transparency of method vs invisibility of mechanics

My big "DM insight" that I haven't seen anywhere else is that engagement has two parts,
an emotional component and a sensory component.

The emotional component is aided by a game where it's clear how it's set up, how it works, what the mechanics are and how the DM's decisions are made. You can care about your character and the game world, let it be "real" because some of the processes are so externalized away from any one person's decisions.
So as a DM, I use a transparent, almost hypermedialized method for this. Rolling openly, making it clear what rolls mean what, sometimes showing things from the book, revealing some of the numbers from the encounter tables. This is basic for many story games that have very visible and easily engaged mechanics.

The sensory component is aided by a game where the mechanics are invisible, where all you you have to do is close your eyes and dream away. You can imagine the smells, sounds, weights, sights of the fantasy world. These two components are often but not always in conflict.

Whenever I add mechanics I work hard to make them invisible, or DM-facing only, and when I get the vibe that the players need more buy-in, when they think that I'm just bullshitting, I reveal some of the mechanics. The mechanics should be solid, the players can rely on the mechanics creating and driving the events in their game world. This is to take away the sense of unease, to lessen the perceived power disparity between player and DM.
Mechanics should also be associated directly with the goings on in the game. The cart should not be pulling the horse.

Games often (there are exceptions) thrive on choice and a solid mechanical landscape is great place to make solid and consequential choices.

And if you're always always always being made aware of the mechanics, it's taking away your dreaming power.

Here's an analogy. In early TV news, they would be very visible with their documents and reports in hand as paper, and cameras and mics would be visible. This makes it so that the audience gets a feeling of what's going on, "this is real". It builds buy-in.
And when you watch a movie, you want the frame to fall away so that you just focus on the goings on in the film, you don't want to see any cameras or mics in Middle-Earth (although... wouldn't that be awesome?). It builds presence.

Anyway... it's sometimes a tradeoff, sometimes a balancing act, and sometimes something you can do without compromise because you can find mechanics that are both solid and non-intrusive.
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Comments

  • I find the media analogy quite fascinating.

    Especially so, since *trust* and *familiarity* are such important factors in either type of engagement - and this mirrors media quite well.

    Trust: When I'm reading a book or watching a movie and something strange or inexplicable happens, it rubs up against my sense of trust in the creator to "make good". With a beloved author, I read on and my enjoyment isn't hampered. If I'm proofreading my little sister's creative writing assignment, though, I'll pause and mark it mentally as a problem with the story.

    I can be thrown for a total loop - whether fictionally or mechanically - with a group of trusted players and I'm still totally engaged, right? But not so with just anybody.

    Revealing your "behind-the-screen" processes, rolling out in the open, giving the players an insight into your GM-mind - all those help build trust.

    Familiarity: When people first started making movies, they filmed them exactly like a theatre play - complete with people walking on and off-stage. It took a while for people to realize that in this medium you could move the camera, change the angle, and generally play with perspective and framing.

    People are very capable of "internalizing" familiar procedures and mechanics, until even complex, heavy rules seem "invisible". Even extremely simple rules, however, when unfamiliar, are decried as ruining this sort of "sensory" immersion. I've often seen internet discussions about "immersive roleplay" basically boil down to "what I'm familiar and comfortable with".

    Good post, thanks!
  • Great points, Sandra. I've observed the same things. The one point on which I might disagree is the need for transparency to foster trust and power balance and emotional engagement. Or, well, I disagree in principle and anecdote; odds-wise and historically, you're probably right. And I completely agree with you on good, known mechanics being hard to beat in terms of facilitating a reliable sequence of meaningful choices.

    An interesting thing about GM-facing mechanics -- I've written a bunch of them, and I often forget to use them. I've found that, without the usual back-and-forth with the players, whether in system terms or just socially, GM-only procedures can be... not very reinforcing. So, recently, I've started aiming for higher degrees of feedback from the system, so that rollng on a table or whatnot is a satisfying mini-game for the GM in itself. Easier said than done, though, at least for my GMing taste. I'd love to hear about what invisible GM techniques you've gotten the most mileage out of. (Unless that's a thread jack. Not sure if there's a particular desired direction here.)
  • I think the thing which reinforces player-facing rules is their social nature. Because they exist between us there is a social obligation not to break them. Most GM facing mechanics I've seen are solely the responsibility of the GM – she holds them all in her head.

    Perhaps a way to codify GM-facing rules is to put them in the social sphere, by making the players responsible for them, just as the GM is largely responsible for the player-facing rules.
  • Well, my current love affair with the two games Hillfolk and old-style D&D are both because their support for "invisible" mechanics, right?
    In order to talk to the guard, you talk to the DM (who is pretending to be the guard).
    In order to find the map in the desk drawers, you tell the DM that you are opening the desk drawers and looking in them.
    In order to find out what the room smells like, you ask the DM what the smell is and she tells you.
    The invisibility or directness of these mechanics can (I hope!) build sensory engagement. Turkku school style.

    As for DM-facing mechanics, my "mechanic for finding someone" is an example of that, as are wandering monster tables, encounter tables, stocking algorithms etc. A dungeon map + hour-by-hour rules (like wandering monster checks) is exactly the sort of "tangible landscape" to make choices against that can build emotional engagement.

    Player-visible mechanics like "OK, we're down to our last five HP... and there are monster checks every ten minutes... what are we going to do?" is anti-Turkku-school but can build emotional engagement.
  • edited June 2016
    I think that GM-facing mechanics, in this kind of play, is, by definition, a tremendously personal thing.

    After all, it's a personal method which comes down to preference, experience, and subjective taste. Depending on the type of game and the type of GM you are, you may or may not need certain things to be handled for you for a sense of objectivity.

    In a game which is supposed to challenge the players logistically, having a system for tracking torch use or wandering monsters is a way for the GM to bring that to bear. A very similar game with another group where one of the players is more familiar with the rules than the GM might find that person rolling the wandering monster checks and the GM more focused on portraying the sensory experience.

