What if Mechanics were Subordinate to game play as opposed to Directive?

Hi everyone,

This post will, unfortunately, be mostly theoretical but in the end I'm hoping that game designers will come forward with thoughts or examples of how this might work. What I mean by this is a game system where the mechanics do not steer or direct play. To the best of my understanding Nar facilitating game design employs various mechanics to steer, hold and reward play that focuses on the Premise Question. Gamist facilitating game design holds the game to address of Challenge by primarily (only?) having mechanics that reward and focus on Challenge Situations. I understand that these mechanics systems are not self enforcing and that any game design can be played in any CA. That being said, the underlying assumption in both these CA's is that System is privileged over the SIS and thus helps direct play toward a desired CA of the game creator. Unless I'm badly mistaken this shouldn't be a controversial proposition as has been argued for a long time now, "System Does Matter."

But what if, instead, Setting and thus Character and Situation were privileged and System was not? What if the Mechanics were subordinate to (the on going creation of) the SIS? This absolutely does not mean that anything can go, but rather that what is considered plausible is based ultimately and thus primarily upon the Setting. This formulation holds that what types of characters that are "allowed" are based upon both the characters in the source material but the Setting as well.

I can see the standard arguments of why this can't happen but many of them can also be laid at the feet of dysfunctional G/N games.

DM deprotagonization of the players.
How will the players know what to do?
How will the players know what they can/can't do?
The world/gameplay will be incoherent.

This can be the case, but it does not have to necessarily follow. From what I've read on boards and seen played at conventions demonstrates that these problems arise no matter the game system or the CA.

So my question is can anyone see a way how this can work. (I know it can because I've spent the last 25 years playing in a game that's been running the past 40 years.) I should note that in our particular iteration we do not have campaigns nor companies but we do have folios of characters and that the world and characters cultures do expand over time....as does the system.

I'd appreciate any thoughts on this from anyone but especially from designers. Thank you in advance.

Best,

Jay
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Comments

  • Silmenume said:

    To the best of my understanding Nar facilitating game design employs various mechanics to steer... Unless I'm badly mistaken this shouldn't be a controversial proposition as has been argued for a long time now, "System Does Matter."

    You aren't very clear here about your theoretical framework, but you use a lot of Forgite theory jargon, so it may be useful to note that you're not describing orthodox Forge theory here. Please ignore this if you don't actually care about the jargon; people sometimes couch simple questions in difficult language for no good reason, so I won't assume that this theory stuff is the point of your query.

    The flaw in your formulation is that "System Does Matter" never meant what you say. If you'll read the original essay where Ron coined this pithy phrase, you'll see that it's a demagogic piece about the cult of the GM: an analysis of the idea that the GM's general GMing skills are what determines whether a roleplaying game is good or not. Ron's conclusion was that no, the GM is ultimately a functionary of the communal system of play, and therefore one should not ignore the game itself: the system you play with has major impact on the kind of game you get.

    Later on the process of Forgite theory-crafting ended up messing a lot with the term "System", but the motto never quite became unglued, so it became a famous Forgite catchphrase. Still, it never meant anything even close to what you imply here: Forgite theory never concluded that System Matters because mechanical game rules are the One True Way to achieve creative priorities.

    I'll try to distill a complex body of conclusions into a compact form: the reason for why System Matters is that "System" itself is the social infrastructure the players use to communicate and coordinate with each other; without it there is no game-play, and in fact no communication. The mechanical rules are merely the most superficial and explicit part of the whole system that the players engage when they play. The Lumpley Principle has pretty much become the accepted definition of "System" here: System is the means by which the group agrees upon what happens in the fiction.

    This has direct implications for your question only in that while you phrase yourself as somehow overturning a theoretical understanding, I would rather say that you're merely exploring the possibilities. Yes, the System does not need to utilize a rulebook. It is well possible for the system to prioritize Setting over game mechanics, and in fact many games do exactly that.

    But that's just abstract theory and jargon; let's look at the actual substantial question.
    Silmenume said:

    But what if, instead, Setting and thus Character and Situation were privileged and System was not? What if the Mechanics were subordinate to (the on going creation of) the SIS? This absolutely does not mean that anything can go, but rather that what is considered plausible is based ultimately and thus primarily upon the Setting.

    I don't think that this is a particularly uncommon playstyle. Is it so in your part of the world? Around here there are many games that are played exactly like this. I would even say that most roleplaying games we play are like that.

    There are of course many differences in how this creative ideal is achieved, exactly. Did you realize while formulating this question that the setting does not actually get a vote at the game table? Even if we pay lip-service to the idea that setting comes first, the game still needs to have some kind of a system for determining what the setting demands, case by case. The Game Master is often elevated as the primary judge and high priest in that regard.

    The other common method is for the players to argue things over, perhaps voting in some way about their distinct understandings of the setting to find unity and move on. After all, this stuff is often far less than clear. Do houses in Safelster (a region of Glorantha) have glass windows? Who knows, and why?

    If it seems surprising to you that I find this kind of creative priority to be common, consider this: our on-going D&D campaign does not include the dragonborn race because it is not part of the campaign setting, despite the race existing in the rulebook. The GM (me) technically speaking decided on this while writing up the campaign prep, but it was sort of obvious: there aren't dragonborn or anything even remotely similar in the land of Prydain, so clip clip go the scissors on the Player's Handbook. Is this not an example of the Setting having primacy over whatever? Is this somehow uncommon, rather than the way people usually play?
  • But what if, instead, Setting and thus Character and Situation were privileged and System was not? What if the Mechanics were subordinate to (the on going creation of) the SIS? This absolutely does not mean that anything can go, but rather that what is considered plausible is based ultimately and thus primarily upon the Setting. This formulation holds that what types of characters that are "allowed" are based upon both the characters in the source material but the Setting as well.
    This is the ideal RPG. You may not like it, but this is what peak roleplay looks like.

    In such a game, I think that primary resolution system would involve answer questions that prep work might not cover, otherwise you have questions like, "How much noise are the orcs in the next room making? Which way are they looking? Will they travel north or south in the next turn? What do they want to accomplish?" While prep work could answer that, it would quickly become cumbersome to try to do that for every scenario.
  • edited April 22
    What I mean by this is a game system where the mechanics do not steer or direct play.
    Game rules, by definition, "steer or direct" play; if they do not, they are not rules and they might as well not exist.

    However, there are "soft" rules that suggest instead of prescribing and are hard to recognize as rules; examples of how the game is meant to be played are common, but sometimes there's something subtler and without explicit reference to game mechanics.

    Is this special kind of rules that you are interested in?

    For example, the essays about, respectively, Middle Eastern conflict and cold war espionage in Shahida and Spione by Ron Edwards, which are in both cases about ten times longer than the recognizable "rules", are an equally essential part of the game: they suggest spaces of characters, situations and events that players can draw from when they need to come up with something during play.

    Another example: illustrations.
    Imagine an alternate history in which Matt Groening and John Kovalic illustrated the core AD&D manuals, with the same scenes, page by page. And another alternate history in which, say, Keith Haring, Salvador Dalì and Francis Bacon took the job.
    Imagine all Magic:the Gathering cards with illustrations by Amy Weber, or all with illustrations by Phil and Kaja Foglio. They simply wouldn't be the same games.
    But what if, instead, Setting and thus Character and Situation were privileged and System was not?
    I don't think this means what you think it means. Apart from the difference between dynamic situations that arise during play and static setting and characters, the "system" of the game (including proper "mechanics" and, as Eero recapitulated, the often more informal ways to participate and communicate) exists only to serve the situation, setting, characters, and other things that interest players and are part of a "creative agenda".

