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RPG theory/design/philosophy journal
chiang 2
Sorry, this is just a note, that may be expanded some time in the future.

1. Some excellent discussion between Cole and Géza Echs buried here: http://www.therpgsite.com/showthread.php?t=20020 They talk about whether the action of an RPG session can be compared to a camping trip, or a narrative about a camping trip.

2. Excellent post by Drolyt, which explains something I touched on in the above thread, only much more clearly than I did: http://www.tgdmb.com/viewtopic.php?p=335116 He talks about cops & robbers vs. chess vs. D&D.

3. It all goes back to ritual as discussed by Chris Lehrich.

See also Magic Circle.

The hard issues here are, first, the alleged distinction between "imaginary events" and "narrative." See also: speech-act. Arguably ritual/roleplay is an area where speech acts are vastly expanded, and they act on complex constellations of concepts.

Second: the alleged identification of player with character.
chiang 2
Here's one idea I first came across in discussions about Theatrix, which was also highlighted by some old Forgie-story-gamer discussion. It dovetails with something I think of as "GM humility" or maybe "Bayesian refereeing."

You have your Olympic-class marksman, a master sniper, about to take the shot from a rooftop at a target. There's absolutely no way he can miss. Or is there?

We're not talking about a stressful situation, which is commonly offered up as the criterion for whether or not to call for a dice roll, or for why you might have a "botch" rule (e.g., 00 on %ile dice is always a failure).

No: fundamentally, nothing in life is ever certain. (The sophist in me wants to say, "It's certain that I won't grow wings and fly into the sky." Maybe nothing positive is ever certain.) Back to the sniper. Could a pigeon crap on him just as he's pulling the trigger? Could the target move unexpectedly, say by bending down to pick up something dropped? Could he be spotted? Could someone know about his plans in advance and catch him before he pulls the trigger? Could the target be a decoy?

Some of these explanations may fall outside the range of possibilities that a game would want to consider, but others should be considered, I think. Particularly when you have characters who are defined as having a certain level of mastery.

Conceptually, when I ask whether someone accomplishes X, there are two sets of factors to consider: internal causes, and external causes. At some point in the continuum of mechanical ratings and resolutions, as a character goes from rank incompetence to absolute mastery, the relative importance of those two sets of causes evens out and then becomes reversed, even as the likelihood of success approaches the maximum. (There's always a maximum below 100%, even if it's so close to 100% as not to be worth modeling. In practice, RPGs may benefit from exaggerating the effect of external events and capping success chances at 99%, 215 in 216, whatever.) A beginner using a smoothbore musket, aiming at a target 150 m away, may have a 1% chance of hitting--mostly due to lack of skill. But an expert might still miss 10% of the time because, even in a pigeon-free environment, non-rifled muskets have a fairly high dispersion--shoot twice with precisely the same aim, and you'll rarely hit the same spot.

The problem is to determine when a failure happens because the character wasn't up to it, and when it happens because of something extrinsic. This can be important because the extrinsic event may have interesting consequences, or at least the image of the character and the integrity of the fiction will be maintained instead of looking ridiculous. Bond doesn't fail to catch the hit-man because he trips over his own feet--it's because a truck suddenly enters the intersection, blocking him.

Some games aim in this direction. West End Star Wars 2e had something called the Wild Die that seems to have been along these lines. Mythic RPG has "interrupts"--basically any die roll can trigger a random event. In either of these games I suppose you could interpret a regular failure as being the character's fault, but special failures are extrinsic. But I don't think this idea has ever been made fully explicit.

(BTW, what would be a good tag for this sort of discussion? Mechanical interpretation, mechanical semantics, mechanical hermeneutics, mechanical semiotics?)