    If the GM and/or group has had particularly good or bad experiences with certain tools and types of play, that colours all this *dramatically*, as well.

    A certain GM might want certain tools in play not because of the effect it creates for the players, but merely for personal comfort - or to keep oneself from falling back into bad habits.

    It looks like Sandra has found a highly functional way of playing which addresses a lot of her prior complaints/problems/sticking points. That's a great thing! It might look a little different for each group, or even for subsets of a given group, however.

    This is also why I brought up trust, above. Given a sufficient level of trust, you can get all the emotional engagement you want without any transparency of method.
  • edited June 2016
    In my experience, if you build enough trust in yourself, in the players, in the system, between the group and in the good outcome of the whole process, you don't need to show anything. It's all about what you do to give and take confidence.

    Things that help build confidence: Using the same rules and rulings every time, blocking after you have said yes at least twice and only when there's a really good reason for it. Inform the players about possible outcomes that are clear for you but they haven't envisioned. Share all the information so players can properly decide, instead of hiding it from them so they will take the wrong decision.

    Theres a great deal of immersion you can help players accomplish just by turning system information into fictional clear descrptions. You don't need to show everyone the monster's HP, but describing how damaged it's now, how scared it looks, how heavy is breathing, and doing this consistently from monster to monster will be enough for players to decide if they have to run or push a bit further to defeat it, which is exactly what they will decide by knowing the amount of HP, cheking their own and calculate how much damage they will be able to do in the next round, which while still kinda fun in it's own way, it's a totally different experience and immersion.

    So basically, I've just realized that system doesn't have to be invisible at all, you just have to describe it to players in clear fictional terms.

  • A very similar game with another group where one of the players is more familiar with the rules than the GM might find that person rolling the wandering monster checks and the GM more focused on portraying the sensory experience.
    100% true, and Sandra approved.
    It looks like Sandra has found a highly functional way of playing which addresses a lot of her prior complaints/problems/sticking points. That's a great thing! It might look a little different for each group, or even for subsets of a given group, however.
    Right, but since I was lost in the wilderness for so long, not find the way to play RPGs for so many years (two decades of failed attempts), you can't fault me for wanting to trying to teach what works for me :)
    This is also why I brought up trust, above. Given a sufficient level of trust, you can get all the emotional engagement you want without any transparency of method.
    Transparency of method is an easily reproducible method of building that trust.
    I played with a couple of OSR DMs and I loved it but I was so suspicious of them. Transparency of method would've been so great then. That goes for all DMs and GMs and MCs I've had.
    In my experience, if you build enough trust in yourself, in the players, in the system, between the group and in the good outcome of the whole process, you don't need to show anything. It's all about what you do to give and take confidence.
    Not that I doubt you, but just for the canonical history record [I am daydreaming that future generations will read S-G and TBP just as I was reading RGFA and the Forge posts years later), this is exactly contrary to my own table experience.
    So basically, I've just realized that system doesn't have to be invisible at all, you just have to describe it to players in clear fictional terms.
    Sometimes some of these shiboleth nudge-nudge wink-wink terms can help engagement and sometimes they can hinder it and sometimes neither.
  • edited June 2016
    Sandra,

    I think you're absolutely right. I've had that experience, too. I once played OSR-style with Eero as GM, and I wasn't sure how to make decisions in a certain (somewhat difficult, and potentially unfair) situation. He offered to walk me through his mental process, and then did so: laid pretty much all his cards on the table. After that, I felt very certain that I could trust his judgement calls, because I understood where he was coming from.

    The only part I think your analysis is missing is that when the trust exists, the transparency of method isn't necessary.

    * Once Eero talked me through that particular example, he didn't have to do so AGAIN at each turn of the road. I felt comfortable enough to go on with fewer and fewer questions asked, because we had established a baseline of trust. The game became a lot more fun after that!

    * Consider someone who is entering the experience with a high level of trust to begin. Say, a child roleplaying for the first time, or someone who, on the other end of the spectrum, has played with a certain group/GM for a decade and has already ironed out these kinks. (Which is not to imply that playing for a long time does that - it could erode trust over time, instead!)

    That person has so little to gain from transparency of method that they will find your attempts distracting - they will be "ruining their immersion", when they're ready to jump straight into the sensory experience. They won't understand why you're doing that and can we please get back to the game already?

    As another example, if I signed up for a convention game of personal horror which promised to frighten and surprise, I wouldn't expect or want the GM to be transparent with their methods - I've prepared myself for this metaphorical "jumping into the deep end of the pool".

    Even though in other situations I'd very much like to know what the GM is thinking and how they're making their decisions - I LOVED Eero's transparency in that game, including side comments like, "Yikes! You've wandered into the swamps - I should warn you, I'll be using wandering monster tables from such-and-such module there, and they're infamous for being unfair!" - there will be some cases where that's not desirable at all.

    Transparency of method is an easily reproducible method of building that trust.
    Yes! Exactly. And that's a great insight for a lot of roleplaying groups. Nailed it!

    As a general principle for improving trust in a group, I'm totally on board with this. I think that trust should *never* be just assumed.
  • I wasn't thinking of anything way to hinty, nudge-nudge, wink-winky, but more about replacing/translating numbers with useful verbal information we can reamain truthful to and use the same way as much as we can.

    For example, instead of saying "the AC of these goblins is 16 and they have 5 hp" you can say "these bastards are small and quick, so it's kinda hard to hit them. They will probably die in one or two hits though". If you have already agreed in some of the terms, like "kinda hard" meaning you've got to roll a 15 or more and describing anything related fo DEX as quick, fast or other synonymous, players aready have all the info they need to know.

    They even know why the goblins are hard to hit: it isn't because of their armour but because they are quick, so anything they could think that could slow down those goblins should definitely make them easier to hit.

    Hints, nudges and winks still mean the system is invisible, which I'm actually kinda against to.
  • If you have already agreed in some of the terms, like "kinda hard" meaning you've got to roll a 15 or more and describing anything related fo DEX as quick, fast or other synonymous, players aready have all the info they need to know.
    If this is what you meant, then I understood you perfectly. These sort of shibboleths and conventions are exactly what I referred to as something that sometimes "can help engagement and sometimes they can hinder it and sometimes neither."