    It's like asking if a restaurant should privilege food over furniture and kitchen tools: of course every restaurant privileges food, it's the whole point of a restaurant.
    Actual alternatives that allow discussion of what should be "privileged" in a restaurant are on one side about what food it should serve or how good it is, and on the other side about whether the knives are sharp and the lighting is comfortable or how I'm supposed to eat a lobster with a spoon.

    Forgite discussion picked apart creative agendas (the food of the RPG restaurant) and secondarily paid a lot of attention to "system" and in particular to effective, purposeful rules, never questioning that systems and creative agendas are on different planes.

    There's some place for genuine differences of ideology and taste, rather than mere lack of clarity and understanding, at the next level of the Forgite discussion: recognizing (and despising) the bad games that result from letting ill-considered systems (typically traditional or implicit ones) ruin the play experience, and advocating coherent design in which carefully designed (and carefully applied) rules hopefully determine good player social interactions and serve a specific range of creative agendas.

    This attitude to design has produced a clear opposition between "small" and specialized games that result from coherent design efforts employing minimal and elegant rules and leaving as much as possible to improvisation during play to avoid burdening the GM with preparation, and big games that offer a large toolbox of options and preparation fodder to the players (enough to cause trouble with divergent creative agendas).

    It isn't the same as the difference between caring about some setting element (e.g. "a game about being a soldier attempting to survive winter and succession wars in George R.R. Martin's popular Westeros novels" or "a funny game about adorably weak goblins at the bottom of the social order") or caring about more abstract structures of story and events (e.g. "a game in which a player can make any character reliably survive, but not necessarily win, frequent combat against similarly powerful opponents thanks to prudence and good tactics" or "a game in which player characters die so easily that, somehow, it has to be fun and not a catastrophe").
    • Setting and structural elements influence each other, and no matter what's the starting point a game will probably have both. What setting is appropriate for a certain kind of story? What characters are going to appear in it? And conversely, what sort of things should happen to a certain type of characters in a certain setting, often enough to deserve rules?
      For example, the examples above form two obvious complementary pairs; the second one describes an existing game, Goblin Quest. Soldiers needs to survive war to allow a campaign with a span of many years, while goblins with any hope of durability wouldn't be sufficiently cute, downtrodden and expendable.
    • It's hard to draw a line between a setting and more abstract themes and creative agendas.
      For example, traditional D&D isn't simply a game with a high-fantasy setting and some peculiar traditional monsters, it's specifically about adventurers, and in particular adventurers who venture into dungeons, and more specifically about venturing into dungeons to kill monsters and steal their treasure, and more specifically about defeating monsters in combat, and more specifically about being successful at combat through mechanics like winning initiative, not getting hit, and dealing the maximum amount of hit points of damage in the shortest time.
      A ladder of design at different scales, from metaphysics that could apply to any kind of game to very specific rules.
    • The same techniques of purposeful, coherent design apply equally to setting objectives and structural objectives and serving more purposes with the same rule is usually regarded as elegant and economical design.
      For example, character stats are both a foundation for further rules about conflict resolution etc. and a way to represent something that matters in the setting.
      In individual tough situations hit points offer a dial to make combat and injuries as lethal as considered appropriate, and on a broader level if characters have hit points they are going to have physical conflicts (not necessarily often).
  • Jay,

    I've been trying to figure out how to engage with this topic, because I can tell you're not going to like the responses you've received so far. :)

    Perhaps I can try to steer this in a different direction:
    Silmenume said:


    But what if, instead [of System being "in charge" of creating fictional content], Setting and thus Character and Situation were privileged and System was not? What if the Mechanics were subordinate to (the on going creation of) the SIS? [...]

    I can see the standard arguments of why this can't happen but many of them can also be laid at the feet of dysfunctional G/N games.

    My best sense of what you're trying to say here is that you're essentially describing "freeform roleplaying"... or any style of play where following fictional causality and necessity regularly breaks or bends the actual mechanics in play (and where that is expected and commonplace).

    I can't think of a better term to describe that than "freeform roleplaying" (although the term "Rule Zero" also hints at this dynamic).

    How close do you feel this is to what you're trying to say?

    If it's not close, how would you distinguish what you're talking about from GM-led, freeform roleplaying? What criteria or techniques would help an observer to distinguish the playstyle you're describing from "heavily GM-led, freeform roleplaying"?

    That might be a good start for getting at the topic you wish to discuss here.

    And using some real examples might really help dig us out of the "Theory Swamp" and give some clarity to the discussion - otherwise, it's very hard to engage with what you're writing without starting to debate the details of the theory (like a couple of other posters, I don't agree with how you lay out those terms or use them).

    As someone with now a fair bit of familiarity with your game, I think you have something really unusual to offer, and discussing it is quite fruitful.
  • edited April 22
    Perhaps I'm being dense here, but isn't what the OP describes what Archipelago does? Or am I misunderstanding?
  • I almost always regret jumping in to one of these threads, because past experience has been that Jay and I agree up to a point ( like 90% agreement), then argue over terminology until I get sick of it, throw up my hands, and go do something else.


    I'll take a stab anyway.


    If I was making a mechanic based on those goals as I understand them, yeah, it would be a bit like GM aided freefrom or Archipelago. It would also use a d12, because I like d12, and would look a bit like this:
    Trot this method out whenever, in the conversation of play, that events hit the point where players disagree about the next distinct bit of developing events or just plain want some randomness. Quickly, as a group, hash out the top three likely outcomes, order them in likelihood, and roll on the following chart*:

    1-8 Most likely outcome
    9-11 Second most likely outcome
    12 Third most likely outcome


    Yes, you can have different charts based on d12 rolls with slightly altered spreads of probability. This is your base chart, however.
    Now, surrounding text and examples would give some advice about how to do that, but it really does come down to something that simple.


    More importantly, it's not based on dramatic need, or physics, or ( God help us) our presumed understanding of similar "real world" situations and how or setting/characters compare/contrast to those.

    It's based on the likelihoods of the events occurring within the inspirational material ( initially), modified by our play precedents over time in our own particular session/campaign.

    IOW, we started this game inspired by, say, my love of and understanding of 1980s Chris Claremont X-Men/ New Mutants comics. Early on, those comics provide the basis of what possible outcomes are paired with that chart. Over time, our collective interpretations, fiction, outcomes of earlier chart uses, and so on become the more predominant guide, although still influenced by the earlier inspirational material.

    If we played for 30 years in that setting, starting from that basis, it is very possible that our outcomes don't actually match up with current versions of those same characters+settings that initially inspired us.

    To me, that would be privileging characters and setting over mechanics.
  • I think this is pretty common in two different styles.

    If players have authority to develop details about this setting, frame scenes, and drive play, then this sounds like a lot of freeform (a step away from Archipelago as others have noted).

    If the GM has sole authority around setting details and scene framing (often from prep or published material) and the players are focused on exploring and surviving this setting, than this sounds like a lot of OSR play.
  • I've seen examples of the second evolving into the first over time, and unofficially.
  • edited April 25
    Hello @ValyrianSteelKatana,


    This is the ideal RPG. You may not like it, but this is what peak roleplay looks like.