Then there's the question of interpreting success, too. And for both successes and failures, certain mechanics could be limited to extrinsic or intrinsic causes--e.g., spending a "luck point" might let you turn a failure into a success explained by "extra effort", but spending a point to turn a success into a failure would have to be explained by an extrinsic cause.
chiang 2
A recent thread on rpg.net has some excellent posts by 105349 and StrollofTurtle, but cmdicely offers a profound insight in post #615
Most of what is complained about as "dissociated mechanics" -- including the primary example, the "One Handed Catch" ability, given in the Alexandrian article -- are not examples of dissociated mechanics, they are examples of either failed abstractions, which is a subjective category. The effect of dissociated mechanics and failed abstractions for in-character immersion are largely similar, but the source of the problem is subtly different. For dissociated mechanics it is because the mechanics are simply disconnected-by-nature from in-character concerns, for failed abstractions it is that the mechanic abstracts an in-character concern, but does so in a way that doesn't click with the individual player.

There's another similar-but-subtly-different potential problem area, with equivocal abstractions, which are basically abstractions which fail on the group level rather than the individual level, because they aren't necessarily failed abstractions for any individual player, but the understanding of what they are modelling differs between different people at the table, interfering with the ability to have a shared story of what is going on in fictional terms based on the mechanics.

I think by these criteria, D&D hitpoints are often failed abstractions (for people who don't care for them, especially) and equivocal abstractions across the hobby at large, if not within particular gaming groups.

It might be worth examining how groups resolve the ambiguity of equivocal abstractions, in the course of play.
24th-Dec-2011 05:45 pm - More on immersion confusion
chiang 2
Two articles have recently come to my attention:

The Play of Simulation (excerpt from Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals). This article is the ultimate source for "the immersive fallacy", a term that's started to pop up in some RPG discussions.

Immersion and Presence (presentation from a computer game theory class at IT University of Copenhagen).

The latter is a critique of the former, and it gets into the difficulties that arise from equivocation in the use of the term "immersion"--a topic I've touched on in an earlier entry.
chiang 2
I was thinking today that for people like me, who don't have a regular gaming group, published games and published settings have an important role as proxies for a style of play and overall ethos. I've said it before, mainly as a critique of the idea that designs (esp. design narrowly construed as "mechanics") play a particularly strong role in getting people to play in a certain way. Instead, I've suggested that the success of many Forge games has owed a great deal to the fact that the people who buy and play them are self-selected not only to like the games themselves, but also to want to game in a certain way. So the games are like the handkerchief code that (allegedly?) exists in some gay subcultures--"arbitrary signs", to borrow a term from linguistics & semiotics, whose meaning, or coordinating function, is unrelated to inherent qualities of the signs (games) themselves.

Frankly, I think it's possible to overplay this argument, just as it would be rather silly to claim that the use of the image of a human skull as a symbol of death is utterly arbitrary. But in everyday terms, I think that games and settings have reputations and practices associated with them. You don't have to play Game X differently from Game Y, but if you're invited to play a game and you've never gamed with the people involved, the choice of rules and setting are going to condition your expectations. I even think the expectations of different games will be positively correlated across the population. And it doesn't matter if this more a matter of "pure reputation" or if it's actually connected to the mechanics.

When it comes to settings, I think the connection to expectations is at least as strong. Announce a campaign set in Hârn and people will generally expect a fairly naturalistic kind of low fantasy. Set a campaign in Mystara, Greyhawk, or Forgotten Realms, and I think people will expect a more high fantasy game, and they'll be more in tune with a kitchen sink style, up to and including things like extraplanar adventures.

The upshot of all this is that if you're casting a wide net looking for players among existing RPGers, a known setting could be a good way of attracting people with common interests. But if you really want to GM your homebrew setting, and it's out of the mainstream and a little idiosyncratic, then maybe publishing it is a good way of advertising it. The world may not need your POD or PDF, but you need players, right?

So now I've ordered my priorities. There are already a number of published settings I'd be glad to GM. Some off the top of my head: Talislanta, Chronicles of Future Earth, the medieval Baltic as portrayed in Crusaders of the Amber Coast, Jorune. Still, there's a homebrew I've had in mind for a long time, and getting it out there could have utility beyond pure vanity.

At least, these are the thoughts motivated me to look into ways to organize and present a setting, both as an end product and as a process.

