Spatial relationships in verbal games

edited April 2017 in Make Stuff!
Ok, so I created these four diagrams for a sorta heated discussion over on TBP but never mind that, here's the:
Types of spatial relationships that combat mechanics in Theatre-of-the-Mind games can care about!
First, I'm going to use a definition of TotM as follows: games that are communicated about through words (voice or text) rather than maps, playing pieces, whiteboard scrawls etc.
Got it?

Cartesian space
The mechanics could be set up to care about exact positioning of every person and object relative to some origin point. Imagine playing 4e D&D over the phone.

Example mechanic texts: "The spell hits everyone in a three foot radius from where it lands". "Orcs always attack their closest enemy."

Example games:
I don't know any game that's primarily designed with TotM in mind that's set up like this. I've played and ran games of 5e with this take on it with mediocre results.

Vector space
The mechanics could be set up to care about relative distance between every person and object but not their position.
5e has several mechanics in this space (the range listings on weapons for example).

Example mechanic texts: "Arrows can shoot Far enemies", "The gun has a range of 200 meters"

Example games: 13th Age, 5e RAW, Burning Wheel "Range and Cover".

Predicate space
The mechanics are set up to care about space-related properties.
5e has very many mechanics that are in this space, and some of its mechanics like being "next to" someone can be easily interpreted to be in this mode as well.

Example mechanic texts: "Whenever someone enters the kitchen, they need to make a saving throw". "If you're on the table attacking down, you get advantage." "You can make a dex check to become hidden, if there is anything to hide behind in this room". "The garden has the aspect 'Constant rain', and it takes an action to get there from the living room.".

Example games: Spider & Web, Fate. 3:16 arguably. Netrunner, Magic: the Gathering ("flying", "banding", "flanking" traits and keywords). 5e Mike Mearls style.

Non-space
The mechanics are set up to care about things other than spatial relationships.

Example mechanic text: "When someone loses half their HP, they become 'bloodied'". "You need to spend a level 2 slot to cast a level 2 spell".
(The difference between this and predicate space is that these aren't spatially flavored which leads to very different thinking for many of us humans.)

Example games: Wizardry, Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star, Labyrinth Lord, B/X D&D, Burning Wheel "Fight".

My idea is that the ideal TotM game makes heavy use of predicate space and non-space mechanics while avoiding mechanics that rely on cartesian space.


Is this helpful to folks?

To be specific: this is "dice"-level stuff for mechanics writers and move-writers (in PbtA parlance). GMs should probably be aware but the shared imagined space is always relevant in order to resolve some common sense things. It's just that a game that's riddled with mechanics that rely on exact spatial positioning will play very differently from one that has interesting and deep mechanics that aren't.

The idea is that players will still imagine a room (unless aphantasia strikes) and that inner view of a room will help them remember the situation and make choices in the situation. But the less game mechanics that rely on that room being communicated the better, the more relaxing and useful the communication will be. That's my hypothesis! I call this.... Sandra's Rule! Yes, my first game design rule has been... unleashed!!!
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Comments

  • (This is the sort of stuff I was completely struggling with when I as a child tried to learn, from books, what RPGs even were, how they worked and how to play them.)
  • I like your taxonomy, it is useful for getting a handle on the possibilities.

    As for Sandra's Rule, perhaps a more precise way of expressing the phenomenon would be that communicating spatial relationships and precise positioning in space and time verbally is difficult and language is generally not specialized for it, and therefore you will naturally need to devote special attention to it if you want to make it work for you. Saying that communication becomes more useful by removing spatial information makes it sound like game communication has an universal utility function, which is not the case.

    For example, in the way we play old school D&D the spatial issue is dealt with an intricate combination of player training and mechanical abstraction (predicate space, as you describe it). I don't think that the heavy use of real measures of space and time in communicating the game situation necessarily makes the communication less useful - at most it makes it more challenging, in that the players will only truly be efficient and powerful once they've mastered the argot and visualization training to a degree where they can take in standard dungeon spec all day long and "unfold" it correctly in their mind's eye. The fact that we say "the room is 40 feet deep" makes participating in the communication more difficult, but does not per se make it less relaxing and useful for those who have mastered it. It is, in fact, well worth the effort for that particular game.
  • Ok, let me try some other wording for Sandra's Rule:
    "Regardless of mechanics, players and DM can imagine and talk about space. The less the mechanical rewards and restrictions are specific to the distances and positions in that space, the less snags there'll be in the communication"

    I still want "the more useful the communication will be" but I guess that's a "writer's darling" that has to go
  • edited May 2016
    I'm not against saying the room is 40 feet deep, I do that all the time. I'm against room depth having a significant impact on crunch. Like a weapon or spell that only works in 40 feet deep rooms, or a map that makes it easier to find hidden rooms if you've mapped out exact depths. (Barrowmaze, I'm looking at you angrily.)

    An analogy is this: By drawing two dots and a line, I can make something that most people will see as a face and then play can proceed from that face and we can work with that. If there are spells in the game that require that face to have a certain relative eye-size in order to reward the player who spent their precious slots on them, suddenly we need to draw our faces with much more precision. By contrast, some spells that trigger on obvious things like "an eyepatch" or "a mohawk" or "freckles"; simple dot-line-faces can have those features added or removed in a relatively easy way.


    Having "the goblin is in the pool of water" matter is very cool because it brings the rooms to life for a very low cost. Having every foot and every exact position matter is problematic because it means we have to convey the rooms in a way that's an order of magnitude more taxing to keep track of and communicate around. (I hear ASL users have an easier time.)
  • edited May 2016
    I think you describe a desirable endpoint very well, but I'm not sure how to get there. If everyone's working from an inner view, but that inner view involves people running across an open space while other people try to figure out if they can peg them with thrown objects, I'm not sure what your ideal recourse is.

    Is it possible for me to hit you with my poisoned dart? I need to know, because if it is, I'll try, and if it isn't, I'll use that precious moment in time to do something else.