    While I'd love to agree with you given my own particular gaming history and proclivities, I do not think this is the case. I think it veers very close to One True Wayism. I do believe there is a specific CA where this is the case, one that I've been arguing for on and off for almost 15 years.

    Let me see if I can offer an example where a game that has been described as very fun to play and of exceptional design (the peak of roleplay?) but privileges mechanics over Setting. This would be Dogs In The Vineyard and it is, of course, Narrativist facilitating. I played it once and absolutely loved the Setting and Character concepts (in the general sense but not in the particulars) but the actual play process drove me bonkers. Everytime I wanted to do something in the game following some event I wasn't either allowed to or I kept tripping over the conflict resolution system which to me felt very disconnected from the play I was seeking. IOW it was terrible conflict of CA priorities. My fault, not the game's. Anyway here's a quotes I lifted from the rules set as examples of my point.
    - a town welcomes you with celebration and honor, but what you’re there to do is stir up its dirt and lay bare its sins.

    - It’s episodic. A town per session, a town per two sessions if it’s a big deal town.

    - In every town the characters visit, there’s something wrong, and their job is to figure out what it is and put it right. Sometimes what’s wrong is just a minor thing with the potential to become much, much worse; sometimes it’s worse already. Either way the characters will uproot it, judge it, and enact upon it the will of God.

    - The game’s rules’ job is to help you, the GM, reveal the pride, sin and corruption in the towns you create, and provoke the characters’ judgment. They work a) by helping you create congregations in turmoil, then b) by seizing conflicts and relentlessly escalating them, then c) by bringing the consequences back home to the players.
    The game won some awards and mostly gets very good reviews. IOW, generally speaking it is a very good game but system and mechanics (which I didn't list) are definitely privileged over Setting. What if you wanted to run a scenario where the Dogs are between towns and are attacked by bandits or a bear? What if they wanted/needed to go hunting? What if the dogs ran into leading military forces of General Santa Anna heading west from Texas? The conflict resolution mechanics are really drilled down to specific conflicts. In the possible examples I listed above one would be extremely pressed to apply them to the Situation arising from the Setting elements I provided...

    ...and in all of this there is absolutely nothing explicitly "wrong" with the game design with its privileged mechanics. In fact they are central to the real point of the game design - Addressing Premise with a vengeance! Without the rules and mechanics being privileged over Setting it would be extraordinarily difficult to focus the game on Addressing the Premise Question. Obviously the rules are not self enforcing but if one wants the excellent game experience that this game potentially offers then following the rules and employing the mechanics is rather necessary. They are the tools provided for facilitating the Narrativist CA.

    My point is that you can have excellent gameplay that does not prioritize Setting, but if you do want gameplay that prioritizes Setting then the G/N CA's are, by their very nature, not where one ought to be. My point is that Setting prioritized play may not be the pinnacle of roleplay in general but I argue that there is another CA that does privilege Setting over mechanics/system. This other CA is poorly understood and often dismissed out of hand but is of great interest to me and I'm fighting like hell for it.
    In such a game, I think that primary resolution system would involve answer questions that prep work might not cover, otherwise you have questions like, "How much noise are the orcs in the next room making? Which way are they looking? Will they travel north or south in the next turn? What do they want to accomplish?" While prep work could answer that, it would quickly become cumbersome to try to do that for every scenario.
    I could simply reply that highly granular detail is not required for such play. For each of the questions you offered in the above all the GM would have to do is ask the player to roll a die (we usually use a D20) and make a determination based on the roll. Higher is better, lower is worse and take into any extenuating circumstances.
    - How much noise are the orcs in the next room making? If the group is trying to sneak by a higher number would indicate more noise to cover their movement or whatever action they are seeking to take. Low would indicate little noise. If the player is trying to make an estimate as to the number of Orc rolling vis sound High could be better if you are looking to engage because the number of Orc would be less. If you are seeking a large war band then a High number result would result in lots of noise indicating that you've likely found the them.

    - Which way are they looking? - Depends on what is advantageous to the party. A high roll would mean mostly away while a low number means mostly at you.

    - Will they travel north or south in the next turn? - In this case we'd roll to see if we could even determine such information. If we rolled particularly well or particularly poor then we'd get information but good info on a high roll and bad info on a low roll.

    - What do they want to accomplish? - That particular piece of information would be left to the player's actions to determine, if possible. However if the gaggle is large and not just a small random encounter then this is something that the GM should give a little thought on prior to play. In our game motivation of NPC is probably the most important piece of the NPC's profile (and this does include the motivation of a large sized group) that the GM considers this before play - unless the GM is really good at making this stuff up in the moment. If a player comes up with a way that allows them the possibility to gain said intelligence then a roll might be called for. Or if the idea is plain brilliant/clever enough then just give the info or call for a roll.
    Not so hard. The best part is that each die roll can and usually increases the tension of the moment as a rolled '1' is usually pretty disastrous.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 23
    I think I get what Jay means when he says "mechanics subordinate as opposed to directive," because I've spent a hell of a long time trying to grok how he and his group plays. For all that, I'm not great at describing it.

    If anyone else is interested in taking the same journey, here's a rabbit-hole for you; just keep following the links at the tops of posts backwards...

    http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/21103/the-spicy-dice-roll-salvaging-something-coherent/p1
    http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/21862/when-the-die-roll-does-not-determine-what-happens/p1

    -

    So. When I think of this sort of game, I think of a game that is indeed very much like structured freeform—where much of the structure comes from a swiss-army knife of tools that the GM may apply, or ignore, or build upon, or re-interpret, at his leisure.

    EDIT: And maybe a greater amount of structure comes from the group's shared conventions on "How we play RPGs," which, in this sort of group, are mostly taught by example and not explicitly discussed I think?

    In the game Jay plays, the most common of these tools is:
    • Roll a d20:The GM directs a player to roll a d20—sometimes twice or thrice in a row—often in the middle of a description of something, in the middle of a breath, even. The player announces the result, quickly. The GM keeps narrating, his narration maybe influenced by the roll, higher is better; and players will be very disappointed if this continued narration is not pointedly influenced by a natural 1 or natural 20.
    In my own games, when I run in this style, I have a few other similar tools in my swiss-army knife, most based loosely upon Jay's descriptions of how his GM does things:
    • Damage: Players and NPCs have hit points. When I think a character should be injured, I tell a player to roll as little as 1 point or 1/2d6 or as many as 4d6 of damage, 6s exploding. Taking half your HP in a single blow is a major wound; total damage at least equal to HP is incapacitating, and more is (eventually) deadly. When I think a character should recover some, I tell a player how much damage is erased.
    • Burden: Players have Willpower, which is used for magic, which is language, authority, understanding, and perception. When they perform magical acts beyond communication, opening their senses, and mere requests, I might assign Burden, as little as 1 point or 1/2d6 or as many as 4d6, rolled open-ended like damage. The more audacious and unsubtle, the greater the exercise of will, the larger the scale, the more dice. When Burden from a single act exceeds half Willpower, a character is fatigued; burden accumulated over Willpower becomes magical backlash.
    • Saving Throws: I have players pre-calculate target numbers for saves against Trauma, Dread, Hesitation, and Fate. Whenever I like, I ask a player to roll a d20 against one of those target numbers. If they fail, I constrain what they can do; they're maybe rooted to the spot by fear, or too weak to do more than crawl, or too slow to react before their enemy acts. If they pass, I let them act mostly unhindered.
    • Character Stats: Players have a character sheet with 6 ability scores, proficiency levels in a bunch of skills, and a bunch of Wises and Trainings. Sometimes I'll ask things like, "What's your score in Might?" or "How's your Archery?" or "Do you have a relevant Wise?", and that will influence what I say next. Sometimes I'll reduce an ability score, from injury or magical backlash; or sometimes award a new skill at Proificient, or a new Training or Wise.
    • Advancement Ticks: We put little tick-marks next to abilities and skills. When you accumulate enough, your ability score or proficiency level goes up. Under some set circumstances, plus whenever I like, I award these ticks. When characters are putatively tied for some stat or skill, I might ask if a character has a half-rank, meaning, are you more than halfway to advancement?
    None of these are rules we have to use. But they're always an option, always something I can call upon to convey something about the world.

