The predicate easily explained

Unlike the word diegesis which thankfully pretty much only means one thing, the word predicate can mean a bunch of different things since it's been used by many different disciplines over the years.

In traditional grammar, with which we are most concerned, a predicate is a property or state or quality of something else. The sky is blue. See Spot run.

Comments

  • Right — the way I was taught it is “a sentence has two parts: the subject and the predicate”. So it’s everything that’s not the subject.

    How is it used in RPGs? These days I only hear the word in the formal-logic sense of “a function returning true or false”, as I’m a programmer...
  • The orc is next to the wizard.
  • Well yeah; but what I’m asking is: when/how do people use the word “predicate” when pontificating about roleplaying games?
  • It's not common theory jargon, but if I understand Sandra correctly, the old Forge-speak (via Vincent) for her "predicate" would be "elements of exploration" and "fictional positioning". It's basically an attempt at rigorous description of the internal structure of a given fiction. Specifically, you'll note that predicate relationships are the natural way for distinct fictional elements to exhaustively relate to each other nearly always in roleplaying.

    I like to speak of "qualities" myself, specifically "qualitative systematization" when it comes to using game mechanics that specifically rely on assigning and manipulating predicates. This contrasts with "quantitative systems" that concern themselves with relative scales of fixed attributes. While qualitative structuration is natural for storytelling and therefore roleplaying, quantitative systematization is something that rather took over roleplaying through the '80s, with consequences that we see to this day.

    Sandra's adventures in D&D combat mechanics are, from this perspective, best understood as her being dissatisfied with quantitative mechanics, which she replaces with qualitative ones. I'm still waiting for her to replace hit points with qualitative wound markers, though [grin].
  • edited May 19
    Would that be "Condition" tags ?
  • It is all the same thing, is it not?

    It's a somewhat subtle theoretical concept in that there's nothing inherently special about any qualitative declaration that a player in a roleplaying game makes; as I mentioned, this is the normal way that verbal storytelling inherently structures things. "The room is small" and "the monster is horrible". It would be justified to say that this is how humans think, we don't really go "the room is 3.4 meters long", that's not how we work cognitively.

    However, take an actual roleplaying game that uses this phenomenon in its mechanics, and qualitative thinking starts to look quite revolutionary compared to how a traditional game tries to subsume the predicate logic into a non-relational word-picture. Roleplaying has a solid heritage in quantitative simulation thinking, starting with the original wargaming culture and continuing with the '80s universal simulation era. Asking "how much?" is built into everything, and asking "what is the case?" is often sidelined by game mechanics heavily, leaving that part entirely freeform.

    I understand that a key reason for why people respond emotionally to the Apocalypse World mechanics is that it's all so qualitative. What you say either is a move or it's not, there's no murky GM interpretation layer subsuming the qualitative gear shifts. Same for e.g. Fate, and more generally the first cycle of Forgite stuff in the mid-'00s.
  • Oh ! Is that why there were so many of those scales of modifiers and difficulty numbers ? Trying to staple together quality and quantity, verbal and numerical...
  • Ah, that's an interesting idea. Perhaps so! I absolutely agree with the idea that the traditional roleplaying game is forced to do a lot of busywork in converting the narrative predicate into a quantity. Just look at the mess of tables in Chainmail, how it needs to know what "light infantry vs. heavy infantry" means in numeric terms to have anything actionable. As far as D&D is concerned "wearing plate mail" is not even a predicate, it's just a colorfully encoded number (AC = 2, to be specific).

    I've always thought of it as an "engineering bias" arising from the college scene that defined early roleplaying. Starting with Gary Gygax and continuing until the late '80s, what I see in roleplaying is that the dominant game texts are written like auto repair manuals, by people who are clearly comfortable with a certain kind of quantifying viewpoint. It's often termed a hankering for "world simulation". The real reason for why Vampire and such were considered transgressive in their time was in abandoning this wargamey, physical sciences bias in favour of artsy-fartsy humanistic perspectives.

    Like, the D&D Fireball, how it works and where it lives in its natural context: the idea that the wizard controls the primeval force of flame (the predicate: "I am in control of flame") is at best a side note, the real matters of interest are how large the explosion is (and how you'd calculate its shape deformation in a narrow tunnel) and how much damage it causes, expressed quantitatively. It's a peculiarity of the roleplaying condition, a cultural feature that is far from obvious outside the subculture. It wouldn't occur to e.g. a comic book author to approach the Human Torch's flame powers in the way the traditional roleplaying game defines the wizard's mastery over the same element.
  • edited May 19
    Great summary, Eero. I’ve often noticed that, as well. And I agree that Sandra’s various experiments with D&D are all about playing with the relationships between the quantitative and the qualitative.