    Personally, my solution to this has been to avoid objective measures like "40 feet" and speak only in the relevant subjective measures like "dart-throwing range". But even "dart-throwing range" is, as you say, a communication snag hazard. Maybe the solution is to leave projectiles out of the game? But there we run into an artificiality issue...

    Perhaps I'm missing your point, though. Maybe you're talking about a certain range of fictional situations in which Predicate Space is viable but Cartesian or Vector Space often gets used without need. In that case, I'd totally agree with you -- I'm just failing to imagine where that comes up. "Arrows can shoot Far enemies" and "kitchen entry requires save" are simply different fictional situations, aren't they?
  • David, using your dart as an example.
    Let's imagine three games that have different dart rules:
    "Characters can throw darts at each other if they are within 20ft of each other"
    "Characters can throw darts at each other unless they are in different rooms"
    "Characters can throw darts at each other"

    The first rule uses vector space, the second uses predicate space, the third uses non-space.

    Now no-one is suggesting a game where you can throw darts from Manhattan to Beijing but… the 20ft-limit dart game will need more cumbersome communication to play.

    For the purposes of this example, a rule saying "Players can throw darts at each other if they are in 'Close' range" can also be vector space based and have the same issues. It depends on the affordance the game builds up with regards to spatial terms.
  • The way I'm experimenting with running 5e combat scenes now (and I consider chases a different type of scene and volley/range/cover a different type of scene) is to just go "Yes, darts can hit". (Provided the "to hit" meets or beats AC.)
  • Zones in Fate and Owl Hoot Trail seem to sit in between predicate & vector space while taking cues from grids.

    The "board/cardgame rpg" Assault on Doomrock has its own unquie twist on this (there are runthru videos on youtube).It seems somewhat like vector space, but eschews concrete definitions what distances mean.(if i rewatch the vids i might be able to describe it better)

    I am experimenting (in Dreamhounds of Paris game) with an index card system describing the interesting parts of a scene:it seems like a sort of predicate system but with more available predefined hooks to play with. I combine the index cards with meeples for easy marking who's where.
    I discovered today that mythic mortals might be doing something similar.

    Forgive my rambling, your ideas seem to help with some conceptions i am working through,but chances are that they are tangietial to what you want to do. I guess i just want to toss in more examples to broaden the scope & see if grid/vector/predicate is still comprehensive.
  • Hmm. So if I try to discern whether the fiction will allow me to throw a dart at someone, your preferred answer is "the fiction doesn't matter; the rules allow you to throw the dart"? That seems fine to me, but is not what I had in mind when you were talking about imagining an inner view of fictional space. My inner view tends to fade out a bit when it has less bearing on what I can do.

    Or maybe "think from the fiction, but if the fiction doesn't definitely tell you that you can't do X, then you can do X" is a better way to put it?
  • edited April 2017
    David, your last sentence is very good advice on how to DM games built according to Sandra's Rule.
    "Establish restrictions and exceptions early and clearly" -- if players can't throw a dart at someone, make that clear.

    But the point I'm making is directed toward game designers and "move writers" primarily, GMs secondarily. If you fill the player's handbook with weapon lists that have very specific spatial restrictions, the communication will be made more cumbersome. "Dart, 1 copper piece. Can't be used if you are standing lower than a 15° decline outside of a 20ft radius of the target or with someone directly behind you"
    Then you'll have some player spend their resources on darts, some DM who don't remember every detail on the player's sheets, and a situation like "You didn't tell me they were 21 foot away!"

    Is there a word for abilities and powers that the players spend game resources on? Character points, slots, money or xp.

    Anyway. The point isn't to deliberately try to conjure up an image of the room. I was making a side comment that players and DMs will imagine rooms. These rooms may be vivid, alive, detailed -- but a lot of what's there will be filled in by that participant rather than what's been said, or things can be misheard (as per the discrepancies in your Delve comics, David).

    In a game with freeform elements there will be situations where cartesian space matters. That's OK. I just want to make sure not to encourage those situations by deeply encoding it into spell lists, weapon lists, class abilities etc. A lot of this stems from how impressed I was at the 5e rogue's ability to convey sneaking and doing extra damage dice through mechanics that are all expressed solely in predicate space terms.

    Semiomant, I consider zones to be firmly placed in predicate space vocabulary. Range bands (Close, Far etc) on the other hand are the most hard to sort, and the the mechanics around them determine if they are used in a way that assumes predicate space language (like ranges in 3:16) or that affords having to go all the way up to vector space language. Keeping track of distances between each person and object is a non-linearly growing complexity (it grows triangularily, 1 distance, 3 distances, 6 distances, 10 distances, and with six things 15 distances).
  • Well said. I too am sick of the "You didn't tell me they were 21 feet away!" conversation, and I agree that writing numerical physics rules for dart-throwing (etc.) catalyzes such things. Now that I know you aren't claiming it completely covers every emergent situation, I am totally on board with your proposed rule-writing ethos.

    I am finding it a little hard to nail down, though. Is it, like, "do write rules that apply regardless of spatial context; do not write rules which rely on spatial particulars; in between is in between"?
  • Game designers and move writers:
    Do not write rules that reference distances or positions
    Do write rules that reference spatially flavored/fluffed predicate relationships
    Do write rules that have nothing to do with spatiality.

    By "rules" in this context I specificially do include frotz-style feats and weapons and spells for those games where you're trying to make mechanical choices that favor your chances of success.

    GMs:
    Do use common sense in emergent situations
  • Can't... quite... wrap my brain around what a "spatially flavored/fluffed predicate relationship" is... Is there a concise way to say "predicate relationship" other than "predicate relationship"? Or do I just need to look up that word a few more times and hope it sinks in better than it has so far?
  • edited May 2016
    Yeah, "is"-relationship. A goldfish "is" red. The orc "is" in the water.
    Interestingly enough, the lojban language which is based around predicate grammar doesn't even have a word for "is". It's just so always implied all of the time. ilo finpe cu xunre .i orko ne'i lo djacu

  • While in play I usually adhere to Sandra's Rule, right now as a designer I can't say I'm in that position. You see, I've recently been watching lots of videogame gameplay and reading some articles on the subject where making positions and distances important and objective actually acts as a way to introduce tactical gameplay without unnecessarily adding more mechanics and additional rules. Also, it can be learned quickly as spatial comprehension is a second nature to us.