    There's no rule like, "When a character sees something fearsome, they must Save versus Dread or be paralyzed by fear, or flee." Instead, when I think it's important to convey how fearsome something is, I might call for a Save versus Dread.
  • @Silmenume Hi Jay, I want to ask you directly this time. How does Archipelago compare to what you are describing? If I understand you, it seem to me to be the ideal game for the CA you championing, "fighting like hell for".
  • "You may not like it, but this is what peak [insert thing here] looks" is a meme, sil.
  • Hi @Hopeless_Wanderer,

    @Silmenume Hi Jay, I want to ask you directly this time. How does Archipelago compare to what you are describing? If I understand you, it seem to me to be the ideal game for the CA you championing, "fighting like hell for".

    I am completely unfamiliar with the game. I'll look for it, but if you would be so kind as to post a link I would be deeply appreciative.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 24
    Hi @EmmatheExcrucian

    "You may not like it, but this is what peak [insert thing here] looks" is a meme, sil.

    Doh! :blush: That's embarrassing.

    Thank you for the heads up.

    Best,

    Jay
  • @Silmenume Hi Jay, I'd be happy to help. http://fictioneers.net/games/archipelago-iii Archipelago is very much on my mind lately. We are going to start a campaign with it soon.
  • Jeph seems to have a really clear idea of how Jay's (Silmenume's) group plays.

    That's a pretty good overview. (Jeph, I don't know if you've seen our most recent thread about Jay's game - I could dig it up if you missed it.)

    That's why I asked, earlier, what differentiates it from GM-led freeform, or very very heavily Rule Zero-based play. Do you have an answer for me, Jay? (Or you, Jeph?)

    It seems to me that most of those details (as so nicely described in Jeph's post) could be omitted or changed, without changing the core of gameplay at all.

    If we rolled pools of d6s, and rolled them much less often, would it change the fundamental creative effort and reward of this game? I don't think so; at least not in any way I can manage.

    It seems to me that the core System of play is basically unrelated to the details of the numbers, stats, and dice.

    I'm always reminded of the "Six Word RPG", by Mark Hughes. Here's the entirety of the text (although I am typing from memory... so there could be errata):

    "Describe character. Roll dice. GM decides."

    I'm pretty sure that Archipelago could provide a similar form of play in some ways, but it differs in a few important aspects:

    * It's GMless (which may or may not be a really key factor here, given the primacy of the GM in this mode of play)

    * The rules of the game *are* sacrosanct, not a tool in one player's toolkit, to be used or discarded as that player sees fit.

    In this sense, it does not fulfill Jay's criteria of "mechanics subordinate to game play", although it easily could if we were a bit loose with them.

    I'm kind of at a loss as to whether the "underlying System" of this style of freeform play is just as strict as any other game (the standard Forge answer), with things like dice mechanics used more or less as "spice", with no real formalism, at the whim of one player, or if the mechanical looseness is an actual feature which other games do not share (as Jay is suggesting).

    My assumption is that it's the former, but I'm open to arguments otherwise.

    So, Jeph and Jay: in what ways, if any, is this approach to play meaningfully distinct from any "Six Word RPG"-style GM-led freeform RPG activity?
  • edited April 24
    Hm, that's a good question Paul. And of course I can't really answer for Jay and his group, just from my own play that's been inspired by Jay's reports of his own group's play.

    Tangent: The more I learn about Jay's group, the more I realize their actual play is fairly different from what I'd envisioned a year or two ago. I guess when you get right down to it we don't really 100% share priorities. And you could def have a group that shares the priority discussed in this thread—system totally, entirely subservient to setting and the bricolage process, just another instrument in the semiotic jazz ensemble—but completely lacks the powerful GM featured in Jay's play and (to a lesser extent) my own. For that group, Archipelago's mechanic might be just the thing.

    In what ways is the "GM's Toolkit" I describe above different from "Describe character; Roll dice; GM decides"?

    Bricolage!

    It's a consistent core around which you can build up all kinds of cool cruft.

    It's common ground that gets imbued with meaning through play. We get to discover, together, what it means to have your Swordsmanship skill at Surpassing. And who in the setting, PCs and NPCs, have that level of strength at arms. And what they can do.

    It's an interlingua that helps us understand our own characters and the setting. I see the deor-wights tear through a party of characters with mostly Proficient and Advanced skill at arms, but my Swordsmanship, remember, is Surpassing! I know I'm a more skilled fighter and might have a chance.

    It's a lens that helps us remember and interpret play. "And then I rolled two nat 20s in a row, and exploded three damage dice! He was dead in an instant!"

    It's a material with which we can build, and a foundation that we can build upon. It lets me decide that, in the giant Nurwafir's presence, you save against Dread at half TN. It lets me decide that most blades shatter on a troll's skin, maybe dealing only a point or, on an exceptional result, 1/2d6 damage, but this magic blade deals a full die, and never chips.
  • edited April 24
    Jeph,

    I share your fascination with the game and the process, and agree that the more I learn about it the more I am surprised by certain details.

    However, I don’t think that having a sort of “interlingua”, as you describe it, is the defining feature here. You’re right that it carries meaning in Jay’s game, but the feature Jay is trying to talk about here is just as much about how non-binding it is.

    I used to run Fudge this way, with abilities and scores and vague rules, but interpreting actual outcomes quite fluidly, as it best suited the story, simulation, or bricolage.*

    The rules you’re describing (e.g. about the sword chipping) would not be communicated to the group in that form, but left for the players to discover and learn over time. And the GM retains the option to break them at any time, as another important piece of the puzzle.

    So I’m not sure that it isn’t just a specific technical application of free form GM-led roleplaying - but it could work through hand signals or ritual phrases or whatever else instead, you know, without changing the fundamental nature of play?


    * One of my points of confusion with this topic is that cannot seem to find any way understand the difference between “bricolage” and, well, “play” - Exploration, the fundamental act of role playing.
  • What's the difference between bricolage and just play? I don't know, I think bricolage is an important part of almost all play. For someone trained in linguistics like me, you might say that establishing common ground is a fundamental part of any conversation.

    But in most conversations, we only care about that common ground insofar as it lets us accomplish some other communicative goal. (I haven't invited you to my party on Sunday unless it's obvious to everyone that I'm having a party on Sunday and want you to attend!) In THIS conversation, though, establishing and exploring the common ground IS the goal.

    We establish that my vampire's territory abuts yours because we want our characters to come into conflict in the next arc.

    We establish that my vampire's territory abuts yours because everything we know about the scenario so far demands it, and we're interested in the implications.

    See the difference?

    It's a necessary byproduct of play, but play isn't always, like, ABOUT it.

    -

    I think rules as interlingua / shared context / building material are useful for facilitating that kind of play, semiotic jazz play, play where bricolage is privileged.