    The original Fudge's "I'm Good with swords" is another, more codified example.

    Paul, first of all, I really, really appreciate this post right now.
    I got into a very heated discussion with someone over at TPB and I only later saw that they were a mod. But it was very well deserved, they were very disrespectful. But I'm worried now that they're discussing amongst themselves in the mod area and are going to drop some sort of hammer. Hopefully the other mods will see where I was coming from, especially if they go back and read the thread.

    So I'm glad to discuss an issue with someone who gets it, like you do. Thank you.
    The only part I think your analysis is missing is that when the trust exists, the transparency of method isn't necessary.
    I've played RPGs for 24 years and I've never experienced that trust. Thus, transparency of method is rocket fuel for me to help me get engaged with the goings on in the game.
    Once Eero talked me through that particular example, he didn't have to do so AGAIN at each turn of the road. I felt comfortable enough to go on with fewer and fewer questions asked, because we had established a baseline of trust.
    I worked hard to keep the initial post brief but yes. Fewer and fewer questions are needed. This is a tricky road because it can open up into DMs eventually starting to fudge. This was some of my earliest long threads here on S-G with "Mode X", the black curtain etc.

    My OP does say explicitly that it can sometimes be a tradeoff or clash between transparancy of method vs invisible mechanics. You sometimes have to make compromises, a balancing act.
    Consider someone who is entering the experience with a high level of trust to begin. Say, a child roleplaying for the first time, or someone who, on the other end of the spectrum, has played with a certain group/GM for a decade and has already ironed out these kinks. (Which is not to imply that playing for a long time does that - it could erode trust over time, instead!)
    That was my experience, yes (the erosion, that is).
    That person has so little to gain from transparency of method that they will find your attempts distracting - they will be "ruining their immersion", when they're ready to jump straight into the sensory experience. They won't understand why you're doing that and can we please get back to the game already?
    When I started my 5e game I was eager to try out this "transparency of method" idea. And the new players who had never ever played any RPG or story game, they loved it. And the veteran RQ-and-3e-with-fudging-DMs players, they gave me a lot of pushback, exactly "can we please get back to the game already?".

    But quickly it started working on them, too. They got emotional engagement in a way that I had never seen in them before (I had tried to play both Fate Core and Diaspora with them, but not with "transparency of method"). And now they're very engaged in the random encounter mechanics, trying to find safe camp in the vampire castle, making hard choices.

    They killed other innocent humans (in the game, relax) just so their characters could get some sleep.
    As another example, if I signed up for a convention game of personal horror which promised to frighten and surprise, I wouldn't expect or want the GM to be transparent with their methods - I've prepared myself for this metaphorical "jumping into the deep end of the pool".
    I played Monsterhearts at a con with a GM who was pretty good at transparency of method (whoops, forgot about him when I wrote earlier that I hadn't) -- and it really really helped me. So I disagree. I've also played AW with some MCs that are good at this and some that aren't, and I prefered the ones that were good at transparency of method.
    Even though in other situations I'd very much like to know what the GM is thinking and how they're making their decisions - I LOVED Eero's transparency in that game, including side comments like, "Yikes! You've wandered into the swamps - I should warn you, I'll be using wandering monster tables from such-and-such module there, and they're infamous for being unfair!" - there will be some cases where that's not desirable at all.
    Because both sensory engagement and emotional engagement are very necessary and important. And they are built in different ways and hurt in different ways. Sometimes clashing.
  • WM, didn't mean to say that you didn't "get it"; I wrote my answer to Paul and saw your post come in while I was writing. I finished writing my answer to Paul, then added my response to you up top. It came out weird, like I was excluding you; that wasn't my intention.
  • Ah, nevermind, it's ok.

    I've played RPGs for 24 years and I've never experienced that trust. Thus, transparency of method is rocket fuel for me to help me get engaged with the goings on in the game.
    Ah, that's sad to hear. But anyway, I get that all sort of things happen differently in all tables. I'm glad that you found your own way through, though. Given your experience, I can't really insist that any part of the method I use is infallible.
  • Sandra,

    I'm right there with you on pretty much all of this. :) But what's TBP?

    (My guess is that it's an internet thing, and so you really don't need to worry too much - it's natural to, of course, but the worst-case scenario here is still fairly benign. Like taking a break from posting somewhere. I know it can feel really stressful, though! Don't let it ruin your day, please!)

    I generally prefer GMs who are good at transparency of method, as well - or, if lacking that, are willing to answer questions and discuss judgement calls after the game. Someone who refuses to is probably someone I wouldn't want to play games with.

    However, if a trusted friend offered an opportunity to play a game where there was no transparency of method, I could sign up for it and happily enjoy playing (or, at worst, politely decline future offers).

    This older thread comes to mind as an interesting counter-example.

    I think a game of Monsterhearts occupies a different space from what I was trying to describe - a hardcore "loss of control" experience where the GM leads the scenario into space which is entirely unknown to you.

    Also, there seems to be a sizeable fraction of the roleplaying public who claim they don't want transparency of method (especially people who like to say they're into "immersive" play). I can't really understand this - it sounds a bit like self-delusion to me, at certain extremes - but I have to assume they're not being disingenuous, and that their desires for that kind of play are valid.

  • Isn't this just a matter of degree?

    At the two extremes you either have a game where everything is known so it fails to be surprising, or where nothing is known so it's impossible to make informed decisions. And it's not a simple spectrum because the specific elements you choose to make transparent will change the kind of game you get.

    As for GM facing mechanics, I think they're a complete waste of time since the GM has ultimate authority over the fiction anyway, and the players have no way of holding them accountable for, or even being aware of when they are, not following the rules. It's why the best OSR products IMHO are basically a set of suggestions and inspirational tools, and why I've kinda fallen out of love with things like Doom pools which only work because they're actually player facing.

