have a hard time taking it seriously when it is framed that way.
  • Oh well. _I'll_ take it seriously.
  • "Character-iconic play emphasis"? Were I worried about the choice of words (which I'm not - I'm more of a precision guy when it comes to terminological finickiness), I would worry that this would be too technically dense and not amusing enough to make people want to use it, though. It seems we, as a culture of discourse, routinely gravitate towards pretty silly terminology. All sorts of munchkins, viking-hat GMs, misery tourists dot the landscape, after all.
  • If it helps, Princess Play is being used here as something not only positive, but an already existing behavior set that seems to produce fun play for the people engaging in it.

    The semi-weekly D&D 5e game I've been playing in seems to fit this model to a great degree, despite the gamist mechanical widgets we use.
  • If it helps, Princess Play is being used here as something not only positive, but an already existing behavior set that seems to produce fun play for the people engaging in it.

    The semi-weekly D&D 5e game I've been playing in seems to fit this model to a great degree, despite the gamist mechanical widgets we use.
    I think anytime you compare peoples' preferred table style to a childhood activity (whether it is magic tea party, princess play, or even cowboys and indians) it is hard not to read that as a criticism, or at the very least as the style not being taken as seriously as others. Use the terms you want, but do understand people like me who might be into these styles are probably not going to take your ideas seriously if that is how you frame it from the get-go (the other aspects of Euro's post, even if he is apparently into this style of play, suggests that to me as well).
  • Sounds like "Embodiment" and "Actor Stance" to me, with a bit of play-focus on how character development feeds back into the embodiment. I saw that all the time in action LARPs: never break character; what you see is what you see; advancement as a means to gain more spotlight (more efficacious/more options to engage the fiction).

    Having read through this... what's the hang up on a mere term, anyway? Wasn't the point to find systems that drive embodiment and actor stance? Beyond "GM gives extra cookies if you act"? Maybe I've lost the thread....


  • Having read through this... what's the hang up on a mere term, anyway? Wasn't the point to find systems that drive embodiment and actor stance? Beyond "GM gives extra cookies if you act"? Maybe I've lost the thread....
    I am affraid I am in the middle of some hectic edits so I will try to answer this as briefly as I can. Hopefully this doesn't come off as curt.

    Because this is a case where the terminology comes loaded with critique of the style itself. It is like Euro is enjoying immersion ironically, not because Euro genuinely wants immersion. Perhaps it isn't the case. But as someone who values immersion, reading this thread, it comes off as if it is written by folks hostile to immersion or who don't quite grasp it. The term is part of it. But it goes deeper than that. And we've discussed this very issue here elsewhere, pretty much around the same topic if using slightly different language. It feels more like a criticism of immersion, maybe a co-opting of it.
  • I think anytime you compare peoples' preferred table style to a childhood activity (whether it is magic tea party, princess play, or even cowboys and indians) it is hard not to read that as a criticism, or at the very least as the style not being taken as seriously as others. Use the terms you want, but do understand people like me who might be into these styles are probably not going to take your ideas seriously if that is how you frame it from the get-go (the other aspects of Euro's post, even if he is apparently into this style of play, suggests that to me as well).
    So... are you into sandbox play?
  • I think anytime you compare peoples' preferred table style to a childhood activity (whether it is magic tea party, princess play, or even cowboys and indians) it is hard not to read that as a criticism, or at the very least as the style not being taken as seriously as others. Use the terms you want, but do understand people like me who might be into these styles are probably not going to take your ideas seriously if that is how you frame it from the get-go (the other aspects of Euro's post, even if he is apparently into this style of play, suggests that to me as well).
    So... are you into sandbox play?
    I am, but the difference there is that is a term advanced by advocates of the style that has long taken root (and for what it is worth I think it is not a good metaphor for the kind of play sandbox is meant to indicate---largely because it is confusing and unclear). Sandbox is simply the label for it at this point and that is unlikely to change. The kinds of labels Euro is suggesting are ones I only seen from sites immersionists would generally consider hostile to their play style. Again this came up a while back in a similar thread and believe I made pretty much the same responses.
  • Setting aside specific terminology debates, I'd like to refocus the thread on the task at hand (at least as I interpreted it):

    What structures, mechanics, or systems can we create that enforce "high-immersion" gameplay? I think referring to this as "Actor-stance" is also a fair comparison, as in essence (in my mind) the less the player has to remove themselves mechanically or narratively from the perspective of their character, the less interference to immersion there is.