    I think, also, that there's an unavoidable tension here between any such rules you choose to employ, and your ability to treat them as non-binding. When you do that—when you decide not to use a damage roll here, just to go straight to the dire wound—you're flexing your muscles! Your trust and authority at the table better be able to back it up!

    When is it easy to do that, when is the tension minimal? When Setting and Character and Situation all but demand it.
  • About the OP: I read it as a generalization of Silmenumes groups style. Beside the confusion about what 'system' means in post Forgite jargon, the outlined playstyle is possible and most of us has experienced it some degree.

    If I am right about these than what is the goal of the consersation right now? Finding or creating examples?

    I feel that a lot of us tried to formalize these in the spicy roll threads, listing principles PbtA style or trying to come up with procedures which are not like RAW. If I remember well we had some results. I also think that there are objective limits to our project but we havent reached those.

    What are we looking for right now?
  • Jeph,

    Yeah, I follow all that! Agreed.

    Let’s see what Jay has to say. :)
  • edited April 25
    Hey guys!

    Lots of interesting things going on in this thread and lots that I'd like to address. Forgive me as a good writer will post a synthesis of all of what has been posted, but that is a skill that is, unfortunately, beyond me.

    @Jeph,

    I'd say your two most previous posts align with my thesis as I understand/developed it to date. Your two points about Bricolage are spot on. The first that Bricolage is a process that shows up in all forms of play was a point that Chris Lehrich made explicitly in his Bricolage Applied thread long ago. Your second point about Bricolage being The Primary Process of play in semiotic jazz (what this particular agenda is about) is also spot on. I would also posit that Bricolage is an agnostic, generalized "problem solving technique" and that Setting is the primary source that determines how Bricolage is employed. However while Setting is the primary/privileged source it is not the only source. Character can and does enter the source material that influences how the Bricolage process is employed. Finally, as you also indicated, there can be mechanics but they too ultimately function as grist for the Bricolage process. Using your example of calling for a saving throw vs Dread not to determine what should happen next but rather as a tool to communicate to the players a Very Important Piece of Information quickly.
    I think, also, that there's an unavoidable tension here between any such rules you choose to employ, and your ability to treat them as non-binding. When you do that—when you decide not to use a damage roll here, just to go straight to the dire wound—you're flexing your muscles! Your trust and authority at the table better be able to back it up!
    Assuming that a group has a skilled DM who has earned the players' trust then the very act of not choosing to employ a mechanic is itself something that the players then mull over looking for something that might be being communicated to them. Everything keeps feeding back into the Bricolage process. If something doesn't happen that typically does, we don't go looking to fault the DM but rather we dig into the Setting and all the accumulated cruft to see if there is anything that can be deduced. In diving in ever deeper into the Setting and bricoling a possible reason for the anomalous behavior we expand that Setting but the personal experience of the player makes if feel like an act of discovery. Ala the elf singing an arrow out of tree where neither the Setting not play history had any such example of such an act but all the extant information about Elves, Middle Earth sources and previous play all suggest that this particular interpretation is not such a leap ultimately leads to an extension of Setting. We "discovered" something new about ME, Elves in general and our character in particular. Plus we've established precedent that said activity is plausible for at least some elves - we've created a new "rule" as it were.
    It's common ground that gets imbued with meaning through play. We get to discover, together, what it means to have your Swordsmanship skill at Surpassing. And who in the setting, PCs and NPCs, have that level of strength at arms. And what they can do.

    It's an interlingua that helps us understand our own characters and the setting. I see the deor-wights tear through a party of characters with mostly Proficient and Advanced skill at arms, but my Swordsmanship, remember, is Surpassing! I know I'm a more skilled fighter and might have a chance.
    This!

    We happen to use numbers in our particular game but these word based indicators of Swordsmanship skill beautifully illustrate the basic underpinnings of both Bricolage and the privilege of the Setting over mechanics. We understand through play the various relationships of these skill levels and work to draw conclusions about them but they do not dictate for the player what he can or cannot accomplish. Given Jeph's example I don't need any sort of privileged mechanic determining for me exactly what I can or can't successfully defeat but the idea of gauging one's possibilities against a foe we've only seen in action thus forcing us into making deductions, inductions, abductions, and not read about it in a Monster Manual is central to the whole process of play. It makes us consider the Setting and the cruft of play before we state our intention that will be ground through the Bricolage Process that is informed by the Setting!

    The nice thing about Bricolage is that it demands entailments. Our actions or deductions or what not always have consequences. The game constantly grows and expands in nearly boundless directions as we take actions in the game. It just so happens that we place a very high value on our characters relationships and cultures so what makes combat really exciting are all the explicit, or really interestingly, the implicit stakes. Because we are not bound by privileged mechanics but rather informed by Setting each players' experience of the game will not only be different but should be different. One does not have to worry about parties of adventurers with everyone being nearly or equal level or there being some sort of "balance" to the various PC's. FREX - we play with Elves being superior to mortals in almost every way. An evening's adventure can and frequently does have a group of characters who are wildly different in competencies (which includes levels - I know, an old holdover but one that is not privileged) and everyone can have a great time! Because we are all involved in our own Bricolage processes.

    Best,

    Jay

    Did I answer any of the questions?
  • edited April 24
    I’d say we are definitely getting somewhere.

    Those last few posts are really illuminating.

    However, you didn’t answer any of my questions, Jay! :)

    Also:
    Silmenume said:

    (which includes levels - I know, an old holdover but one that is not privileged)

    This lost me entirely. What do you mean by this phrase?
  • Ah, Jay, I always forget about how much your table uses invocation of rules—or saliently NOT invoking rules—for pure communication!

    Whenever it comes up, it reminds me of the Gricean Maxims of Conversation.

    If a table wants to employ rules this way, it's way easier when the rules are nonbinding. If I want to communicate "Scary thing here, listen up!" by saying "Save versus Dread," I don't always want failing that save to come with some mandatory further rigamarole.
  • Hey Jeph,
    Ah, Jay, I always forget about how much your table uses invocation of rules—or saliently NOT invoking rules—for pure communication!
    I may have over emphasized our use of the technique because I liked employing it as a rhetorical device to show that what mechanics we do have are not privileged and that they do function in other ways than directing play.
    If a table wants to employ rules this way, it's way easier when the rules are nonbinding.
    My point exactly!
    If I want to communicate "Scary thing here, listen up!" by saying "Save versus Dread," I don't always want failing that save to come with some mandatory further rigamarole.
    Nor should you. Several things. First it's merely a technique and if it doesn't fit your style don't use it! Second as it is a technique it would get tired being employed regularly.
    Third, if mechanics are not privileged there are no mandatory further rigmaroles, it means what you need/want it to mean at the moment, informed by Setting, cruft and current circumstance.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 25
    Hi Paul,
    Paul_T said:

    ...what differentiates [Jay's game] from GM-led freeform, or very very heavily Rule Zero-based play. Do you have an answer for me, Jay?

    Sorry for the delay in responding to your question. In short, Jeph had the right of it when he said, "Bricolage."

    Right off the bat I have to hazard a guess what is actually meant by "freeform". I hunted around the error free internet as to what "freeform" meant WRT creative art forms. What I was able to roughly surmise was that "freeform" means just that - without form/structure. Whatever the art form the artist is trying to communicate ideas or feelings (nearly) completely outside the normative sphere of communication methods. Apply this understanding to RPG's I can only conclude we are talking about a mode of play that has no structured method for creating a meaningful experience. Nor does it wish to have any meaningful structure.