I've noticed that a lot of people use wikis to manage their campaigns, so to start with I've found some free wiki services. These are general-purpose wikis that are also popular with RPGers:


Next come wikis, or wiki-like sites, that are expressly provided for RPGs:


Then a general-purpose service that lets you create websites:


A couple pieces of software that use a wiki-like structures for local organization of information (but not, apparently, for publishing)


Websites devoted to online roleplaying, which include tools for displaying campaign information:


And finally, a thread and an article related to this topic, from which I gathered much of the information above:


Feedback on any of these tools would be welcome. (We'll see if anything comes of it for me, personally.)
8th-Jun-2011 12:11 pm - Drama Fortune Karma Resolution
chiang 2
Just jotting down a quick thought before I lose it.

The Forge definition is faulty and/or useful only in a specific play paradigm, i.e., shared improv and issues of power over the narrative.

For my purposes, it's much more useful to look at resolution systems thus:

1. Does the player have any doubt as to what will happen? That is, is there risk from the player's perspective?

2. If so, then is the thing-in-doubt resolved by mechanics, or by GM judgment? (There may be some fuzzy areas that include both, but let's consider them as separate ingredients.)

3. If mechanics, we can subdivide as we like. The most important categories, I think, are:

a) Stochastic--a straight diceroll or cardflip for example. Rock Scissors Paper is basically indistinguishable.

b) Deterministic with hidden information. I have Strength 10 and I decide to try to hold the door shut against the creature on the other side. I don't know how strong the creature is, but this has been determined in advance. If its Strength is greater than mine, it will force the door open, otherwise not.

c) Competitive resource expenditure with hidden information. This is basically a form of sealed bid auction. Card play in Castle Falkenstein has some of this characteristic, but I don't have the game anymore to say for sure. And I don't think it actually looked like it would work very well.

d) Mixed or subgame. While any series of resolutions could be seen as a subgame (e.g., a melee in D&D), this category applies most clearly to cases where the subgame steps leading to final resolution are strongly formalized; at the extreme, this would take us to the point of being impossible to interpret as "representing" something in the fiction. E.g., Dogs in the Vineyard, extended conflicts in Burning Wheel, The Shadow of Yesterday, Hero Wars, Heroquest 1e.

For each of a-c it may be helpful to show what they look like WITHOUT risk.

a) This is where the PC simply does something and there's no question whether it can be done.

b) This is where the PC might or might not be able to do something, but is informed somehow before trying it that yes, it can be done, or no, it can't. E.g., the player knows the strength of the creature on the other side of the door. Or the player is informed beforehand by the GM that a knife held to his character's throat will absolutely kill him if he struggles.

c) The player is told that holding the door shut will work if and only if he spends a token.

For (d), obviously we'd be talking about some combination of a-c, but in practice I suspect it would either be so trivial as to default to one of them, or so complex that it would resemble Go, Chess, or Checkers. In the latter case, doubt would be reintroduced by the fact that none of these games has been "solved".
3rd-Apr-2011 03:36 pm - computer-aided wargaming, notes
chiang 2
Recently I've had a couple offers to do some wargaming over the net. This led to a quick bit of research on what's out there to assist. Here's what I've found so far:

VASSAL: cross-platform (at least Mac & Windows). VASL is a specialized version for ASL. Free.
Cyberboard: Windows only. Free. Popular.
Aide de Camp: Windows only. Pay only.
ZunTsu: Windows only. Free.
ACTS: Focuses on card-driven games like Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage and We the People. Also supports Republic of Rome, which although it uses cards, isn't really in the same "family". Web based, so it seems to be completely platform independent.

By the way, there are also RPG equivalents. The main ones of which I'm aware are Obsidian Portal and RPoL.
chiang 2
If you go back through this livejournal and click the links to web pages I've cited, you'll probably run across a number of dead links. Sometimes I've gone back and fixed them to refer to The Internet Archive, but that doesn't always work.

I've found something else that may be even better: WebCite. It allows you to trigger archiving of a web page at the time you cite it.

Note that WebCite "honors robot exclusion standards, as well as no-cache and no-archive tags", so if someone doesn't want their page archived for any reason, it will be excluded. It looks like they'll also remove a page from their archive upon request. (See their FAQ.) But I think most dead links are just because someone stopped maintaining their page.
chiang 2
In other words, yes, I'm looking for players for some gaming in April & May, on Tuesday evenings at Endgame in Oakland, California.