    The one I suggested:
    - Clear and distinct (non-GM-fiat) rules for "your character can always do this, sometimes do this, and never do this" and that each of those tiers might differ for each character

    Some others:
    - Strict engagement / dialogue rules about what the GM can say or what the players can ask
    - A great deal of significance placed upon the specific duties of the character(s)

    What else? And how can we enforce these things?
  • I'm cool with not being a credible advocate for your favourite playstyle, I don't have any stakes in that. I'm not even sure if immersion is real, myself :D

    It's worthwhile to remember that the princess play thing was just Bob asking about a side point, it's not necessary to hunt it to exhaustion for the sake of satisfying the actual point of the thread. There are other frameworks for rules-lite immersionism-supporting play. For example, my sense is that most Nordic freeformers prefer an immersion in external constraints of being ("what it feels like to be a middle-aged mother", for example), which is in practice a very different bailiwick from the self-expressive, player-oriented princess play style.
  • Mechanically, doing things like pinging BITs in Burning Wheel or gaining advantages by narrating the use of (unique?) Aspects in Fate strike me as good models.

    But in my experience, it is mostly social-contract rules (and pressures) that drive Actor Stance; viz my examples of action LARP: stay in character or be ignored by those who do; if you don't have a prop, you don't have the item; and (additional example) if you don't wear the makeup/prosthetic, you can't get the package (e.g., racial) bonuses. [Actually, those last two might be mechanical/systemic, come to think of it.]

    Getting closer? Or hieing off into the woods (pun intended!)?
  • Hm, there's of course room for debate (as has been done at length in other threads) about what are "ideal" or acceptable mechanics for immersion.

    In my mind, the least amount the player has to engage with the system in game-terms, the least immersion-friction there is. If I can say certain descriptors or key certain elements of my character without having to say "I'm using my Such and Such Aspect, which gives me a +2 bonus" then I think that's largely effective and doesn't break immersion.

    For example, a game that I'm working on called Perseverant is essentially "you can do anything you want, so long as you describe it, and use the keywords located on your trait card." As the player is describing their action, they verbally have to say (in the sort "character" of narration, as opposed to "in character dialogue") the specific key word / trait on their card, and physically push that card forward as part of their hand/play for the turn.

    This is sort of like the LARP you're referencing David - if you don't have the "thing" you can't say or do the thing, and the system / players just sort of ignore your attempts at the thing. I think this can be adjudicated by a GM/group of course, but creating systems around it might help mitigate some of the power-trip/social-dynamics potential (which I can see as a problem, especially among non-close friends).
  • Maybe use a wheel or clock like PbtA games, but have each tick on clock face be a type of action. So fight, threaten and ignore are next to each other on one side of the clock, and befriend, convince, and greet are on the opposite side, that kind of thing. This would be easy to read and tell what everyone what they could do in the situation can do based on the situation. It also could inform what actions could be taken to swing the situation around to what you want. 3 and 9 would be neutral, 12 hostile, and 6 friends.

    As much as I love to use voices for my characters, not every player is like that.

    Maybe just focus on rules that would allow me to make a character I would love to play. Let me play it and have a chance to succeed at what the character is supposed to be the great at. That would be enough for me to be totally into the game.
  • Thanks for the contribution chai, I like the clock idea.

    So you'd essentially say, to use PbtA type terminology: you'd only have these X amount of actions / moves that you can take, and they have sort of a built-in intent and consequence, is that right?

    In order for you to immerse in the character and "make the type of character you want," is that more an aspect of how the character is able to function on an efficacy level, or something more like personality traits / convictions / beliefs / motivations that help drive you mechanically in and out of character? (I'm assuming the former).

    I've had lots of experiences personally and anecdotally from friends that said something along the lines of "Ooh can I do this?!" and the GM says "No." And sometimes that's perfectly fine and fitting for a particular game, or a setting or a system, but being at least able to say "yes" as opposed to "uhhh, I don't know how to do that in the system" would be a step in the right direction. Would you agree with that chaiboy?
  • Setting aside specific terminology debates, I'd like to refocus the thread on the task at hand (at least as I interpreted it):

    What structures, mechanics, or systems can we create that enforce "high-immersion" gameplay? I think referring to this as "Actor-stance" is also a fair comparison, as in essence (in my mind) the less the player has to remove themselves mechanically or narratively from the perspective of their character, the less interference to immersion there is.

    The one I suggested:
    - Clear and distinct (non-GM-fiat) rules for "your character can always do this, sometimes do this, and never do this" and that each of those tiers might differ for each character
    I almost feel like you want to take the opposite approach. For me, what pulls me into the immersive experience is being able to try anything like I am there as the character. I don't want to think about how I can't do X, but can do Y. Obviously though you need mechanics. But ideally the system supports the players saying what they want to do and the GM having a way of figuring out whether that works. To me that is a very basic component of not interfering with immersion.



  • I'm cool with not being a credible advocate for your favourite playstyle, I don't have any stakes in that. I'm not even sure if immersion is real, myself :D
    And this is kind of my point though. If don't even think its real, maybe the dismissiveness I was detecting was a product of that.