    (Mythic) Bricolage or Semiotic Jazz is extremely structured. The exceedingly difficult part in understanding these modes is that means of conveying meaning are completely different from Western-Engineering thinking processes that we've grown up with. Instead of using common Western abstracted systems - mechanics - to create the structures that convey/create meaning MB/SJ uses "concrete" objects and all their structural relationships to create or express meaning. Bricolage feels sloppy and leads to all sorts of complications, which make it a mess for Western thought and engineering, but it is just the thing for ongoing, living, organically growing game (and Setting). SJ with its playing with and using these meaning structures while being constrained by these selfsame structures is virtually diametrically opposed to "freeform" by definition.

    To respond to the question to the second portion of the question of why SJ is different from "very very heavily Rule Zero-based play" I'd have to know more about the game in question. Is this Rule Zero-based game some dysfunctional form of play like Illusionism or a form of Zilch-play Participationism? Maybe it's a SJ game just out of the starting blocks and the GM is working to de-prioritize the mechanics and just hasn't yet fully migrated from a game designed to facilitate another CA. Maybe its an abashed form of SJ.
    In the end, though, the real tell is - are the players engaged in the Bricolage Process as a priority of play? Are the players emotionally invested in the "physical" Elements of Exploration (the Setting which includes the various personages) and their relationships/meanings (cultures, politics, etc.)? Do they want to be involved in the Situation of the World for its own sake (IOW because the Setting resonates strongly with the players)? I need to know because Rule Zero-Based play is just a Technique that says nothing about the Priority of play.

    I know my communication skills aren't the best, but to me the difference between SJ and GM-led freeform, or very very heavily Rule Zero-based play is as stark as the G/N divide.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Silmenume said:

    Right off the bat I have to hazard a guess what is actually meant by "freeform". I hunted around the error free internet as to what "freeform" meant WRT creative art forms. What I was able to roughly surmise was that "freeform" means just that - without form/structure. Whatever the art form the artist is trying to communicate ideas or feelings (nearly) completely outside the normative sphere of communication methods. Apply this understanding to RPG's I can only conclude we are talking about a mode of play that has no structured method for creating a meaningful experience. Nor does it wish to have any meaningful structure.

    (Mythic) Bricolage or Semiotic Jazz is extremely structured. The exceedingly difficult part in understanding these modes is that means of conveying meaning are completely different from Western-Engineering thinking processes that we've grown up with. Instead of using common Western abstracted systems - mechanics - to creates the structures that convey/create meaning MB/SJ uses "concrete" objects and all their structural relationships to create or express meaning. Bricolage feels sloppy and leads to all sorts of complications, which make it a mess for Western thought and engineering, but it is just the thing for ongoing, living, organically growing game (and Setting). SJ with its playing with and using these meaning structures while being constrained by these selfsame structures is virtually diametrically opposed to "freeform" by definition.

    Most of the time, when people talk about freeform roleplay, there is still a structure of some kind, even if it's assumed and/or only apparent when observed for a long time. And that structure is often a lot more detailed and rigid than we recognize. Just the presence of a game master, character ownership, and setting and timeline that persists across scenes is daaaamn specific relative to the possibilities.

    I have a lot more to say on this subject at a later time, but I just wanted to provide that little bit of explanation/context.
  • I'm always a bit surprised when people assume "freeform" means completely unstructured as well.

    It's more like "freeform (by comparison to..)."
  • The significant aspect here is that there are no consistent rules; instead, the judgement of the GM supersedes whatever rules might appear to be in place, case by case.

    I’m wondering whether that’s meaningfully different from not having clear rules other than the GM’s judgment at all.

    It’s cosmetically different, sure (those can be useful for communication, as pointed out), but does it change something fundamental about the purpose of the game?
  • edited April 25
    Hi @Paul_D_L,
    Paul_D_L said:

    Most of the time, when people talk about freeform roleplay, there is still a structure of some kind, even if it's assumed and/or only apparent when observed for a long time. And that structure is often a lot more detailed and rigid than we recognize. Just the presence of a game master, character ownership, and setting and timeline that persists across scenes is daaaamn specific relative to the possibilities.

    I have a lot more to say on this subject at a later time, but I just wanted to provide that little bit of explanation/context.

    Thank you for your effort to provide that bit of context. There's no gloss here and as I indicated in my post I had to synthesize a definition from other sources to then try and hazard a response. I knew doing so was to run a risk of badly missing the mark but I allowed my eagerness to respond to a query get the best of me.

    The problem is that moniker of "freeform", unfortunately, doesn't offer, in and of itself, any insight to the priority of play of the players. And, unfortunately, "freeform" and "structure" as adjectives are nearly antonyms. Hence the confusion to the unwashed like myself. I look forward to your fuller explanation when you get the time.

    As an aside I find it notable the seeming contradiction of the name of the play style and your description of the style indicating that there exists much structure. Very interesting! Perhaps not so "freeform" after all! Fascinating. I can't wait to learn more.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 25
    So 'freeform' is not a good descriptive name for Silmenumes playstyle. I agree!

    What would be more expressive in an exact plain language?

    How can we distinguish it from 'fiction first' RPGs where everything is rooted and reincorporated back into the fiction but the mechanics in the middle can be seriously alienating (just as in DitV)? 'Fiction only, roll to spice roleplaying'?
  • Paul_T said:

    The significant aspect here is that there are no consistent rules; instead, the judgement of the GM supersedes whatever rules might appear to be in place, case by case.

    I don't think this is an accurate characterization of the play Jay is describing!

    The rules really are pretty consistent. They're not written down in Jays' particular game, but if you were to write them down, you'd phrase them as "You may...", or "Often, you should..." rather than "You must...".

    The fact that a given rule is not always applied exactly the same way in no way detracts from this!

    Think about sarcasm:

    When I ask if you want to go get ice cream and you pretend to throw up in your mouth and I say "Wow, you really love ice cream," can we conclude from this utterance that the phrase "really love" does not have consistent meaning in the English language?

    Equivalently:

    When I call for a Save versus Dread and the player rolls below their TN, but then instead of telling the player he cowers in fear I let him know that he freezes in a brief moment of panic but is able to overcome it quickly, can we conclude from this interaction that the rules for Save versus Dread do not have consistent meaning in my table's play?

    -

    If you can't tell, I tend to use linguistic metaphors a LOT when thinking about this kind of play—especially from the field of pragmatics, which is pretty academically obscure but so, so so relevant to how we play.

    So here's another metaphor:

    In a lot of games, many rules play the role of grammar: they determine what is, or is not, valid play. And many rules are like words, or idioms: they're things we use in play to communicate with each other.

    In the play Jay is describing, we only have word-rules, not grammar-rules.
  • edited April 25
    Indeed; this is a sort of “post-Forge” understanding of freeform which seems to describe your game fairly well.

    The idea is that seemingly “freeform” play is just as structured as anything else, but the mechanisms aren’t explicitly formalized (and may be incompletely understood by the players, as a result).

    Here’s a way to flip the question on its head:

    Given a group with the right creative priorities (as described by Jay elsewhere, when it comes to bricolage, Setting, and Semiotic Jazz), what other procedural or System features are necessary, useful, or supportive? What other features would be required to make it work in this desired play style? Conversely, what kinds of design or technical features would “ruin” the desired play style?
  • Silmenume said:

    Thank you for your effort to provide that bit of context. There's no gloss here and as I indicated in my post I had to synthesize a definition from other sources to then try and hazard a response. I knew doing so was to run a risk of badly missing the mark but I allowed my eagerness to respond to a query get the best of me.