    But don't take me wrong, I totally agree with the core of the rule, the less rules about spatial representation, the better. At top you would need a loose measure for character movement per turn/action, a loose measure of what means short range, define that long range is anything to which you have visual range. And that's if you do want to implement the use of a visual tactical positioning, which you don't actually need to play RPGs, I'm just implementing them in my game because it's another kind of fun. So, as long as implementing it doesn't mean adding a cumbersome amount of rules to the combat chapter, I'd say go for it!

    Of course, it isn't something that it's fun for everyone. For example, My pal can totally use numbers to shape any abstraction in his mind, but gets headaches when trying to imagine three-dimensional visual spatial relationships, while I'm the opposite case.
  • Sandra's Rule kinda also sprung out of experience with video games, though games like Spider & Web and Hunter in Darkness, both of which are amazing and both of which makes use of predicate space a lot (and for that matter, our beloved Enchanter). There are also great games that make use of non-space in fighting scenes, like Gaudia Quest, Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Warrior) etc.

    Spatial comprehension can easily misfire over voice-only -- our brains "fill in the blanks" in a comprehensive way but that comprehension can clash with other people's takes on the same description. The takeaway is to embrace this "blank filling" comprehension while being mindful of its flaws.
  • You're right. Our TotM kinda games have successfully relied on scribbled maps or gestures accompanying predicate space descriptions. Clarifications actually don't take us too long so rarely the process of actualizing the fictional space into it's new situation for everyone doesn't take too long. Mos cases of miscomunication took place when the GM chose the wrong wording or skipped some crucial description while explaining, or when a player went to the bathroom, things had changed when they came back and the player who explained things for her wasn't clear enough.

    I'll get back to you once I've made some testing on my game.
  • So Sandra's rule only applies if you don't want to use maps, right? If you're drawing a map of the area, presumably cartesian space presents few difficulties, yes? Especially if you're using a (cartesian) grid.
  • One Minor Interjection: I find the "grid/vector/predicate" trichotomy echos very neatly with raster/vector/description as a trichotomy for computer graphics ("description" meaning, frex, a Figure title or Alt text 'behind' the graphic for HTML/accessibility).

    And interestingly, in graphics, raster art almost always is larger than the same-size/scale vector art, which in turn is almost always larger than the bits it takes to store a plain-text description. A bitmapped logo at 600x600 might be 200KB (with PNG compression), the same logo as SVG might be 20KB at ANY size, and itts description (e.g., "Apple logo") might be less than 1KB. Makes ya go "Hmmmm...". (Or makes me go "Hmmm..." at least.)

    Not sure if there's any 'deep connection' to explore from that... just interesting parallel, as I read the thread.
  • edited April 2017
    Simon: Correct
    I have a whole separate spiel on why I think players seeing room-level maps are bad but that's its own thing.

    Iff you for any reason don't use room-level maps, then Sandra's Rule applies. Sandra's rule is specifically for word-only games using text, voice and gestures.

    David: Well, vector graphics still use cartesian coordinates as part of their path expressions, so it's not a great analogy.

    Rather, both vector and raster movies and video games use cartesian space (some animations use vector file formats and these still are defined ultimately in cartesian space) but some sprite engines in video games use vector space to determine trajectories, momentums and collisions of heroes and monsters. Where as as mentioned Inform games (a subgenre of text games) use predicate space.


    For table top RPGs, vector space is deceivingly simple at small amounts of objects, but the amount of distances to keep track of increase triangularly (1, 3, 6, 10, 15 etc) the more objects there are, so cartesian space quickly overtakes it in efficiency, which has two distances per object to keep track of, with all deltas derivable.

    So goes 1 v 4, 3 v 6, 6 v 8, 10 v 10 --ergo five things/monsters/heroes is where the two spaces have the same overhead and beyond that, cartesian space is simpler.

    I see a greater appeal in predicate space since it's at least to my mind more memorable and salient.
  • Yeah, right! You also got the opposite parallel in terms of human comunication: showing things is understood faster than pointing to things and even faster than talking about things.

    But the more rules you put into any process, the muddier the communication and the longer it takes. So, if you just remove rules from anything you use to represent the fiction and instead just rely on the fiction negotiation mechanics, you will definitely do better.

    Personally I'd rely more on gestures to charge predicates with additional meaning. It's as simple as saying "you find an strange bronze and iron box" while holding up your hands like this:
    image
    Just like that you already stated that it's something they can take with them, because something of that size can actually be carried somewhat easily. The description of the materials accompanied with the gesture will perfectly give us an idea of the weight of the object, so much that it will made sense that in worst case it can be thrown and make a lot of damage just because of the size an composition.

    You can describe a dragon while looking up and pretend you're staring at his head; some players will even notice how far are your pupils focusing and get a general idea of the size of the dragon, intuitively calculating it. Make a couple of reaction movements like shifting to one side while covering your head and players will understand and picture the scene even better than if you had the best miniatures with animatronics.

  • edited May 2016
    Yeah, I call this my "airplane stewardess" style of DMing. "Exits are here, here and here".
    But the more rules you put into any process, the muddier the communication and the longer it takes. So, if you just remove rules from anything you use to represent the fiction and instead just rely on the fiction negotiation mechanics, you will definitely do better.
    Not sure what you mean here. I don't want to remove "Sandra's Rule" :p

    I want the rules and mechanics of the game to be less reliant on cartesian space and vector space. An example rule is "Handaxes have a range of 20 feet". That rule is reliant on vector space.

    Oh, yeah, that reminds me to clarify to David: cartesian space can kinda express vector space relationships and vector space can sorta express predicate space relationships.