Further Details: Look here.

More generally, if you're looking for players, what do you do? Is the actual, physical bulletin board a good idea?

So far, I've posted on the Endgame forums (above), Nearby Gamers, RPGnet, PenAndPaperGames, and a local Google group that I'd set up a few years ago.

All of these are ways to advertise a campaign in need of players, and strike me as somewhat more useful than either RPGGeek or Access Denied. As far as I can tell, those only let you find people, and I'm not interested in contacting people out of the blue.

I'm going to keep going down the list of player finders at RPGnet and Treasure Tables to see if any others look useful. If they are, I'll edit them into this list.

Update: ENWorld's Gamers Seeking Gamers forum appears to be useful. There's also an interactive map-based system but it only functions at all if you've already logged into the forum.

Update: RPGGameFind is set up well.

Update: Dragonfoot's Looking for Games/Gamers forum seems useful.

Is there a Twitter or Facebook channel for this?
chiang 2
Malcolm's series of posts on his "Toy Dogma" approach to RPGs are good stuff, although one might wonder how much effort needs to be put into clearing out the underbrush before building up his own ideas. I suppose part of the point is, as he says, to send a message, and by taking on Forge theory head-on, he's ensuring that the message gets sent to the right people.

Actually, I'm more interested in the parts that challenge an ideology that's much closer to my heart: the idea of immersion. In the history of RPG theory, immersion was fairly closely tied to "Simulationism" (especially on rec.games.frp.advocacy). See for example Threefold Simulationism Explained. Even more important though was the concept of "stances", which I think was originally developed to provide a clearer account of the moment-to-moment experience of a player in a game.

While I don't think I was ever entirely happy with any of the categorizations of "stance" that were proposed in RGFA or later, I've still generally worked from the similar idea of "perspective" in connection with "immersion", as a fundamental element of RPGs at their inception, and actually something that was largely inherited from wargames. You could even say that RPGs were an attempt to refine and elevate the sense of "in-character perspective", which wargames had developed by introducing methods of simulating a situation and putting the player into the shoes of an identifiable actor within the situation. (For example, some wargames attempt to use hidden movement or umpires to present players with actual "limited intelligence" as commanders would have. They may also constrain player control over units, effectively "situating the player" in headquarters, with unreliable communications channels.) Braunstein was a direct outgrowth.

However, lately I've had to admit that "In-character POV (IC POV)" isn't precisely or entirely what goes on when I play an RPG (or a wargame). That is, as much as I enjoy the fantasy of "being" an adventurer or a general, my enjoyment is coming from a very different perspective than the characters themselves. (Playing Stalingrad is fun. I don't think the soldiers or even the generals in Stalingrad enjoyed it quite so much.) So I was interested in the discussion that sprung up in the wake of Malcolm's critique of "stance". (I think he also had some choice words for people who "just want to play my character", but I can't find the link at the moment.) I had a few comments there, which you can read if you like--mainly I refer back to posts I've made here, in which I talked about Chris Lehrich's ideas of RPGs as a form of ritual discourse.

But here, all I want to do is link a couple of other essays which I seem to recall touching on multileveled appreciation of RPGs: Brian Gleichman's Elements of Design, and a schema laid out on the Forge (originally ENWorld) by "fusangite" (Stuart Parker, if I'm not mistaken).

Of the two, Gleichman's approach is probably more up my alley at the moment. Either way, I think there are ways to reconcile "immersion" or IC POV with the more nuanced multilayered approaches--generally, by acknowledging that there are plenty of out-of-character interactions and decisions in games, but noting that many of them are fundamentally social. Therefore, it's natural to handle them via ordinary social means, while using mechanics for them is not only intrusive/unnatural, but misleading. What I mean is that when you claim to have rules governing interpersonal interactions (such as "distribution of authority", explicit "narration trading", abstracted "conflict resolution" and negotiated "stakes"), you create an expectation that the social element can somehow be circumscribed. The result is to put rules and social interactions into conflict with one another: if one wins, the other loses. As I note here and here (regarding formalization and fixation of social processes).
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