    And I think that the revolution for game design for me and many others that came about via the Forge was in part about starting to consider game mechanics as being about something other than diegetic simulation; that simple change in mindset can drive a lot of game design principles and changes.
  • I'm still waiting for her to replace hit points with qualitative wound markers, though [grin].

    I already have! Instead of meat points, you take damage in the form of rolls on the lingering injury table and death save failures.

    Hit points instead are some sorta weird action econ adjacent thing where you pay hit points to diegetically negate hits (if you can; sometimes you're just out-maneuvered in the diegesis).
  • Paul_T said:

    Great summary, Eero. I’ve often noticed that, as well. And I agree that Sandra’s various experiments with D&D are all about playing with the relationships between the quantitative and the qualitative.

    I still think the big thing is the three tiers of truth. Enabling the whole “mirror story” blorby thing.

    That’s def my fave kind of D&D, when the players are wrestling with some diegetic item, puzzle, character or location, trying to find the best way to engage with it.

    Not to undersell that I’m def gonna keep on experimenting with the quant/qual rel! That’s where I can apply my, uh, “unique” & fucked-up mindset.

    Paul_T said:

    And I think that the revolution for game design for me and many others that came about via the Forge was in part about starting to consider game mechanics as being about something other than diegetic simulation; that simple change in mindset can drive a lot of game design principles and changes.

    Whereas I started with that “game design” mindset (me and my sister making computer games in DOS before finding out about tabletop RPGs) and it was only through the “mirror story” that I finally found out about diegetic simulation and it was such a ⚞click⚟—this is what people have been doing all along? this is awesome!!!

  • Ah, sure: the “three tiers” are key to your fun, absolutely. I just don’t think they’re unique to your fun. Lots of people have been doing that since the dawn of the hobby, after all; you just happened to experience it later in your play history. At this point, at seems fairly entrenched in your own “style” of D&D, though, and I don’t think you’re exploring that frontier any longer - it’s a given for you at this point, it seems to me.

    In other words, there are probably thousands of D&D tables that operate under something like the “three tiers” concept (and an entire online movement behind it!) - most of my earliest roleplaying experiences operates under the same principle, but yours is the only one I’ve ever heard of that uses Hillfolk drama rules, Inspiration, and a “predicate space monster AI”. :)
  • Paul_T said:

    Ah, sure: the “three tiers” are key to your fun, absolutely. I just don’t think they’re unique to your fun. Lots of people have been doing that since the dawn of the hobby, after all; you just happened to experience it later in your play history. […] In other words, there are probably thousands of D&D tables that operate under something like the “three tiers” concept (and an entire online movement behind it!) - most of my earliest roleplaying experiences operates under the same principle

    I had never seen it formulated until I did last year and I really wish somebody had told me about it way back before I was subjected to all those 90s games T_T

    The OSR has the first two tiers and that was brilliant. That’s def where I got started with this. Without the second tier it would be impossible to run a sandbox game. Ofc interacting with first tier stuff is usually more awesome, but all three tiers are necessary.

    (When I was a kid I thought I literally had to either prep every grain of sand, or start to make a bunch of stuff up, and once I had compromised my game enough to do the latter I might as well do full “no myth”.)

    Paul_T said:

    At this point, at seems fairly entrenched in your own “style” of D&D, though, and I don’t think you’re exploring that frontier any longer - it’s a given for you at this point, it seems to me.

    This is def true! That’s not where the current research is. (I do have it in mind though since the three tiered model is sketched onto the preliminary curriculum to the game design workshop I’m gonna give this summer).

    Paul_T said:

    but yours is the only one I’ve ever heard of that uses Hillfolk drama rules, Inspiration, and a “predicate space monster AI”. :)

    Kiiinda inspired by Hillfolk, Fate, and Dragon Union respectively…. but let’s say I invented all of it♥♥♥♥

    The decoupling & reworking of the The One Ring ideas was prob the hardest work♥
    Shaking it loose from its “phase”-based thinking. (TOR kinda clunky tbh.)

  • Spent all my life looking for games that had actual rules for the GM to follow. That's why I latched on to Everway [compared to that crap game Drakar 91] because it had the three principles fortune drama karma. Unfortunately those three principles ended up amounting to "do w/e you want" in practice so that was not good. Then Three Sixteen and Dogs in the Vineyard. Finally the OSR. [Kinda dodged the PbtA bullet by getting into OSR juuuust before PbtA hit big.]
  • 2097 said:

    Spent all my life looking for games that had actual rules for the GM to follow.

    Have you tried Ryuutama then? Or is that not kinda what you mean by that?
  • edited May 20
    You mean like playing the Ryuujin? No, that's not what I mean. I mean something more like Moldvay basic where it tells you how to build the game location [in a much more detailed & playable way than Ryuutama's sparse town&world sheets], and how to run the game [the turn / round structure in Moldvay]. How to set up a good porte-monstre-trésor; place/problem/goal.
  • Ah, right, that makes sense :)
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