    I.e. there's hyponymy going on:
    Cartesian space - Vector space - predicate space - non-space

  • I'm on the way out the door so don't have much time to absorb this, but this is great stuff, and I think that many games that eschew mapping suffer from not considering it. Where your PC is directly maps to what they can reasonably accomplish, and not establishing this can create a narrative clash and shatter suspension of disbelief.
  • Where your PC is directly maps to what they can reasonably accomplish
    Yes, so true! And I want to redefine what "where your PC is" means.
    Like, in a Dungeon World game expertly GM:ed by a friend of mine (I was the fish) the salient spatial information was that half the party was on the upper floor fighting kobolds (and I was a small fish) and the other half of the party was on the floor below, fighting golems and the golems were pounding the roof, affecting us. Predicate space masterfully applied.

    We certainly weren't counting squares or figuring out exact distances.
  • Yeah, I call this my "airplane stewardess" style of DMing. "Exits are here, here and here".
    But the more rules you put into any process, the muddier the communication and the longer it takes. So, if you just remove rules from anything you use to represent the fiction and instead just rely on the fiction negotiation mechanics, you will definitely do better.
    Not sure what you mean here. I don't want to remove "Sandra's Rule" :p

    I want the rules and mechanics of the game to be less reliant on cartesian space and vector space. An example rule is "Handaxes have a range of 20 feet". That rule is reliant on vector space.
    I actually just kinda repeated Sandra's Rule there, but I'll admit that there's this small thing nagging me and it shows in how I phrased it. I mean, Im all for abolishing cartesian based rules and precise measures, but I do base my own immersion on visual references, so I can't feel comfortable admitting that playing in predicate space is better. I mean, it's obviously better for some people, but not for me in particular. So while I totally agree with Sandra's Rule, your advice here:
    Game designers and move writers:
    Do not write rules that reference distances or positions
    Do write rules that reference spatially flavored/fluffed predicate relationships
    Do write rules that have nothing to do with spatiality.
    Just feels like a little too much of an imposition. Not that it doesn't make sense, but that there are matters of taste that don't let me feel comfortable with the way it's phrased, just that.
  • That's why those three parts of the rule are specifically directed at move writers and game designers, not DMs (most DMs are game designers, too, and vice versa, but… when not running vs when running).
  • The idea is to, yes, enable players to visually imagine "being there", vividly. Communication snags that clash with that imagined space can wreck immersion.
  • edited May 2016
    Never mind, even I ain't sure what I'm trying to say. Minis and maps have never got in my way of vividly imagining what's there, helped me a lot to keep everyone on the table in the same page and even introduce a totally different fun of tactical play that favours a different kind of immersion. It's just that I have to keep the attention of some people with reaaally different tastes, interests and mind skillsets. Two of us are visual-oriented players, another one is numeric abstraction-oriented and has often give us trouble whenever we went into predicate space. I'd have to ask the other two more in deep since they seem to be more versatile.

    Yet I'm sure everyone in our table would be glad of having a really minimal amount of rules for any kind of spatial representation system we got to use.

    And while it may look that I'm writing as a DM I'm actually doing it as a designer, as most of the time I'm either trying to design a game that accomodates all or most of the tastes around our table or hack an existent one to do so.
  • Yay, I stumbled on the earlier thread in RPGnets D&D/d20 forum, but by then it kinds stalled there. So I'm happy to see it come up here again.

    I love the taxonomy descriped here, because:

    1. it describes perfectly one of the things that have bothered me in games like Shadowrun, where lots of rules are written with vector space in mind. (Which I never particularily cared about.)

    2. I'm currently working on a study project which involves in part translating an Angry Bird level (which works by entities placed in a 2d cartesian space) into a predicate based model, to be used for planning/intelligent agent work. (Ie. we try to write a bot that "understands" Angry Birds in order to play it better.) The taxinomy is not really applicable to that, but still, tickled my brain. :)

    One thing I'm wondering is how one might best translate (ie. rewrite) a game with cartesian or vector space in mind to a predicate modell. Obviously, there's abstraction involved, but I wonder whether anybody has some experiences willing to share.

  • So to translate "This bow can be used to shoot enemies that are In Close Range" you can change it to "This bow can be used to shoot enemies in the same room".
    The board game Tannhäuser has an interesting gradiented version of predicate space in order to determine "can shoot" issues, and the D&D Adventure System (i.e. board game series Castle Ravenloft etc) does something simpler where it just counts room tiles -- it's still cartesian space, but a much "lower rez". It has two levels of movement abstraction; "squares" for player movement, "tiles" (a tile is made up of some amount of squares) for monster movement and ranged attacks from both players and monsters. It is fast.
    Both of those still rely on a map, i.e. they aren't exclusively verbal games, but they're interesting.

    Above and beyond I've pointed to Hunter in Darkness which translates an old cartesian game (iirc the original Wumpus used icosahedral coordinates rather than 2-dimensional; and it itself made movements toward a predicade space model over the grid-based games (Mugwump, Snark, Hurkle) that preceded it) into a beautifully written predicate space game. The IF community figured all of this stuff out years ago but I haven't seen it articulated clearly except by reading source code. I'm trying to reengineer it and apply it to TRPG (so far with good success).

    To be clear, the four terms and the taxonomy, I came up with, but the sort of games I've used as examples obviously preexist.

    Thanks for your kind words, Lord_Minx!
  • edited May 2016
    It's a lossy translation and I'd rather compensate with rules that do have interesting and easy-to-adjudicate consequences based on predicate space. Fate's aspects was an early take on this, which I feel 5e adv/disadv refined. It returned "The goblin is 'On The Table'" to "The goblin is on the table", i.e. it natlangified it, and stripped away the protocol for discovering/creating/invoking positional elements.
  • edited May 2016
    I play a lot of Theater-of-the-Mind kind of games, and I got two rules for that.

    + No maps.
    + Free movement, unless constrained.