  • As for GM facing mechanics, I think they're a complete waste of time since the GM has ultimate authority over the fiction anyway, and the players have no way of holding them accountable for, or even being aware of when they are, not following the rules.
    I disagree quite strongly. In theory, you are correct, perhaps, but, in practice, every GM has strengths and weaknesses. A strong method, procedures, and mechanics can make for a much better GM - or, at the very least, a much more relaxed and confident GM.

  • TBP = forums.rpg.net, one of the five places I post. (The others are here, paizo.com's "4th edition and beyond" forum, the Apocalypse World forum, and my own blog.)
    TBP stands for "the big purple", the name of the old color scheme of the site. But they changed it to rainbow recently which I adore.
    Someone who refuses to is probably someone I wouldn't want to play games with.
    That was the norm for so many years. The cult of GM secrecy.
    However, if a trusted friend offered an opportunity to play a game where there was no transparency of method, I could sign up for it and happily enjoy playing (or, at worst, politely decline future offers).
    Again, transparency method comes at a cost, so I can understand why someone would want this.
    This older thread comes to mind as an interesting counter-example.
    I think I've seen that thread before. I was wailing and screaming and crying and trying to bang my head against the wall in the legendary "O Coco" three player GM-less "game" (if it was that) that I experienced with Simon Pettersson on these forums and a friend of his -- this third player literally grabbed hold of me to stop me hurting myself. What an interesting "game" experience. One of my best RPG experiences of all my life.

    We didn't have any secret techniques though, it was all above board.
    I am suspicious of any GM trying to recreate that through "movie" techniques. The "movie" metaphor, I don't like.
    I'm re-reading the UA thread more closely, might write more later.
    Also, there seems to be a sizeable fraction of the roleplaying public who claim they don't want transparency of method (especially people who like to say they're into "immersive" play). I can't really understand this - it sounds a bit like self-delusion to me, at certain extremes - but I have to assume they're not being disingenuous, and that their desires for that kind of play are valid.
    This is what I meant by the Turkku school in the OP.
  • At the two extremes you either have a game where everything is known so it fails to be surprising, or where nothing is known so it's impossible to make informed decisions. And it's not a simple spectrum because the specific elements you choose to make transparent will change the kind of game you get.
    What's the problem?
    As for GM facing mechanics, I think they're a complete waste of time since the GM has ultimate authority over the fiction anyway, and the players have no way of holding them accountable for, or even being aware of when they are, not following the rules.
    My great breakthrough as a GM was when I finally realized how strongly we could build emotional engagement by trying to contradict what you just wrote as much as possible.
    That's what I refer to as "transparency of method".
    It's why the best OSR products IMHO are basically a set of suggestions and inspirational tools, and why I've kinda fallen out of love with things like Doom pools which only work because they're actually player facing.
    Making those things transparent is the interesting thing. I saw Zak do this, explicitly saying "I'm going to roll on this-or-that table now" and I tried the same with great results.
    I use it selectively.
  • You never roll to spot, listen, or research. And in a few cases where a skill was called for, if you roleplayed in a convincing and persuasive manner, you would gain a bonus or he would change his mind and no skill roll was needed.
    I do this, too. Part of the "invisible" part of the OP.
    I've gotten pushback from players who want to have their characters mechanically defined with a more fine-coarsed granularity but I haven't relented.
    the GM is strict about you staying mostly in character, not playing with your phones, or doing anything that would alleviate this boredom
    I do this too. Our rule is: taking calls is OK, playing or Facebooking isn't, looking up rules might be ok or might be nixed depending on where we are in the game.
    story that was pre-written on 2.5 pages
    I never do this; it can impact both emotional and sensory engagement, I find.
    1 index card says "Scene" on it and another has "X" on itOT to this thread, but having a scene card that's used more casually might make the X card better, I never realized that
    By being stern at the beginning, he establishes a feeling of safety from the other players, a feeling of being able to safely explore things without someone farting away your moment.
    I've thought of this too and I try hard to do this but it's difficult.
    Submitting now as I turn to the second page of the thread.
  • (I think many/most things described in that thread are antithetical to a lot of us (myself included), which is why it was an interesting one. I wouldn't use it as a model for roleplaying practices!)
  • I saw that I had replied in the thread itself :p
  • In order to talk to the guard, you talk to the DM (who is pretending to be the guard).
    In order to find the map in the desk drawers, you tell the DM that you are opening the desk drawers and looking in them.
    In order to find out what the room smells like, you ask the DM what the smell is and she tells you.
    Hell yeah! I used to always play this way, and now I still do when with the right group.
    As for DM-facing mechanics, my "mechanic for finding someone" is an example of that, as are wandering monster tables, encounter tables, stocking algorithms etc. A dungeon map + hour-by-hour rules (like wandering monster checks) is exactly the sort of "tangible landscape" to make choices against that can build emotional engagement.
    I am familiar with these, but hadn't thought much about them.

    IIRC, "find someone" is actually triggered by a player query, so the overall procedure is similar to "talk to the guard by talking to the GM" -- the only difference is that the GM informs their reply with a roll. I think that's a very useful class of GM mechanics -- good answers to questions which it's otherwise hard to answer well. I don't use such mechanics very often, because I can usually provide a sufficient answer on my own, and the delay and effort of finding the right table and rolling on it and parsing the result can be too high a price to pay to get from "sufficient" to "good". A good GM screen might change all that, though.

    Attaching event checks (e.g. wandering monsters) to time spent is pretty powerful on the "tangible landscape" front, I agree. Rather than having a fact to react to, the players get a process. And we can game a process! Especially a process that adds risk over time, creating a "push your luck" situation. I have often tried to introduce processes into adventuring environments, but I'm often stopped by the nuisances of tracking. How much character action takes an hour of time? Do I need to do math with movement rates? Is anything going to remind me to make a check when I get caught up in the fiction of the moment (which I always do)?

    I'm not sure what "stocking algorithms" means. I'm also not sure whether encounter tables are more like query answers or processes or neither.

