If you're hankering for a return to the Forge Theory forums, have I got a couple of threads for you. (No, I don't mean that in a good way.)Explain to me how Bangs are not warmed-over IllusionismWhat is a "reward mechanism"? And why have it?
The Forge Glossary: if a definition isn't self-contradictory, at least make it elliptical. If not elliptical, at least make it misleading. If not misleading, at least make it vague. If not vague, at least choose the word itself to have distracting connotations.
E.g. the definitions of Illusionism, Force, and Bangs. Turns out they all depend on the concept of Premise. Which in turn means that they're all relative to the subjective perceptions of the player.
Illusionism is hidden Force. Force is only Force if it impedes address of Premise. Bangs are only Bangs if they provide an opportunity for address of Premise. Premise is, well, something that the player really cares about.
So my character's a gangster and he gets an order to blow up a corrupt politician's car. He rigs everything up, only to see that on this day, unexpectedly, the politician is driving his 7-year-old daughter to school. "Bang", right? What if the character doesn't push the button on that occasion, only to see that the politician is now driving the kid to school every day
What do you mean it's Force? The player's completely free to blow up the car or not. Of course if he doesn't, he's in big trouble with his boss. If he does, he's a child-killer.
The Forge does have a term for this, actually: Typhoid Mary. But there's no way to distinguish the Typhoid Mary from the "functional" Narrativist drive-with-Bangs GM, except by asking the players how they feel about the "bangs" they're being hit with.
The real problem is that the Glossary is filled with terms that only make sense in a "Narrativist" context, and furthermore only in a "high-impact" context of consensually zeroing-in on conflicts. For example, there is no word, in the glossary, for the general class of techniques in which the GM manipulates (the appearance of) cause-and-effect in order to bring about certain events, regardless of prior actions by the PCs. Even the term "Black Curtain" is dependent on "Force", and therefore tied up with "Premise".
John Kim had a hack at categorizing things a bit differently, most recently in his RPG Design Innovations, Part 2
. Note that his definition of Illusionism is quite a bit different from the Forge's. However, since it implies GM-controlled pacing in terms of pre-planned encounters, it isn't as general as the concept I'm trying to pin down. The real problem with the latter is that, except for outright cheating when rolling dice, quite a few people are simply unable or unwilling to perceive a difference between "manipulation" and "GMing".
For those who do, it's possible to get closer to a generalized concept. For example, if the GM were to prepare a map before play, showing the locations of various monsters, it would be manipulation if the GM deviated from the map for any reason (typically, to either ramp up tension or maintain balance vis à vis the party). The reason is that deviation from the map negates the significance, in terms of cause-and-effect, of player decisions. The map is no longer an external object, with a reality independent of the PC-observer. Instead it reacts to the observer in an unreal fashion.
However, for any campaign, and even for most scenarios outside the basic "location crawl", it's rarely possible to keep track of all events and NPC's, running them "like clockwork", as it were. (I suppose the closest approach, in John's schema, would be a hybrid of location crawl, relationship mapping, timetabling and/or randomized events.) Some degree of improvisation is generally needed. So how does one distinguish "manipulative" improv? Is there a "non-manipulative" improv?
Well, I think there is, but in so saying I don't want to be misunderstood as implying that the "non-manipulative" is always desirable or even possible. Rather I'm saying that the cognitive distinction between "what should happen" and "what could happen" is a real one, as far as anything qualified by the term "cognitive" can be called "real". That is, the GM who improvises things into existence based on a perception of baseline plausibility is operating in a different mode from the GM who improvises based on various other goals--particularly goals which, as with the "morphing dungeoncrawl" described above, are prioritized over the importance of player-character decisions.
However this doesn't mean "non-manipulative" (or "neutral"
) GMing will always give the PCs a significant chance to sway events. Rather, it implies that, in response to the PC actions, events will not be revised or influenced in ways that aren't connected to those actions by a plausible chain of causation.
E.g., I am a private citizen, an industrial laborer, in a large nation teetering on the brink of war with a foreign power. Given my circumstances, would it be manipulative GMing to say that I'm going to have virtually no effect on whether war breaks out? No, not without some extraordinary actions on my part, combined with an astronomical degree of luck. On the other hand, if there is a war, and I try to avoid or resist the draft, we're in much trickier territory. By historical standards, avoiding military service is a plausible goal. A GM who precludes this possibility is either:
1. working from a different set of assumptions, or
2. "manipulating" outcomes
The upshot is that, cognitively, "neutral" GMing functions differently from the "manipulative" variety (perhaps "motivated" is better). A neutral GMing decision may entertain arguments about plausibility and the probabilistic modeling of causation. The motivated GMing decision will not concern itself with such issues beyond the baseline question of possibility
: if X can conceivably happen, then it is acceptable for it to happen in service of some further GM motivation.
At this point both the terms Illusionism and Force can be repurposed for general use. "Illusionism" is motivated GMing which is hidden from the players. "Force" is motivated GMing in plain view. I won't kid myself about the likelihood of these redefinitions being accepted in the general theory community, though. Therefore I propose simply saying "motivated GMing" and subclassifying it as either "hidden" or "overt". On the other hand we have "neutral GMing".
How can this be used? Look at "Bangs". They are always "motivated" because they aren't in the least concerned with "what should happen" or "modeling"--rather, they're things that could
happen, which are chosen by the GM on the basis of engaging the player's Kicker. So how do "Bangs" differ from "Railroading"? Railroading is also motivated GMing: the difference lies in the interaction between player interest and GM motive. (In Railroading, there is none.) That is, the difference isn't mechanical and has nothing to do with the internal causation of the game-world. It exists on the social level.
In fact, by focusing on the social level, my definition of Railroading is fairly close to the Forge Glossary ("Force" and "Railroading"), although there are still some important differences of detail.