    I explain free movement as the combatants moving when it's not their initiative - when the camera isn't putting them in focus. When they are in focus (their initiative), then the players shall describe where they are if they moved. So they can be up in the mast during one turn, below deck during another, and in the water during a third.

    This takes care of any kind of spatial relationships. Do you need to be in a certain space to do something, then you already moved there. In my game Matiné, magic had the following ranges: touch, sight, small area (ex. room, alley), big area (ex. town, forest). Do you need to touch someone? Then you moved there during someone else's turn.

    Bows had ranges in form of increments. If the weapon had 20 in increment, then the player got -1 for every increment beyond that (and the game had no max distances). Shooting 80 meters gave -4. But in combat, free movement allowed archers to move so they could avoid penalties.

    Something I learned from playing that game, and Feng Shui, was that for Theater-of-the-Mind games, it's important what you want to achieve, not how you achieve it, and the rules should adapt around that principle.

    It doesn't matter if you shoot fifteen arrows or one, if you want to hit five people. The only thing that matters is that you hit five people. That's what you want to achieve. You want to hit a group of people with magic? Then use the range "small area". You want to inflict more damage? Then the rules should determine that mechanically, but not determine HOW it's inflicted. Someone could run up a wall, do a backflip and kick someone during the flip, while someone else could just aim for the eye. What they are trying to achieve is the same thing.

    ---

    On a similar note. Every character had 24 stamina in Matiné, and magic used stamina. You got one stamina back for every hour that passed. That meant that every time we had a magician in the party, that player wanted to know the exact time all the time. The same would happen if you have rules that includes distances.
  • edited May 2016
    • No maps

    Yes, I agree very strongly with this. I was playing in a game of 5e and I was up in the tower, seeing torch light flickers and trying to shoot the foes in the dark with my long bow. Very moody. And then, I rushed down to the garden, changed to my sword, and fought the foes there -- and the DM brought out a map, and everything became so static and small and dead. "A combat for ants!". We were basically standing still trading blows.

    • Free movement

    Free movement can work well in a game where most of the interesting combat rules are non-space.
    But games can have interesting predicate space such as "If you break engagement by moving out of melee, they get a free swing at you", some sort of consequence which also helps the fighters and clerics to protect the squishies.

    • Only these two rules

    I disagree -- I love the "no maps" rule but I'm not on board with how free movement eradicates predicate space interactions.

    • What you want to achieve

    This one, I'm not onboard with as DM, but I do see the appeal for game designers and move writers. Intent is important but I want a fuller IIEE. "What are you doing exactly?" I always ask when running. I need to, otherwise we can't adjudicate what's happening.
    In 5e, there is a difference between shoving someone or striking them. And that's an interesting difference to me and I preserve it.
    Like, if they just say "I want to inflict damage on them", that's not enough. If they then say "I run up the wall and do a backflip kick on them", that is enough.
  • I earlier wrote: "A lot of this stems from how impressed I was at the 5e rogue's ability to convey sneaking and doing extra damage dice through mechanics that are all expressed solely in predicate space terms."
    That experience impressed me, changed my mind, moving me away from "Rickard's Two Rules" and Feng Shui's style of adjudication.
  • edited May 2016
    But games can have interesting predicate space such as "If you break engagement by moving out of melee, they get a free swing at you",
    Engagement would in this example count as a constraint. In other games, without Opportunity Attacks, engagement would not. "Free movement, unless constrained."
    • Only these two rules
    /.../
    I think "Rickard's Two Rules" seem encourage only non-space rules whereas Sandra's Rule also incorporate predicate space.
    I honestly don't see any difference in practice between mine and your rules. Can you elaborate what you mean with "predicate space"?
    • What you want to achieve

    This one, I'm not onboard with as DM, but I do see the appeal for game designers and move writers. Intent is important but I want a fuller IIEE. "What are you doing exactly?" I always ask when running. I need to, otherwise we can't adjudicate what's happening.
    In 5e, there is a difference between shoving someone or striking them. And that's an interesting difference to me and I preserve it.
    Like, if they just say "I want to inflict damage on them", that's not enough. If they then say "I run up the wall and do a backflip kick on them", that is enough.
    Now it seems like you're going more into style.

    I demand that too. The rules in Matiné says that if someone wants to do more damage, they need to describe how to do it. But this is more a topic of describe after rolls (or just making players describe) than distances in mechanics.
  • "unless constrained", yeah, interesting. Then yeah, I'm way more onboard. Movement only matters when it matters, otherwise it's free. In 5e, you can even do things inside your movement, e.g. you can run and attack three separate enemies who are not standing next to each other, if you have three attacks.

    For predicate space, please read the thread and get back to me w/ follow up questions afterwards. There's diagrams! I wrote "Yeah, 'is'-relationship. A goldfish 'is' red. The orc 'is' in the water."

    About style... it's not just about the style, it's made mechanically relevant through means like advantage/disadvantage, conditions, resistances/immunities etc. Conditions are also an example of interesting non-space mechanics, well, some are predicate space (pinned) and some are non-space (intoxicated).
  • edited May 2016
    the 5e rogue's ability to convey sneaking and doing extra damage dice through mechanics that are all expressed solely in predicate space terms.
    Can you describe this?

    Some degree of fictional specificity with both flavor and tactically relevant detail, enacted without any spatial hurdles, sounds fantastic. How exactly is that achieved, do you think? What are the mechanics, and how do they lend themselves to use in play?

    I can't tell if this is something I'm unfamiliar with, or something I'm very familiar with and love but have failed to identify, or what.
  • I'll try. The rogue has a couple of abilities that, when combined with some of the pre-encoded combat actions, end up very synergistic. (5e also has non-pre-encoded combat actions i.e. the ol' "try anything and we'll adjudicate" stuff.)

    One of these pre-encoded combat actions is "Disengage". It's something you can do instead of attacking and it means to leave a melee fray ("fray" is my word for this, it's not a Real Official Game Term) without them getting a free swing at you.

