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Notes toward future posts 
27th-Feb-2008 05:20 pm
chiang 2
I've gotten a little encouragement to post more often, not sure I'll actually do so but I do have a couple of "meaty" topics in my head that I'd like to post about either here or on a forum. So these are just notes toward more expansive treatments.

1. Exogenous vs. endogenous fun in mechanics

Noting that what everyone nowadays sees as the "core" of D&D's mechanics, i.e., the hit tables and hit dice, was originally just something slotted in to replace Chainmail. And Chainmail was also just grabbed off the shelf by Arneson to fill a fairly small role in his Blackmoor game--the point of impact in combat. The full game (including OD&D) was actually one of exploration, puzzle solving, characterization, spells, mysteries, etc. blah blah blah. The combat rules by themselves were really pretty pathetic, not a very fun game, but they filled a necessary role and yielded output that enriched the game as a whole. This is exogenous fun.

Compare the combat mechanics in The Fantasy Trip, or (very likely) D&D 3.x and up: here the combat rules are inherently fun, a minigame. In fact TFT started as a couple of arena combat games. In games that swing this way, the module/campaign is in a way an adjunct to the central mechanic--it provides an excuse or framing mechanism for generating scenarios or skirmishes or what-have-you, and enhances it by adding some stakes to the outcomes. This is endogenous fun.

It may be worth constructing a third category, essentially encompassing the pure stakes+narration-trading style of many new games, where the core mechanic is neither inherently fun nor particularly "productive"--it doesn't by itself generate stuff to play around with, instead it just arbitrates between options proposed by the players. Personally I don't care for this style but it seems to exist, apparently has its fans, and I believe it's worth distinguishing from the other two. But perhaps you can see that I'm struggling to describe exactly how, and what it does.

2. Getting beyond System Doesn't Matter and System Does Matter

Really, the whole thing is silly, these are presented by the naive in maximalist fashion, and it's a mistake to take them seriously. What should be done is to examine a little more how system matters; this is related to point 1 above, and is nicely shown up by arguments over what people are concerned about with D&D 4e. There are issues both of formal mechanics, dress (i.e., hype), and informal guidelines. There's also a historical dimension here as it seems with many games there's been a natural progression from system mastery to transcending system--and I wonder why that can't happen with 4e.

3. Finally, why houseruling isn't the same as creating a new game--the point I made which generated the abovementioned encouragement. This is really a return to Chris Lehrich's talk about bricolage but it may need to be said again in a new way with different emphases.
Comments 
28th-Feb-2008 04:05 am (UTC)
Well I sure as hell encourage you to post more.

In your schema, is chargen in Classic Traveller endogenous fun? I'm thinking yes, but I want to be sure.

Am trying to slot DITV into the scheme too. It's NOT a narration-rights contest in the way that, say, PTA is. And I tend to think the narration-contest games are still either exogenous or endogenous. DITV strikes me as mostly endogenous: there are some tactical and strategic wrinkles to the conflict-resolution system that are interesting in their own right. e.g. the conflict someone starts purely so they can give and get a cut-your-losses die - this gets even trickier when both sides want to give on the same conflict for that reason. OTOH, managing the minigames well is not what Dogs is about. Capes strikes me as an endogenous game, for people that enjoy it. (I don't, so I don't play Capes.)
28th-Feb-2008 04:56 am (UTC)
I think that's a good idea, to post up notes for feedback before you develop the ideas more fully. The appetisers I'm getting make me want the whole meal.

I'm not sure I'm getting this exogenous/endogenous distinction. My impression is you mean something like a main meal vs a side dish, or the whole point vs an afterthought or colour.

I don't think the distinction is that clear in reality. Considering your example of Arneson slipping in Chainmail's rules, he later replaced them with Ironclad rules. That's because "both of you roll, whoever loses dies, the other guy wins" was fine for wargames but not very satisfying for one player with one character. By adding in hit point and AC, you actually got the same end effect, just with more dice rolls - but it didn't feel the same. The difference was that "you swing, he dies" doesn't tell us much, but "you swing, you do a heavy hit, he swings, he misses" etc - well, that's a little story. It makes the hack more thespy.

So the combat rules which seem like an afterthought turn out to be quite central to the game in play, or central to giving the atmosphere everyone wants.
28th-Feb-2008 07:09 am (UTC)
All of the subjects sound very interesting. A few comments:

1. Whenever considering a dichotomy, consider that it might be a continuum instead.

3. I don't see a clear division between houseruling and game-building. Most designed games have clearly inherited a lot from a handful of older ones, for example.


If you do post about these subjects on a forum, please post a link on the LJ. Feeds are harder to miss than forum posts.

-Tommi
28th-Feb-2008 11:25 am (UTC)
I enjoy your posts. If you read my post as a friend (you are on my friend's list) you'll see my RPG-theory posts. You might enjoy those as well (although they tend to run lengthy).

-Marco
28th-Feb-2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
Regarding Kyle's comments:
In general, you have more than one fellow to work with in a wargame. That affects the sorts of rules you'll want to use. Not disagreeing, just clarifying.

I am, however, really interested in hearing more about your thoughts about a core mini-game and hwo it relates to the greater on-going events, since that's of particular interest to me. For example, is there some way to tie those two together differently in some fashion?
17th-Mar-2008 06:07 pm (UTC) - What more to say?
I don´t know, Elliot.
I´d love to see more entries here, but I think I got what you are getting at:

You are right.

Except for number 3, which I totally do not understand. All games are houserule-derivatives. And I mean ALL games.


17th-Mar-2008 07:27 pm (UTC) - Re: What more to say?
Well it should probably be a topic for another entry but webforum discussion, actual gaming, and actual life are distracting me.

Briefly, and leaving aside "all games", RPGs in particular have a tradition of houseruling. These can be additions to rules, interpretations, corrections, etc., but the basic point is that RPG rules form a sort of chassis or kernel around which the group crystallizes their sense of "what roleplaying is", and then they customize from there regardless of whether or not the exact text is complete, internally consistent, etc.

I would quote from this entry by Chris Lehrich but it's too long for quick comments, right now. The point that Chris is getting at, though, is that if you write down the quote unquote "actual" rules of an RPG as played, what you get isn't a prescription for successful play so much as an artifact of an ongoing process.

Or another way of looking at it is through a metaphor where we see the social context of gaming as the soil, a set of rules as a plant. The plant grows and conforms to the soil, which may have various consistencies and layers, or things like rocks that get in the way of roots. But at the same time the plant alters the soil, pushing it out of the way as the roots grow, sometimes even wedging into rocks and splitting them. The process of playing and houseruling the game is like the growth of the plant.

Now, what is proposed by a major faction at the Forge, is that you can take a fully-grown plant, whose roots are in a certain exact configuration, and transplant it effortlessly into a new terrain. I.e., you can take the textual artifact of a very specialized set of habitudes, practices, ethoi, and claim that this will suffice for inducing the same type of gaming in other contexts. In other words, there's a belief that you can short-circuit the process of socialization not only between members of a game group but between game and group.

I think this is a mistake, to the extent anyone pushes it as a generally applicable principle. And I think it explains why it is that many Forge games fall flat. They can work, but only in contexts (soil) which is suitable, highly specialized, and difficult to reproduce reliably by reading a book.
17th-Mar-2008 08:05 pm (UTC)
I´m not sure I´m reading you correctly, but that´s old news, no?

"The" Forge is also dead, and nobody took their stuff. Their complete failure in understanding RPGs is legendary, too. They had to invent their own new hobby, to make their ideas applicable.

Fair enough.

But that´s all old news.

I´m confused at what you are getting at. I´ll wait for the long article.


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