    I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this stuff!
  • David, it seems like you totally get it.
    The "find someone" is two parts.
    1. a roll to randomly place where the quarry is.
    2. a roll to randomly determine what the interrogated person knows
    Those two are made before the scene is RP:d.

    Stocking algorithms: dungeon making algorithms.
  • edited June 2016
    Looking through some old posts on this site and am reminded that there's a policy to not harsh on other forums. A very good policy I think. The post that used to be here was maybe borderline OK but I'd rather just not mention it.
  • Any thoughts about making these things easy and not a chore to remember?
  • Think in terms of ten minute "turns" in the dungeon but this is one of those mechanics that are of the "never speak it's name" variety. Old D&D (I guess Lab Lord is the easiest way to find it for free) had a list of things that took one "turn"). So I tick up the clock for those things. When in doubt, ask the players.
    Like "That'll take twenty minutes, sound ok?" and they say yes and then visibly make two checks and be like "those wolves you're so afraid of? They're entry 13". I have one player who does most of the checking duty, that wasn't something we negotiated, he just started sitting next to me and looking carefully at the rolls (which was my intention that someone would be able to do) and I'm grateful for that.
    For keeping track of things, I have four soroban and we also "tick down dice" or use pen and paper. If you have a paper schedule it's easy to make marks when a lantern should run out or an animate dead spell should lapse.

    I sometimes forget, still, so for my next campaign I'm going to design a template for what needs to be done in a day, a week etc. Some sorta form or timecard with reminders like when the characters eat or roll exhaustion saves or use up torches.

    This is also something the players help me with, like "ok, remember to let me know when it's been an hour, I'm still in Armor of Agathys".

    Outdoors, it depends on how you'e set up your wilderness what time interval you need.
  • edited June 2016
    The emotional component is a result of the sensory component.

    One way of learning is through empiricism. One emotion of learning is fun (Raph Koster - Theory of Fun). We learn through a loop (Daniel Cook - Skill atom, Martin Heidegger - The hermeneutic circle).
    (a) We form an idea, (b) we try to make it happen, (c) we get a response, (a) we update the idea.
    Every time we go through this loop, we learn. Every time we learn, an emotional response is created. If it already exist in our mind, the emotion gets stronger (Nico Frijda and Batja Mequita - Emotions and Convictions - How Feelings Affect Our Thoughts).

    Given this premise above, it doesn't really matter how the loop is created - how the responses are delivered - as long as the loop is unbroken. It doesn't matter if it's narrative techniques or mechanics.

    Here probably lies your trust discussion. Mechanics are often seen as objective - unbiased. I always thought about this, as newbie game masters "need" mechanics as a crutch because they don't trust themselves in the beginning. They can later on leave the mechanics when they are stable enough to stand on their own legs. The same could possibly apply to a "game master-player" relation.

    The loop gets broken if the player breaks the loop by thinking that the game master is biased: if the player goes outside the "system" (either game system or the social system [the group itself]) in a form of metaplay.
  • I can't agree with this. I came to crunch after two decades without. It's definitely not a newbie game master crutch in my case. It is part of the "gloracle", the glorious oracle of dice and prep.

    I think there are some semantics snafu here, that we mean different things by sensory engagement. I meant when you dream away and imagine yourself seeing, hearing, smelling things from the game world. Often crunch can hurt this.

    By emotional engagement we probably do mean the same thing. When you are invested in the decisions and outcomes in the game world. Often crunch can help this.

    As for the loop, I come from another epistemological tradition ("against method") so through my eyes, it looks like either the loop analogy/process is too narrowly defined to be encompassing even a plurality of acquisitions of knowledge or emotion, or it's conversely so widely defined to be meaningless in its unspecificity. Regardless, let's say I buy into Heidegger's loop idea -- even so, I posit that the 'sensory'/lucid "track" and the 'emotional'/agentorial "track" are on separate loops, sometimes interacting with each other in a helping or hindering way, sometimes not.

    Rickard, you have an interesting perspective as always. Thank you.
  • For keeping track of things, I have four soroban and we also "tick down dice" or use pen and paper. If you have a paper schedule it's easy to make marks when a lantern should run out or an animate dead spell should lapse.
    I had to look up what a soroban is. Sounds pretty handy! Kinda like a 3-D countdown clock. I'm not gonna run out and buy a bunch, but if I got an RPG boxed set that included some, I'd think that was pretty cool.

    What does "tick down dice" mean?

    What does a good "paper schedule" look like?

    Maybe you're just better at estimating 10-min increments and remembering to keep track of stuff than I am, or maybe you just find it less annoying than I do, but regardless, I'm open to any and all tips!
    for my next campaign I'm going to design a template for what needs to be done in a day, a week etc. Some sorta form or timecard with reminders like when the characters eat or roll exhaustion saves or use up torches.
    I would love to see this once you've made it!
  • Tick down dice:
    Take a die and set it to the six side. Then when you want to tick it down, set it to the five side. This practice comes from the ccg world.

    A good paper schedule: I haven't really had a really good one yet. Index cards with lines for different hours that you go down as time passes etc I've tried. I i do make one I'll post it of course.
  • edited June 2016
    I think there are some semantics snafu here, that we mean different things by sensory engagement. I meant when you dream away and imagine yourself seeing, hearing, smelling things from the game world. Often crunch can hurt this.
    Yeah, that's what I kind of wanted to come to: that imagination (or your own interpretation of the fiction?) is part of the sensory engagement, and should be something that is right there next to our senses.