    Another of these pre-encoded combat actions that you can do instead of attacking is "Hide". It's defined in terms of what needs to be present in the scene, how you start and stop being hidden (dex checks and some other actions basically can do this), and what the mechanical benefits are, of being hidden. (One of them is granting advantage.)

    The rogue from the start has an ability called "Sneak attack". Also very strictly defined as you deal extra damage if one or both of the following is true: one of your allies is in a melee fray (again, my term) with the target, or you have advantage against the target. You can get advantage in many ways, everything from swinging around in chandeliers to rolling out bearing balls to, that's right, being hidden.

    The rogue in one of the earliest levels (2, I think?) gets an ability called "Cunning action". It simply means that rogues can Dash (Dashing is the one that requires vector space or "higher", so not relevant for this predicate space discussion), Disengage, or Hide in addition to, not instead of, making an attack.

    Simple enough. But subtly emergent from this was a play pattern where rogues would hide, pop up, and fire away some arrows and deal their extra sneak attack dice. Or where rogues would dart to a foe already tangling with the rogues fighter buddy, strike them with daggers and extra sneak attack dice, and then dart away (with the help of the free Disengage action). Or where rogues would set up shenanigans and then do their sneak attack damage through other fictional positioning. These, with the exception of "Dash", only referred to predicate space elements (such as the state of being Hidden, or the state of the target being already tangling with someone, or the state of having Advantage), and those elements themselves only refered to predicate space elements (such as the conditions for becoming Hidden).

    So in practice, seeing all of this, my mind was blown because it felt so utterly spatial yet the conversation was so free flowing and nothing was questioned in the adjudication. And these are encoded abilities, not subject to tricky adjudication (under usual circumstances).

    This was a DM who, in future encounters, rolled with "blueprints of the mind" and, up until I was a player in this game, so did I. Even so, these properties emerged, and without being spelled out or discussed anywhere in the game text (5e overall is light on philosophy and high on emergence -- and many things are emergent in different directions depending on choices you make, such as "map" or "no map").

    It felt so spatial. Yet there was no talk of distance, line of sight, detailed positioning etc.
  • That said, the tactics quickly become obvious. But they're at least varied, flavorful and emergent.
  • So, what is the general design principle behind creating these mechanics? I believe Sandra's Rule is key. (But who knows what dwelled in the heads of the 5e team.) To make things relevant to predicate space and to steer clear of vector space and cartesian space.

    Predicate space is about (strictly or not so strictly) defining states and relationships. An example from Cloak of Darkness is the hook in the cloakroom that you can hang your cloak on. It's an item with spatially flavored relationships (you can hang other things "on" it) clearly defined. (This is approaching "duh" level perhaps, but it's the old Brunelleschi egg (or Columbus egg) idea, where it seems obvious in retrospect but it's tricky to be clear about.)

    Rules like "Being 'Next to' someone is defined like A, B and C. If you're 'Next to' someone, you get X, Y and Z penalty and W, V and U benefit." (Where these letters are also predicate space or non-space mechanics.)

    It doesn't have to be "be next to", traditionally spatial things like "charging", "grappling", "pinning", "running from", "aiming at", "inside the guard of", "flanking", "flying over" etc etc etc can be defined in the same way. Strictly and neatly but wholly within predicate space or non-space.
  • This seems to me like positioning statements (aka predicate statements aka states) are being used to store spatial information. Once we establish that you are hidden, we no longer need to keep track of the details of how you are hidden, spatially; we can find all that we need to know by referring to the "I am Hidden" statement or the "Hidden" state. If I've got that right, two thoughts:

    1) In my experience, this works exactly insofar as the abilities conferred by being Hidden fit the actual situation, or insofar as the group can agree that "the 'if Hidden' rule doesn't apply here". If Hidden only tells you things that are true of anyone who is ever hidden, then obviously there's no problem. On the other hand, if Hidden is basically a card in your tactical deck which triggers other mechanical plays in such a way that players must choose between fiction and rules, this can cause big problems on the "imagine the scene" front.

    I've seen arguments about whether a Hidden in Shadows character who stabs another character who isn't in shadows still counts as Hidden at the moment of the stab. So the whole dynamic of "refer to state" hinges on a very clear system of arbitrating states.

    "Very clear" in D&D3 (and D&D4 from what I've heard) has often meant "with little or no reference to fictional particulars". There are rules about what you can do on a turn, and the order in which movements and attacks and changes of state take effect, and that's that. Once you've made your moves, you are certainly free to tack a spatial fictional impression onto them, but it's not required or rewarded and, from what little I've seen, it's rarely bothered with.

    In place of that, I think rules for how to GM -- as you said, "Establish restrictions and exceptions early and clearly" and otherwise allow freedom -- are a big step up. "If you do that thing, you won't be Hidden anymore!" based on the fiction, etc.

    2) Assuming the Hidden state does enable and preclude other moves as intended, the big question re: spatial dynamics is how we establish that I am now Hidden. Do we deal with physical logistics like light sources and distances? How far out of predicate space do we have to stray to do that? Or, if we don't do any of that, how fictionally apt can our claim be that I am Hidden? Will it break down under further elaboration of what's where?
    It's defined in terms of what needs to be present in the scene, how you start and stop being hidden (dex checks and some other actions basically can do this)
    If you feel that 5e nails this in some way that not every other game does, I'd like to hear it!

    I know your intent in this thread was to talk about rule-writing, not in-play arbitration, so if this is too much of a derail, feel free to ignore me. I am still trying to evaluate whether "I am X"-style positioning statements really add value to the type of spatially-aware play I enjoy, or whether they're just one of many types of abstractions which all need to give way to particulars in practice lest the fiction become muddy or insubstantial.
  • edited May 2016
    This seems to me like positioning statements (aka predicate statements aka states) are being used to store spatial information. Once we establish that you are hidden, we no longer need to keep track of the details of how you are hidden, spatially; we can find all that we need to know by referring to the "I am Hidden" statement or the "Hidden" state. If I've got that right, two thoughts:
    Some clarifications here.The phrase "positioning statements" I feel apply to all spatial statements including vector space and cartesian space. Predicate space is defined not primarily by what it has (talkin about space) but by what it doesn't have. Specific distances and/or specific positioning.