    I've noticed a lot of threads on the subject here lately, and it is cool to see people talking about it. But at the same time, I have to admit my skepticism (particularly when there are a lot of posts that look like they are attempting to support immersion with one hand, while undermine it with another: defining it away, that sort of thing). Do you really want immersion or are you just out to prove people who like it are deluding themselves?
  • I've noticed a lot of threads on the subject here lately, and it is cool to see people talking about it. But at the same time, I have to admit my skepticism (particularly when there are a lot of posts that look like they are attempting to support immersion with one hand, while undermine it with another: defining it away, that sort of thing). Do you really want immersion or are you just out to prove people who like it are deluding themselves?
    I tried to formulate a smart reply to this, but then I realized that ultimately that's all on you, and it avails none for me to try to untangle that. I hope it doesn't bother you too much to witness others talk about aspects of roleplaying that you appreciate, even when they are not politically reliable and might have wrong opinions.

    I cannot speak for others, but I personally am earnest about trying to help, and do not have a hidden agenda when I discuss immersion in the Internet. The fact that it is not a creative priority for me, and I'm not even sure if the concept is well-founded, does not mean that I am secretly trying to undermine anything. I think that the rough roadmap I posted earlier for how to design specifically for player immersion is solid; I could even see myself try to make an immersive game one of these days, it's not like I'm some sort of a machine programmed to only ever enjoy the same things over and over again.
  • Because I have a vested interest in the content of this thread - I'd like to steer away from the immersion-as-worth-defining-and-secretly-undermining subcontext, if everyone doesn't mind. I think Eero was being genuinely helpful, and I appreciate Brendan's attempts to make his opinion known that immersion is a topic worth serious discussion.

    I think that we're on to something here, as well as the topic at large (the recent rend of immersion vs narrative or actor vs author stance, if you will), and the mechanisms that can help foster immersion/actor stance play. I'd love to hear from some others on what specific tactics, mechanisms, systems, etc can use to encourage this type of experience.
  • You guys are actually doing good work here, and I'm sorry that my getting a bit excited about a tangent suggestion got things wildly off track.

    Yes, let's get back to discussing frameworks for supporting immersionist fun.

    Eero and I can easily go be nerds about Princess Play in another thread if we want.

    One of the big tensions I see is about handling of mechanics on the player end, crossed with how many and what sort of mechanics are necessary for a player to be able to formulate at least a basic idea of their character's capabilities, in order to make informed choices about what their character may attempt in the fiction ( and their likely chances of success)?

    I tend to agree with folks who say that mechanics which "fade into the background" either help immersion, or at least are the least likely sort to directly interfere with immersion. The basic, core, skill rules in Call of Cthulhu are usually the go-to example of this, and I also find the CoC is a game that tends to be more immersive for me, perhaps because of that.
  • You guys are actually doing good work here, and I'm sorry that my getting a bit excited about a tangent suggestion got things wildly off track.

    Yes, let's get back to discussing frameworks for supporting immersionist fun.

    Eero and I can easily go be nerds about Princess Play in another thread if we want.

    One of the big tensions I see is about handling of mechanics on the player end, crossed with how many and what sort of mechanics are necessary for a player to be able to formulate at least a basic idea of their character's capabilities, in order to make informed choices about what their character may attempt in the fiction ( and their likely chances of success)?

    I tend to agree with folks who say that mechanics which "fade into the background" either help immersion, or at least are the least likely sort to directly interfere with immersion. The basic, core, skill rules in Call of Cthulhu are usually the go-to example of this, and I also find the CoC is a game that tends to be more immersive for me, perhaps because of that.
    I think a key thing to keep in mind is there is a big difference between being immersed in character and simulating a character. This is where I believe a lot of the differences of opinion arise from. For most people I speak to and play with who value immersion in character, it isn't about the performance. I mean people might be delighted if someone takes to the table like Alan Rickman, but the point really is more about seeing things through your characters eyes. So you could really just play yourself if you wanted to and still be immersed. To compare it to a board game, it is like becoming the piece on the board. Ideally what occurs is through that act you start to see things from your character's point of view....but it should be natural, not something that the mechanics do for you if that makes sense. You want the mechanics to not get in the way, but you don't really want them to push you toward immersion deliberately either. It is more about knowing where the system needs to slacken in order to enhance immersion. At least that is how I normally encounter it.

    Obviously sometimes you have to have mechanics for things that can't fade into the background, for whatever reason. So like all things, there will be trade-offs.
  • Also, for the record, I'm not using Princess Play=Immersions. I'm thinking Princess Play can pair well with immersion. That's a subtle difference.
  • How do we feel about forcing / encouraging in-character behavior? Such as, nobody acknowledges you or what you say unless you do so in character. That way it forces you to think distinctly in-character.

    So, what gentle / non-confrontational systems can we employ that do that? Do we even think that will help with immersion?
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