    Perhaps... I dunno. The interpretation is probably a loop in itself. I need to give it some more thoughts.
  • edited June 2016
    Gotcha. I've used dice as counters, but I haven't found that any easier to remember, as the sea of dice on the table can drown 'em out and I forget which die is counting down which thing. I've thought about making a little sheet of "common things to count down" and then placing counter dice on the relevant boxes of the sheet, but I've never gotten around to it. Not sure if it'd be helpful or not.
  • every GM has strengths and weaknesses. A strong method, procedures, and mechanics can make for a much better GM - or, at the very least, a much more relaxed and confident GM.
    That I don't disagree with :)

    When I speak of RPG mechanics, I am exclusively speaking of the rules and procedures which mediate communication and consensus between players and GM. Every GM should rely on good techniques, and (though I seem to be an outlier due to my improv background) every player should as well. But I don't consider those techniques to be part of the mechanics.
    At the two extremes you either have a game where everything is known so it fails to be surprising, or where nothing is known so it's impossible to make informed decisions. And it's not a simple spectrum because the specific elements you choose to make transparent will change the kind of game you get.
    What's the problem?
    The problem is discussions about this subject tend to go towards ambiguous absolutes without acknowledging the nuance, as what remains transparent is far more important than how much.

    For example, most RPGs leave your hit points and the damage you do entirely transparent. But Unknown Armies (which is easily one of the most emotionally engaging RPGs I've ever encountered) doesn't, and that changes everything. And how your character feels about another is typically invisible, but make that transparent and again that changes everything.

    What are you leaving transparent/invisible, and what are you trying to achieve by it?
    My great breakthrough as a GM was when I finally realized how strongly we could build emotional engagement by trying to contradict what you just wrote as much as possible.
    That's what I refer to as "transparency of method".
    But is emotional engagement synonymous with trust here? Because I honestly think transparency is otherwise entirely independent of emotional engagement.


  • Yeah, that's what I kind of wanted to come to: that imagination (or your own interpretation of the fiction?) is part of the sensory engagement, and should be something that is right there next to our senses.

    Perhaps... I dunno. The interpretation is probably a loop in itself. I need to give it some more thoughts.
    Seems like we're pretty much on the same page.

  • I don't want to get into semantics. I was taking a broader view of "mechanics".

    I am using transparency to create accountability; if something can be revealed later, and still note come across as fudged/quantum, I'll reveal it later. Otherwise, I'll reveal it at once.

    I don't want to criticize UA when Greg's not here. Suffice it to say that I've played in games where hitpoints were known to the DM but not to the players and decremented/incremented in an unaccountable way and my experiences with that particular aspect of the game was awful.


    Emotional engagement is one of my goals of play. My experiments so far indicate that transparency of method is one way to create it. As I put it to my players: "Spikes like clear rules." Others suggested trust was another method. As such, they're certainly not synonyms. I then offered the olive branch of transparency of method being a way to build trust. But, trust in the other participants, I can take or leave. Trust in the gloracle? Now that's sacred.
  • It's the method that there's transparency about and accountability for. Not the content. For example:
    Hit points being tracked by face down cards that can be unknown to some participants, known to others, and revealed when salient, that can be an accountable way of creating damage uncertainty, one that I would strongly approve of. Sealed notes another.

    And when it comes to the method, the more I can put out there, the better.

    This is all, to use an outdated colonial phrase but I can't find better words, this is all cargo cult and I'm just saying that I've brought down some pretty damn big plane with this "insight". We've had very engaging play and choices with serious consequences.
  • edited June 2016
    It probably depends a great deal on where you're coming from, as well. Just look at what formalized and transparent mechanics did for people into the Forge scene! Similarly, if you're coming from a background of railroading/Illusionism/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, just rolling the dice in the open could transform your game very dramatically.

    That can make every decision at the table more consequential and give it more weight.

    If your games run more like an improv exercise, however, that won't make a great deal of sense to you, perhaps.

    AnonAdderlan, your comments about mechanics versus procedures went entirely over my head (is a GM who makes secret Perception checks for characters noticing things, or Morale checks for monsters, engaging in one or the other?), but I suspect that it's safe to move on. :)
  • Others suggested trust was another method. As such, they're certainly not synonyms.
    A good point. One that needs to be explored more.
  • I don't want to get into semantics. I was taking a broader view of "mechanics".
    But this discussion isn't even possible without doing so.

    We should really be approaching more precise language as things move forward, we learn more about the subject, and additional complexity is revealed. What I've found however is most of the time definitions actually get broader in discussions like this and people start arguing about what those words really mean.

    Hasn't happened here yet, and I don't suspect it will, but keep an eye out for it on other fora.
    I am using transparency to create accountability;
    It's the method that there's transparency about and accountability for.
    Now this I can get on board with, and I think accountability rather than transparency is what leads to stronger emotional engagement.
    I don't want to criticize UA when Greg's not here.
    While considerate, why should he care as long as that criticism is honest, rational, and respectful? I'd hate to think that as a game designer people will not discuss my game unless I'm participating.
    Suffice it to say that I've played in games where hitpoints were known to the DM but not to the players and decremented/incremented in an unaccountable way and my experiences with that particular aspect of the game was awful.
    Were these games specifically designed with hidden HP in mind, or was it a houserule added by the GM?

    See, in UA attempting to inflict mortal harm on another human being is a big fucking deal. It's the kind of thing you only try when the stakes are so important that the odds don't matter. It's a game where every human life has value which can't be reduced to a set of numbers, so it doesn't. And the lack of transparency puts you in the same mindset as a man covered in (what they're pretty sure is) their own blood and unsure of whether they're going to die from that tiny little hole that won't stop bleeding. If HP and Damage were transparent you'd never achieve this.

    On the other hand a character's mental state is not just transparent, but explicit and central (especially in 3rd ed) to gameplay. You know how close you are to being a sociopath. You know how that shift in mental state made you more or less able to do a certain thing. You know how far you character is from just not being able to deal with it anymore.

    Most RPGs do exactly the opposite however, making HP explicit and mental states implicit. So you know how close you are to death. You know how much damage you did to that monster. You know when you can safely engage in combat. And so attempting to inflict mortal harm on another becomes a frequent and casual activity in play.
    Emotional engagement is one of my goals of play. My experiments so far indicate that transparency of method is one way to create it.
    But obfuscation of method is another, which is kinda the bugbear in all of this.
    AnonAdderlan, your comments about mechanics versus procedures went entirely over my head (is a GM who makes secret Perception checks for characters noticing things, or Morale checks for monsters, engaging in one or the other?)
    Game mechanics are a kind of procedure, but rolling things like secret perception checks are a procedure I do not consider to be a game mechanic, as it doesn't facilitate play between participants nor create/require/enable engagement from the players. On the other hand, I know GMs who audibly roll 'secret' perception checks behind a screen just to make their players nervous, which creates engagement but still isn't a game mechanic because it doesn't modify the actual choices or abilities the player has at their disposal.