    The "encapsulation" is a side feature of it, not sure if it's a good or bad thing (well, it makes things simpler so I guess good!), the ease of adjudication and (relative) lack of communication snags is the main part.
    In my experience, this works exactly insofar as the abilities conferred by being Hidden fit the actual situation, or insofar as the group can agree that "the 'if Hidden' rule doesn't apply here".
    Right, exceptions can a rise which is why it's a refereed game (a.k.a. "flavor judge".)

    Is there stuff to hide behind in the scene? Corners, foliage, other people [it explicitly says that the halfling can hide behind other people], in the scene that "blew my mind" earlier it was some sort of low wall.
    I've seen arguments about whether a Hidden in Shadows character who stabs another character who isn't in shadows still counts as Hidden at the moment of the stab. So the whole dynamic of "refer to state" hinges on a very clear system of arbitrating states.
    The rule in 5e is that attacking with advantage, for any reason, gives you the extra sneak attack dice; and that attacking from hidden, it doesn't say "while" hidden, gives you advantage. No weird Zeno's Knife "Well, they obviously feel the knife in the back so then you can't be hidden so then they can't feel the knife in their backs" shenanigans. Did you start your turn in the hidden state? Then yes.
    "Very clear" in D&D3 (and D&D4 from what I've heard) has often meant "with little or no reference to fictional particulars". There are rules about what you can do on a turn, and the order in which movements and attacks and changes of state take effect, and that's that. Once you've made your moves, you are certainly free to tack a spatial fictional impression onto them, but it's not required or rewarded and, from what little I've seen, it's rarely bothered with.
    In Vincent's terms, the IIEE lacks teeth a little bit. That's why the spatial flavor of these predicates are so important. They make you say things like "Ok, I use my cunning action to hide behind these rainbarrels", which is dice talk but sounds like cloud talk, sounds like it enough for me to be satisfied.
    In place of that, I think rules for how to GM -- as you said, "Establish restrictions and exceptions early and clearly" and otherwise allow freedom -- are a big step up. "If you do that thing, you won't be Hidden anymore!" based on the fiction, etc.
    This stuff is in there. I've ran into some problems with Let It Ride because I want to call for stealth rolls again if characters do obviously noisy things like talk to each other etc. Stealth is pretty much the only skill roll we still use. Athletics sometimes.
    Assuming the Hidden state does enable and preclude other moves as intended, the big question re: spatial dynamics is how we establish that I am now Hidden. Do we deal with physical logistics like light sources and distances? How far out of predicate space do we have to stray to do that? Or, if we don't do any of that, how fictionally apt can our claim be that I am Hidden? Will it break down under further elaboration of what's where?
    Distances? No, not in the rule texts according to me. GM's can care about distance in exceptional circumstances, as they could with any other circumstances "It's raining blood and black ash so you guys have a little impaired vision, disadvantage on ranged attacks!"
    Light can be expressed differently in the various spatialities so that also depends. "The light is coming from behind you" (cartesian space), "The light source is 400 yards away" (vector space) "It's really bright here, you get disadvantage on hiding" (predicate space).
    If you feel that 5e nails this in some way that not every other game does, I'd like to hear it!
    The rules (in the Starter Set, but I still run with these rules after 2 years) are like ten pages and a pretty big chunk of that is spent on hiding. But it could be clearer. I love 5e's emergent rules but you know me and my writing style, I would've written it very very differently.
    They say that dim light, patchy fog or moderate foliage gives them disadvantage on trying to see you once you've hidden, and darknes, opaque fog or dense foliage makes it impossible for them to see you.
    Ergo what's required for normal hiding without any disadvantage for them, must be even milder than dim light, patchy fog or moderate foliage.
    I know your intent in this thread was to talk about rule-writing, not in-play arbitration, so if this is too much of a derail, feel free to ignore me. I am still trying to evaluate whether "I am X"-style positioning statements really add value to the type of spatially-aware play I enjoy, or whether they're just one of many types of abstractions which all need to give way to particulars in practice lest the fiction become muddy or insubstantial.
    Well, I am answering from the perspective of move-writing and game design. Which all DMs are to some extent.

    So let me talk about running. The idea is this:
    When running a game that complies with Sandra's Rule, you as DM might have a vivid, spatial idea of the room in your head and everyone's position in it. And then you hear the player say "Ok, I use my cunning action to hide, and then I fire my blowgun at them". And in your head, there are some old chests and desks here that they can hide behind. And in their mind, it's rather some barrels and crates that they can hide behind. But, because the rule doesn't depend on strict spatiality, you both can just roll with it and not even acknowledge what's going on. You don't have to go "Well, you have to be at least 25' away from them to hide, but no more than 30' away from them to reach with the blowgun, and I see here on my notes behind the screen that the three chests and two desks are to close to the door right now, and also they're looking in that direction because they just cast a spell on your ranger buddy so who are you kidding, you can't hide". Instead you both can keep on describing and building on each other's interpretations of the fictional space. "Ok, you go behind an old desk here, pop up to shoot your blowgun while they're unaware".

    And you also can, in exceptional circumstances, go "Oh, this is actually a featureless white room, brightly lit" (even then they can, if they're a hobbit, hide behind their human sized friends). And even then, they're still have a chance to deal their extra sneak damage because it also triggers when an ally is in melee with the target.
  • Gotcha. Thanks for the fuller description!

    So, to me, playing this way, leading from rules entities like "Hidden" and then mentally filling in fiction as desired, usually leads to disengagement from any sense of fictional space. If the default is "assume the fictional space allows you to do what you want" then the fictional space doesn't really matter, and while I might be motivated to color it in for the sake of the roleplay experience, someone else at the table won't, resulting in a conversation that sounds like a boardgame to me ("I'm Hidden so I use Sneak Attack and roll these dice!"). I don't claim to be describing a logically necessary chain of cause and effect here, but it's definitely what I've seen and experienced.