    The problem is that moniker of "freeform", unfortunately, doesn't offer, in and of itself, any insight to the priority of play of the players. And, unfortunately, "freeform" and "structure" as adjectives are nearly antonyms. Hence the confusion to the unwashed like myself. I look forward to your fuller explanation when you get the time.

    As an aside I find it notable the seeming contradiction of the name of the play style and your description of the style indication there exists much structure. Very interesting! Perhaps not so "freeform" after all! Fascinating. I can't wait to learn more.

    Best,

    Jay

    Honestly, I'm not sure how useful the "freeform" descriptor is going forward in this case - it was, after all, unclear to you in the first place. I think you've definitely described your ideas with enough detail now that we don't need to spend more time comparing and contrasting with apparent common labels.

    As for your original subject/quandary, let me bounce this off you...

    Your and @Jeph's description of your personal approach includes a GM. That's a rule/mechanic. Is that rule subordinate to the setting? Is the very existence of a GM privileged?
  • Freeform is typically non-structured as far as direct rules, but deeply structured as far as pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about.
  • Hi @komradebob,

    I'm always a bit surprised when people assume "freeform" means completely unstructured as well.

    It's more like "freeform (by comparison to..)."

    I made the best guess I could. I was wrong. I tried? However, without trying to put words in anybody's mouth, using your proffered definition of "freeform" I get the sense that maybe we might be really talking about a system with few mechanics? If that's not correct what does such a game have more freedom, by comparison, to what exactly? What "restrictions" or what have you would such a game be bereft of?

    However, in spending some time this morning re-reading and re-considering the question Paul_T had posed to me I came to realize something very important. His question was ultimately about techniques and we know that techniques don't map one to one to CA's. Certain techniques have a tendency to be better suited to supporting the expression of a CA and clever designers can go against the general grain of techniques in the effort to facilitate the expression of a CA to make a unique and fresh game. (FREX - Shadows In The Fog, a game designed by Chris Lehrich, uses naked Bricolage and Tarot cards employed together as a deterministic/directive conflict resolution technique in support of Narrativist ends.)

    Yet in neither of the two options of that Paul_T asked me about asked me about what the priority of play was and that was my fault for not seeing that. I'm attempting to suss out how a particular CA works. Jeph had the right of it when he mentioned Bricolage (or perhaps Setting inspired and constrained Bricolage) as the Priority of SJ play. The interesting thing about Bricolage as the priority of play is that it ultimately creates everything else (Character growth,additional Setting, and even the "rules" of the world) but most centrally it is a meaning creation process. Specifically I mean it creates meaningful experiences for the players.
  • edited April 25
    Hi Paul,
    Paul_T said:

    The significant aspect here is that there are no consistent rules; instead, the judgement of the GM supersedes whatever rules might appear to be in place, case by case.

    Not true at all. The GM is just as constrained in his choices as the players are by the Setting, Bricolage and all the cruft that has accumulated over the course of play. This is a key element I keep trying to hammer home. The does not make decisions arbitrarily simply because of the lack of or the de-prioritization of the Western Thinking derived abstract mechanics. The Setting and the accumulation of player choices constrains the options the GM has available to him. If you go back to Chris' post on Levi-Strauss on how Bricolage make a good analogy for myth an absolutely vital element of the analogy is the so called "shed" of pre-existing pieces that the bricoleur must use. When faced with a problem in the structure the Bricoleur can't just engineer the perfect part but must use only what is readily available to him. His is constrained. So is the GM. The earlier mentioned "shed" is the Setting and the accumulated cruft of the Bricolage Process that all the players including the GM have created during play.

    Mechanics are the equivalent of the specifically engineered piece which is great for its one specific task but is nearly or completely useless for any other. Bricolage is this creative solution process that is constrained by what is and the limited only by the imagination of the Bricoleur within those constraints. The key here is that the "part" used is never a perfect solution and always leads to further problems/opportunities. So on continues the Bricoleur. In extending the analogy whatever the players do that ends up in the SIS ends up in the "shed" to be used later.

    These two methods of problem solving; Western Engineering design that seeks perfection and Bricolage with its expected and desired entailments are mutually exclusive. What this means that as a process of play the privileges Bricolage (SJ) will definitionally not place much emphasis on mechanics and certainly places Setting and the constrained player choices to the fore. This means playing a published game with mechanics but constantly invoking Rule-Zero is not the same as a game the Prioritizes Bricolage in the first place. Who knows why a GM is invoking Rule-Zero all the time? We have to know what is actually happening. Is the Rule-Zero GM attempting to Engineer the perfect implicit rules set or are his actions attempting to Prioritize Bricolage constrained by Setting?

    Best,

    Jay
  • Hi @Paul_D_L,
    Paul_D_L said:

    Your and @Jeph's description of your personal approach includes a GM. That's a rule/mechanic. Is that rule subordinate to the setting? Is the very existence of a GM privileged?

    That's an interesting question. I can only parse the question and possibly bring up new questions as part of what I'm really trying to do is figure out what is absolutely core and what are techniques.

    As was discussed a long while back it was agreed that "GM" is really a set of additional responsibilities that a player has. This is "discovery" to the flowering of games that were "GM-less" because the responsibilities of the "GM" were distributed among the players at the table. If your asking if the responsibilities of the "GM" can be distributed among the players at the table I'd can only answer, "I'm not sure. I'm inclined to think no, but I'm not closed to being shown otherwise." I only know from my game that it really sucks you into the first person POV. I'm not saying one must play from the 1st person POV (I forget the name of that stance) but it's very hard not to fall into it. Jumping out to handle some other non-character related task would be extremely disorienting as there is just so much information that must be kept in mind at all times.
    ...your personal approach includes a GM. That's a rule/mechanic.
    That's another interesting question. It "feels" very meta. A "rule" that a single person shoulders the responsibilities of the GM does not intersect in any way with the Setting. IOW Setting has nothing to say about the very Idea of a GM. I'm sorry. I don't have the intellectual tools to parse this out properly but it "feels" like a divide by zero type issue or perhaps a category error - like asking Science which deals only with the tangible world to make a statement about something metaphysical. It's like a category error type of question. I don't know.

    Is there someone out there smarter than myself who could take a crack at this?

    I will note that we do have some very hard and fast rules about player behavior. No player may at any time criticize the play of another player. Penalties are harsh and can eventually lead to ejection from the group. If someone has a problem with a player's play then bring it up to the GM in private. There is absolutely no contact permitted by a player in combat with another player at the table - even if its accidental. Emotions run high and hot during combat and accidents can escalate. Heavy penalties here as well. No cheating on dice rolls. This is a zero tolerance policy. You get caught once and you are immediately ejected from the group - permanently. These are stated at the beginning of every game. I don't remember enough to recall if these are Social Contract level rules or not.

    The idea behind all of these is that we are there to get into the emotional rush of the game and feel free to let it all "hang out". We don't want anything to impinge upon feeling the freedom to do so.