    Coincidentally it's also another example of how obfuscation of method can create emotional engagement.
  • edited June 2016
    Hasn't happened here yet, and I don't suspect it will, but keep an eye out for it on other fora.
    OK. For now, "mechanics" has many meanings and I was specifically using a meaning that included prodecures.

    I have a life vow that says "Never again argue semantics" and I won't. That life vow typically has me switching over to the other person's definitions, and then if I originally wanted to talk about something else, I'll make up a new word or phrase and give the definition I really meant. In this case, though, I don't think it's unreasonable to use my original definition.

    I was specifically listing examples of mechanics that included using description rather than dice rolls to search a desk or talk to a guard. Because for the purposes of this discussion, those are examples of process and procedures that can be codified.
    It's the method that there's transparency about and accountability for.
    Now this I can get on board with, and I think accountability rather than transparency is what leads to stronger emotional engagement.
    I think knowedge about and trust in the method in play (as opposed to trust in a particular participant), that's a very strong source of emotional engagement. In my experience, people get more engaged when know what game they are playing and that that game works (including any nomic properties of the game).
    Were these games specifically designed with hidden HP in mind, or was it a houserule added by the GM?
    All GMs are game designers in some sense. I've played with the technique in various games including UA (which was designed for it), CoC (which has similar qualities to UA), and DoD which as different design goals than UA/CoC but a similar mechanical engine, and D&D in which it was a complete and utter clusterfail. The experiences are different for each game, yes. But they have similarities too in that it's a big old shenanigan enabler.
    See, in UA attempting to inflict mortal harm on another human being is [...] were transparent you'd never achieve this.
    I'm not a child. I know UA well.

    You snipped out my little aside about using face down cards or similar mechanics for HP, but I hope you did read it, because that wasn't meant as "Sandra UA house rule hour" but as a point to state this:

    I'm specifically not adamant about transparency of content. Current HP state is content. So, the transparency or opacity of current amount of HP is 100% orthogonal to what I'm saying.

    I'm about transparency of method. The facts that
    • HP is decremented (by zero or more) when someone risks their life
    • The delta is determined by the system rather than any one participant's whim
    • The sum having certain states have certain consequences

    That's method.

    The state where
    • The delta, source of that delta, reason for that delta, and the sum is tracked in an verifiable method
    • The costs and consequences of having certain sums is known to all participants, even when the sum itself isn't known to all participants

    That's transparency of that method.

    Now, I'm aware that with our current design tools and commonly known mechanics, sometimes transparency of method can clash with having mechanics become invisible, or transparency of method can be time consuming, labor intensive and just not feeling "worth it". It's a constant tradeoff and balancing act, we can't neglect the other values we work with in play, such as expedient and easy processes etc.
    You know how much damage you did to that monster.
    When looking at for example Pathfinder as it's commonly played, this is not the case.
    And so attempting to inflict mortal harm on another becomes a frequent and casual activity in play.
    I hardly think of it as a casual activity. Transparency of method has led to "Oh shit, orcs!! Can we run? Where can we go!" happen way more often than it did when I was GMing using opaque methods.

    However, it's an activity that is explicitly engaged in, that's right. Just as your current mental state is something that is explicitly in play in UA. UA uses transparency of method for that part of the game and that's a part of the game that's well-loved by many -- I have to tread carefully here since mental health is a touchy subject for me.
    But obfuscation of method is another, which is kinda the bugbear in all of this.
    Just to be absolutely sure before I move on; are you talking about opacity of content (such as HP values) rather than opacity of method?

    I've experimented so much, as a DM and as a player, with opacity of method with disastrous results.
    My results with opacity of content on the other hand have been pretty good.
    Game mechanics are a kind of procedure, but rolling things like secret perception checks are a procedure I do not consider to be a game mechanic, as it doesn't facilitate play between participants nor create/require/enable engagement from the players.
    For the purposes of this discussion, it is mechanics, and it is method, and you're singling out a subset of it as "mechanics".

    Now, would I think having a word for that subset would be good? Certainly.
    Would I accept giving up my definition of mechanics, giving you the word mechanics to apply to your subset, and coming up with another word (you've suggested "procedures") to apply to my hypernym? Very reluctantly but according to my life vow, I'd have to at least consider it.

    But please consider this analogy.
    A: "Oooh I love apples, they are great in fruit salad."
    B: "Hmm, really? I always thought oranges were best in fruit salad."
    A: "I like one orange and then a whole bunch of apples."
    B: "Yuck, no, that sounds weird to eat, too crispy"
    C: "Actually, you're both wrong, because only pomegranates are actually the real apples, and they're not pomaceous fruits, they're from a completly different genus, and their seeds are sweet and not crispy so they work well in a fruit salad. We need to use precise language. And so you're wrong, B."

    I just realized how snarky this whole section looks, especially that analogy. See, this is what happens when I get into semantics. And I also realize that pomegranates and apples don't have a hyponymy relationship, while mechanics-your-definition is a subset of mechanics-my-definition.

    But B in the apple story was talking about crispy apples, and I am talking about procedures and methods that do include things like perception checks, encounter tables etc.

    That I called them "mechanics", something you have another definition for, doesn't mean that I only want to talk about things that players directly engage with. I want to talk about things that any participant around the table engages with, including the GM.
    Coincidentally it's also another example of how obfuscation of method can create emotional engagement.
    My experience so far over the last decades has been that it very much can create a strong emotional response but it erodes emotional engagement. But anecdotes, data...

