Archive for March 6th, 2006

A Response to Peaseblossom (from Story Games)

2006 Mar 6

Jess, I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re getting at, but I started writing you a response and this just sort of came out of me. I hope it sorta gets at what you’re asking for here. I apologize if I’m wide of the mark.

There seems to be a large number of unsatisified players who want play that supports a high degree of negotiation and interaction between players but also very little fiddling with meta-mechanics or resources or tactics or the like. They want some system support but also want to preserve some degree of immersion or don’t want to break the fantasy to deal with mechanics or just don’t really like fiddling with mechanics. And most of the Forge stuff and even the non-Forge indie stuff tends to create interesting story conflicts by encouraging inter-player conflicts using mechanics (Universalis, MLwM, and PTA being the clearest models here, but even including stuff like Dogs, Mountain Witch, Polaris, and Breaking the Ice).

And, honestly, a large number of the players interested in high collaborative, low meta-mechanics play seem to be female and on the edge of both mainstream and indie roleplaying (the indie crowd, as different as it is from the mainstream, can still be a boys’ club), so their interests aren’t really being taken into account by recent design and theory work, unless it’s being done by folks like you, Jess, or Mo, or Annie Rush, or Meg Baker, or Emily Care Boss.

And, while most male designers really respect, enjoy, and want to support the kind of work the indie women are doing, I get the sense that most of the indie crowd aren’t really interested in that kind of play or don’t think that it’s really possible to have some serious system that doesn’t require messing with mechanics or fiddling with resources or creating inter-player conflicts through reward systems or whatever. This seems too much like freeform. Or like Amber. But when you drop something like Neel’s Lexicon or Shreyas’ Mridangam or my KKKKK on them, something that reframes things completely differently than other RPGs, they go “Oooo, that’s neat,” but it becomes a one-time thing, an experiment. Nobody is picking it up and running with it and really playing in this sandbox yet.

Still, I think the interest in this kind of collaborative, low-impact play, potentially (and once we actually figure out how it really works), is HUGE and I sympathize because I often feel that way and have been trying to get at how to best support play in that style. Unfortunately, most of what I have to show for it are my 2-player experiments and not real solutions yet. But it’s definitely something that I hope to continue working on.

So that’s a long response to say, basically, I don’t think the style of play you are looking for has really been formalized in a game yet. There are games that do some of that and there are games in development that will hopefully do a lot more, but I don’t think this area has had sufficient attention put to it yet. I’ve been trying and so have a few others, but this is not where most people’s attention is right now (where is it? I don’t really know).

Maybe you’ll be the one to really make it work.

Action/Expression Revelation

2006 Mar 6

me: i have experienced revelations about Waiting/Tea
JP: Do tell
me: there are two types of things that characters can do.
me: they can EXPRESS things and then they can DO things.
me: expressions would be saying stuff, yelling stuff, smiling, frowning, pointing at stuff, sighing, etc.
JP: What is the difference?
me: actions would be like picking up a bucket, going to a different location, making tea, etc.
me: so I think I’m gonna give players a large degree of leeway in character expression and very little leeway in character actions.
JP: Ok, I guess I can picture that.
me: so expressions are really how you get from action to action.
me: they’re what provide context to things that the characters actually do.
me: so you could say, “Chema laughs at Gai Zheng, ‘I can’t believe you just did that.’ “
me: freeforming the expressions.
me: but if you actually want to DO things, you have to select an action from a list based on your current location.
JP: Now I can picture that ;)
me: i think that’ll give the system both flexibility and structure.
JP: Sounds like a good plan
me: Thomas wanted the system to “get out of the way,” supporting stuff that needed supporting and not restricting stuff that was actually good for the game.
me: and limiting character expressions was pretty limiting.
JP: Something easier said than done
me: it’s also got me thinking about the difference between acting and expressing in other games.
me: like, in Nobilis, killing an entire nation of humans can be an expression, because it doesn’t actually DO anything. you can just do it because you’re in a bad mood.
* JP nods
me: whereas, an action actually does something that affects what actions can be taken later.
me: like insulting the Power of Fluffy Bunnies might be an action.
JP: Kind of like actions that change color vs. ones that change situation.
me: very much so.
me: expressions of color don’t create new situations like actual actions do.
JP: Yea
me: though Waiting/Tea’s expressions don’t necessarily line up with how I feel about expressions overall. for instance, saying “I hate you and hope you die” will often cause new situations, but, in W/T, that would still be an expression.
JP: Yea, that does seem a bit strange
me: maybe it’s just because Waiting/Tea is a single scene long, so, if you create new situations, you don’t really get to deal with them.
JP: Like ordering another dish when all you have time for is already on your plate :)
me: right.
me: like ordering 3 desserts.
JP: Heh