    Best,

    Jay

    PS - Really neat questions!
  • I guess what I'm hoping to get at is clarity about which rules you think should flow from and be subordinate to setting. Because it seems to me that many of the ones you use don't do that. I'm not trying to catch you contradicting yourself, on the contrary, I just sense you're coming in with assumptions about what rules "count," so to speak. Like, to you, a flexible mechanic is how to handle dumping boiling oil on an army of orcs, but the GM role or character ownership is simply a feature of the entire exercise.

    So, I think the answers to pretty much all of your questions and thoughts here will necessarily begin with answering what rules you see as features, why you see them that way and see other rules differently, and so forth.

    One potentially useful way to look at it is that each rule, feature or not, is an attempt to solve a problem: "How do we achieve X experience?" From that standpoint, could a rule that constrains/steers do so towards the discovery, consistency, and sovereignty of the setting?
  • Well said, Paul. That’s exactly what I was trying to get at with my earlier questions, as well.
  • edited April 29
    Hi @hamnacb,
    hamnacb said:

    So 'freeform' is not a good descriptive name for Silmenumes playstyle. I agree!

    What would be more expressive in an exact plain language?

    How can we distinguish it from 'fiction first' RPGs where everything is rooted and reincorporated back into the fiction but the mechanics in the middle can be seriously alienating (just as in DitV)? 'Fiction only, roll to spice roleplaying'?

    I haven't the foggiest. If you could come up with something solid kudos and respect to you! The problem is that the process/priority of play is extinct in the Western-literate culture. There really are no common words to concisely describe/abstract what's going on. The closest description I've encountered was Chris Lehrich's use of Claude Levi-Strauss' Mythic Bricolage. The problems there are that the myth being references is not the Western literate myths but those of tribal cultures and Bricolage is a french term of an art process. Neither word, while technically useful, is widely known. I coined Semiotic Jazz because both terms are understood better in Western-literate cultures but are still are not commonly understood.

    Best,

    Jay
  • edited April 29
    Hi @EmmatheExcrucian,

    Freeform is typically non-structured as far as direct rules, but deeply structured as far as pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about.

    I need a point of clarification if you would. When you say "pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about," are you describing a form of Participationism, but one that is played as you indicated in a non-structured manner as far as direct rules?

    Best,

    Jay
  • I think terms like 'bricolage' and 'semiotic jazz' are useful for us who followed these topics but fairly obscure words to others. Not really good without explanation.

    Me personally would try to find some catchphrase which more or less approaches the heart of it.

    For example 'play to loose' style was never really about really trying to loose in larps but to express a fundamental difference in the goal of newwave games compared to the (then) mainstream events. It could be achieved first and formost by 'not trying to win damnit!' As far as an outsider could know Ive read that it was an useful shorthand, a sort of basic principle, even if a negative one!

    What should others stop doing to play more similarily to your style? What is your basic principle?

    Maybe you will find the idiom 'style over matter' or 'X over Y' useful here. 'Setting Coherence over Rules as Written?' I am really just guessing here!

  • edited April 26
    Paul_D_L said:


    One potentially useful way to look at it is that each rule, feature or not, is an attempt to solve a problem: "How do we achieve X experience?" From that standpoint, could a rule that constrains/steers do so towards the discovery, consistency, and sovereignty of the setting?

    I think this clarified a lot for me. I have enjoyed this thread but I am also somewhat confused by jargon that @hamnacb mentions above. I do not understand the concepts of Bricolage, Semiotic Jazz, or Western-Engineering.
  • edited April 26
    I read the 3 terms as as: Intuition as you go, Rationally informed improvisation, Rationality
    You could start with a Setting (be it a genre or a sandbox world) and devise a system that fits it. There are tons of that.
    You could more specifically make mechanics around the idea of reincorporating : the constant action of setting up the Setting. That would be much more "fact based"
    The only problem is I am thinking of one being subordinate to the other in the design. When what you want is a subordination during play.
    Which is fiction first : "who goes first ?
    - Well, obviously the fastest..."
    But the question then seems empty. "What if you just Play Pretend ?" Well, I'd say : go for it. And if a problem comes up, adjudicate on the spot.
    Something I must have missed.
  • edited April 28
    Hi @hamnacb,
    hamnacb said:

    I think terms like 'bricolage' and 'semiotic jazz' are useful for us who followed these topics but fairly obscure words to others. Not really good without explanation.

    Me personally would try to find some catchphrase which more or less approaches the heart of it.

    I'm with you 100% on both points. I was really lamenting the problem of how hard I think it will be to accomplish such a task, not that it shouldn't be done. I was agreeing with you that bricolage and semiotic jazz are fairly (Fairly? Bah, very!) obscure words.

    Like I said if you can figure something out that it is catchy by all means go for it. Makes you a better person than I! I haven't a clue at present.

    Best,

    Jay
  • Silmenume said:

    Hi @EmmatheExcrucian,

    Freeform is typically non-structured as far as direct rules, but deeply structured as far as pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about.

    I need a point of clarification if you would. When you say "pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about," are you describing a form of Participationism, but one that is played as you indicated in a non-structured manner as far a direct rules?

    Best,

    Jay
    Not at all. Freeform is by its very nature GMless, with no leader of any kind. Everyone is an equal collaborator, and everyone is involved with writing and planning.
    It's also worth noting that freeform is traditionally done in much smaller groups than RPGs. It's typically done one-on-one, with three or four participants not being uncommon, but also not being the norm by any means.
  • edited April 28
    moconnor said:

    I do not understand the concepts of Bricolage, Semiotic Jazz, or Western-Engineering.

    Bricolage, Western-Engineering and what not were all difficult for me to understand when I first encountered the terms. Another one that belongs to this group that is truly foundational is "pre-literate myth". I'm am not formally educated in these subjects and what I have learned was from some critical posts I read on the Forge about 14 years ago. If you truly are interesting in coming to some sort of understanding I'd recommend very strongly that you read the post's authored by Chris Lehrich in these following threads. Be aware that while he does try to make the subject matter accessible it is by its very nature is dense. Take the time to read them as they are the foundation from which I am working from.

    This one is particularly salient. If you only read one these this is the most important.
    Bricolage APPLIED (finally!)

    This next one is a bit more esoteric but what he eventually talks about is very, very useful.
    Not Lectures on Theory [LONG!]

    This is best I can offer without introducing more confusion due to my ignorance. Maybe some of the LitCrit folk can help as well.

    Best,

    Jay

    EDIT: Semiotic Jazz is a phrase that I am using currently (admittedly not a very intuitive one as @hamnacb had rightfully pointed out) to label the Creative Agenda that I am trying to figure out.
  • @Paul_D_L and @Paul_T,

    I will respond soon but I'm getting a chance to play tonight and maybe tomorrow - the first time since about Christmas!

    So I may not be able to respond until Sunday

    Best,

    Jay
  • Silmenume said:

    Hi @EmmatheExcrucian,

    Freeform is typically non-structured as far as direct rules, but deeply structured as far as pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about.

    I need a point of clarification if you would. When you say "pre-planned, outlined fiction that the participants are on the same page about," are you describing a form of Participationism, but one that is played as you indicated in a non-structured manner as far a direct rules?

    Best,

    Jay
    Not at all. Freeform is by its very nature GMless, with no leader of any kind. Everyone is an equal collaborator, and everyone is involved with writing and planning.
    It's also worth noting that freeform is traditionally done in much smaller groups than RPGs. It's typically done one-on-one, with three or four participants not being uncommon, but also not being the norm by any means.
    That depends on what sort of Freeform you're doing. That is one kind of freeform, certainly, but not all things that go by the term.
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