    Having said that, perhaps gamers have picked up these habits from unclear and inconsistent GM application of spatial issues -- that is, if you form a vision of what's going to happen based on fictional space, but then the GM says, "Nope!" based on their own, conflicting vision, then you learn not to form visions in the first place. So, that may be a problem you've prevented from arising, if you mandate that GMs say "yes" unless there's a clear reason why they must say "no", and also mandate that GM's must clarify "no" factors as early as possible (e.g. when setting the scene). If GMs comply with these mandates, then players shouldn't run into "I think I can do a thing, oh wait now I can't." And if they don't run into that, maybe their imaginations will run free and envision stuff, and maybe some of that will even get shared in narration. An exciting possibility! Do you think that's basically what happened in your awesome 5E play?
  • Thanks for sharing your experience and I definitely agree with the bolded part.

    My own experience, we started with "blueprints of the mind" (think the Delve comics where they're like "how high is the roof" etc) and gradually changed it like this and only recently it fully crystalized. Will it lead to disengagement of any sense of fictional space? I hope it won't but that's a good warning. :/
    Too bad, I was getting really enthusiastic about this, we've been having some amazing sessions.

    About the exciting possibility: It's been good, but I want it to become even better. It's been a lot of "non-space" stuff (we haven't had any rogues in such a long time) and I want to involve predicate space more.

    The truth is that the players have started missing a lot, like they aren't examining the walls and stuff. There are cool things hidden there sometimes!
    Maybe it's time we ran a good trap-ridden dungeon with lots of hidden passages. :D That's another method to regain a strong sense of fictional space.
    It's been all villages and taverns and RP encounters lately.
  • Having said that, perhaps gamers have picked up these habits from unclear and inconsistent GM application of spatial issues -- that is, if you form a vision of what's going to happen based on fictional space, but then the GM says, "Nope!" based on their own, conflicting vision, then you learn not to form visions in the first place. So, that may be a problem you've prevented from arising, if you mandate that GMs say "yes" unless there's a clear reason why they must say "no", and also mandate that GM's must clarify "no" factors as early as possible (e.g. when setting the scene). If GMs comply with these mandates, then players shouldn't run into "I think I can do a thing, oh wait now I can't."
    It seems to me that to comply, the GM has to have foreknowledge of what will be attempted.

    For example, a bright featureless room will prevent hiding, and will be clarified as such. Desks or barrels or piles of brick offer equal opportunity for hiding, so they won't be specified, and the GM imagining one and the player imagining another is fine as long as what's in focus is whether there's something to hide behind.

    But what happens when the player says "I burn the desk with my fire magic!" and the GM was imagining bricks?

    It seems to me that either the details of the room need to be communicated (contrary to Sandra's rule), or the details of the room can't be allowed to have much impact and will very much be in danger of being elided.
  • edited May 2016
    @shimrod I agree that the details of the room should be communicated if they're going to matter, but I also think Sandra's points about different styles of how to communicate them are helpful. Especially, "not in terms of feet and inches" (which, now that I think about it, is probably a habit my groups learned from versions of D&D which measured things like spell effects in feet and inches).
  • Sandra's Rule does not say "DMs, don't say that desks are made of bricks".
    It does say "Game designers, refer to predicate space and non-space, but not cartesian space and vector space, when designing crunch such as character powers".

    Whether DMs go:
    "Ok, it burns!" or
    "Hold on, don't waste that spell, it's made of bricks" or
    "As you enter this room, you immediately notice that the desk is made of bricks" or
    "As you burn away the thin veneer of wood, you see that the desk is bricks underneath"
    is completely enrelated to Sandra's Rule.

    If there is a spell in the Official Grimoire of Spells for the Game that says "You can burn wooden desks within 9' of you", that violates Sandra's Rule.

    Even DMs saying "This room is 30 feet in this direction" holds out arms "and 20 in this" moves arms back and forth, hey, I do that all the time (then immediately throw that information away, mentally). It's distances mattering mechanically that's nixed by Sandra's Rule.
  • Note that in my example, the player was imagining crates but the DM said "you can hide behind a desk". Whether to do that or whether to quantumly change it to a crate is an important and loaded issue but unrelated to Sandra's Rule.
  • d the player instead imagined desks. Much more typical of what comes up in our play instead of any brick desk shenanigans. I'll do that when I get to the computer, can't hit the edit button on the phone.

    Anyway, this taxonomy got brought up in a third TBP thread and here's a post from there that I wanted to bring over here for posterity. Starts here:

    Well, in Zork, the House is East of the Mailbox; they have a predicate relationship. Predicate relationships can encompass both trees and graphs (graph theory graphs, not cartesian graphs). Trees can be represented as graphs.
    Hierarchies can also be represented, like The Leaflet is Inside the Mailbox.

    So the idea is that zones is a mechanic I would classify as being expressable with games that are strictly avoiding relying on vector spacee games allow rules to be written that refer to concepts that require a representation of cartesian space.
    These games can allow the rules of the following 3 types of games, but not vice versa.
    2. -''- of vector space. -''- 2 types -''-.
    3. -''- of predicate space. -''- 1 type -''-.
    4. -''- of non-space.

    So what I meant was that the categories of rule system relying on these spatialities have a hyponymic relationship, not that the spatialities themselves do. But, then I forgot that [I never said I was a good mathematician] and when I answered just now was some half remembered theory to claim that the spatialities themselves had this property. Which "threaten" instantly disproves.

    Anyway, I kinda also have a game design rule for word-only games: that category 3, games that only use predicate space and non-space, work the best (and that position is only for game design and rule writing (including spell lists and equipment list), GMs can make exceptions and use more detailed spatial description when appropriate). Of course, that game design rule does not apply to games that do use a visual map, sketched or otherwise.
  • Uh, that post said: I later understood that the desks weren't made of bricks
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