  • edited June 2016
    In the card game Netrunner, it's not just the runner participant that uses what I call "mechanics" while engaging with the corp's ice, servers and data. Both the runner and the corp participants are using mechanics to acquire and install programs, hardware, relationships and credits, even when the players aren't directly engaging with each other.

    The corp participant places her cards face down. Opaque content, transparent method.
    I call this "mechanics" even though the runner cannot interact with those cards in any way shape or form during the corp's turn.

    Similarly, if in Go, I place a stone far away from the action, I would still call that "mechanics" just as much as playing in a contact fight is mechanics. That stone will have consequences later on.

    (This post has been edited from arguing for the definition I'm using, to instead clarify the definition I'm using. I couldn't live with the blatant life-vow-breakage I was committing. Weirdly, I've studied both game design and semantics formally so I could bring a lot to bear if such an argument would continue. But life's too short, so I won't try to change your mind about your preferred nomenclature.)
  • I come across so badly in these last few posts :(
    I'm tired
  • (A few hours later):
    TBH, I also see the use in having more precise language. I use "mechanics" inconsistently (not in this thread, but across threads).
  • Sandra is right in her own way, we have seen in the past that there are many different functional ways of playing and on top of that many different ways of making the game work when everything else fails. She has researched and found an amazing set of tools to make the game work even in the absence of (a certain dergree of) trust and still have fun. It's certainly no easy feat, so I really respect that.

    For the rest of us, we are so used to having GM/player trust as a main component on the table that it's easy for us to misinterpretate the intent of those tools.
  • Thanks, WM, that seems to make sense in my ears. We just played a session today and scheduled another one tomorrow. Midsummer eve D&D. We're hooked on the game
  • Now Opacity of Method vs Opacity of Content is a difference I can sink my teeth into, and perhaps a distinction I initially missed in the way it was presented. My bad.

    I also think a deeper discussion on how transparent methods compromise the right to dream would be awesome, but perhaps this isn't the best thread for that.
    I have a life vow that says "Never again argue semantics" and I won't.
    There's arguing semantics, and then there's reaching consensus about what words mean. One's political and yeah, I don't do that either. The other is rather important here because I suspect what you're talking about is being obscured by the words you're choosing, at least for me.
    I think knowedge about and trust in the method in play (as opposed to trust in a particular participant), that's a very strong source of emotional engagement. In my experience, people get more engaged when know what game they are playing and that that game works (including any nomic properties of the game).
    I don't think it creates emotional engagement so much as it allows for it. Nobody can engage in (what they at least believe to be) a completely unpredictable environment, but a predictable environment is not itself emotionally engaging.
    Were these games specifically designed with hidden HP in mind, or was it a houserule added by the GM?
    I've played with the technique in various games including UA (which was designed for it), CoC (which has similar qualities to UA), and DoD which as different design goals than UA/CoC but a similar mechanical engine, and D&D in which it was a complete and utter clusterfail. The experiences are different for each game, yes.
    And that's because in D&D explicit HP knowledge is a vital communications channel and source of tension. You can't just rip it out and expect the game to work.
    You know how much damage you did to that monster.
    When looking at for example Pathfinder as it's commonly played, this is not the case.
    So damage rolls aren't made openly?
    And so attempting to inflict mortal harm on another becomes a frequent and casual activity in play.
    I hardly think of it as a casual activity. Transparency of method has led to "Oh shit, orcs!! Can we run? Where can we go!" happen way more often than it did when I was GMing using opaque methods.
    Not surprising that in such games avoiding mortal harm would become a frequent and casual activity too :P
    Would I accept giving up my definition of mechanics, giving you the word mechanics to apply to your subset, and coming up with another word (you've suggested "procedures") to apply to my hypernym?
    First, 'mechanics' and 'procedures' are the same thing when it comes to RPGs. Second, I was already using a subset when I identified game mechanics as something which facilitates play between participants.
    I want to talk about things that any participant around the table engages with, including the GM.
    I also think 'engage' is too broad a term to effectively address anything. I define it as dual parts interest and interaction, but I'm not sure that properly aligns with how you're using it in this discussion.
    My experience so far over the last decades has been that it very much can create a strong emotional response but it erodes emotional engagement.
    I think I get what you're trying to say, but I also think neither of these two words clearly conveys it. Exactly what criteria are you using to differentiate them?

    I'm also curious as to your opinion on this example from the new 7th Sea.
    But life's too short, so I won't try to change your mind about your preferred nomenclature.
    I don't have a preferred nomenclature.

    I may have preferred notation when it comes to things like mathematics, but I have no particular loyalty to the words and symbols people use to identify concepts. Honestly adopting specific words as important in themselves is one of the more confusing and destructive things I've seen humans do.
  • First of all, great post!
    Will respond more soon

    It's very very common in the D&D & PF world to hide monster HP. Yes, I know!
    I don't do it. It was hard for my veteran players at first when they started playing with me as their DM, they were NOT used to having it be openly known.

    Emotional response: short term impulse of emotion
    Emotional engagement: really getting invested in some outcome

    Agree with you about semantics and precision, let's hash this out
    Rushing b/c game night soon,
    Will reply more carefully later
  • The subset thing:
    We might be talking about different subset
    I'm talking about things like
    "The amount of monsters in a room is determined by the module" etc
  • As far as the Porte journey goes, I don't like playing in games like that. Some of those sorts of techniques (the ambiguous hand, the mom's voice) we've experimented with plenty, both as player and GM. The whole fake raise spend, that's beyond the pale for me.
  • A clear example of opaque method. Another example was in a Swan Song episode where there was a risky space walk. Die rolls but the stakes where not clear. I'm extra allergic against stuff like that, would've spotted it immediately.
    Now, she was new to RPGs
    With new players you always get interesting things going on
  • FTR I always return to the "magic mirror" story as completely flipping all of my RPG opinions 180° in one session. But. Our DM in that game did not practice transparency of method. We had only his word that the mirror worked the way it did. I finally today bought the module just to read that room. And our DM had been honest all along. Phew!!!
    Could've been a life shattering revelation right then and there :D
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