Part 3: in which our hero tries to calm down

Now, I want to talk about Ron’s fog, and why Sorcerer causes so many problems with experienced RPG’ers… yup, it’s that fog again.

You see, we, as veterans of foggy games, are so damn used to the fog, we love it so much, we often try to defend it. Frex, this recent LJ exchange, some of our fellow fog bound pour scorn on princeofcairo‘s idea for an omen mechanic. “It’s treading on the holy ground of plot! That’s the job of the GM!”

Fog fog fog.

Where is that written? Where is it stated that the GM must pace everything without mechanics? Especially mechanics that work so darn well as these.

Here’s a clue for anyone who makes this sort of call about foggy “gm’s call beats mechanics” claims of superiority. Have a look at this short list:

  • Chekhov’s pistol
  • Show not tell
  • Rising action
  • Conflict creates character, character creates conflict

Now, are these game mechanics or methods for writers?

The answer is both: dramatic writers use what are essentially game mechanics to craft stories: Universalis, frex, only codifies them slightly more.

Also note in that thread where Mythusmage asks “Are you telling a story? Or is the group playing imaginary people living imaginary lives in an imaginary world where imaginary fatalities take place?”

To quote Jack Nicholson “When you’re faced with a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” This is such a false dichotomy, it’s not even funny. I can see where he’s coming from (Mythusmage wants, or appears to want, a “real world” sim game, the omen mechanic works to reinforce a dramatic simulation of a certain sort of fiction), but still, can you write those sentences without pulling yourself up and saying “Whoa!”?

I guess it’s another case of “same planet, different worlds”.

But anyway, it’s another in a long line of defences of the fog. “Don’t have rules for social interaction, don’t give clear guidelines for narrative rights, please, please don’t actually seek to define the processes we all actually use in play, or talk about our social interactions…” Keep us in the fog, it shows we’re superior, it protects us from confronting what we’re actually doing.

Okay, I’m ranting again, let’s get back to Sorcerer. You see, when a fog bound player hits the sorcerer rule book, it’s so dense, and almost completely free of the fog clearing that Ron’s so good at in the Forge fora, that you’re left with foggy techniques to deal with it. And if you approach Sorcerer with foggy techniques, is pretty meh. Nothing special.

Approach it with a clear mind… but wait, who the heck could do that? Pretty much every actual Sorcerer player has come through a kind of apostolic succession to Ron, AFAIK. And all of us guys, pretty much are veteran role players, veterans of the fog.

Now, someone please shoot me down if I’m wrong, but I think I’m right in saying that Ron’s said that the Sorcerer main rule book has these problems that partly he thought that to be upfront about what makes sorcerer different in play, he’d put folks off. Scare ’em out of the fog.

Anyway, time getting on, thoughts getting incoherent, food getting cold, more later.

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8 thoughts on “Part 3: in which our hero tries to calm down

  1. I’m very aware of the fog, in particular in the games of Mortal Coil that I’ve played recently. At Gen Con, with the Indie crew, there was no fog. Everything was laid out and we discussed, laughed and joked about it. I think the conflict between Paul Tevis and summed it up for me. Their characters meet in the street and through a combination of in character discussion interspersed with group discussion, lead by the two protagonists, they get to a conflict whereby their characters will become romantically entangled, and then they just agree that it would be good and go with it. You could almost see the zooming in and out. There was also an occassion where Remi had another conflict with the Devil who was trying to persuade him to leave the band. Remi gave the Devil’s stake as Remi’s PC not turning up for the gig. I said, you had that last time, choose something else a bit more meaningful, so he did. In our current game, which I’m GMing, I’m keeping plot secret from the players, at their request. It’s working OK but it would be better if they took more ownership of their passions rather than being so focussed on whatever plot I might have thought of. Mind you, they were better at it with PTA. The Fog does hide plot though and preserve mystery. That’s why my players want it.

    1. But that’s not “the fog”. What you’re talking about is kind of a fog of war thing: the maintenance of hiding in game information from the players to make the in game discovery of that information more fun. It’s entirely about in game information (diagetic information, to get wankety-wank about it), not about how games are organised and run. And that’s entirely not “the fog” that I’m talking about: what I’m talking about is a preserved ambiguity of player (including gm) roles and responsibilities, ambiguity of authority and high level processes in rulesets, and ambiguity of intent of design. In fact, it’s really the last that concerns me most at the present, because designers coming through are really getting put through the wringer to tighten their designs so that every rule has a desired effect on play: nothing is there simply to conform to or break convention. But still, the intent of these rules and their mechanical operation is not being adequately demonstrated in the rulebooks. “It will become obvious in play” is becoming the new golden rule, and it sucks as much as the old oglden rule. But this continued ambiguity is, I think, cultural and historical, and serves no practical purpose. Games whose rulebooks show you under the hood (Burning wheel monster burner, Capes, Sorcerer’s supplements) are consistently praised, yet they are still the exception.

      1. I think I probably didn’t explain what I meant well enough and brought the fog of war into it when I shouldn’t have. For the Indie crowd, in Mortal Coil, there was no issue about responsibilities. The GMs and Players responsibilities are clearly laid out in the rulebook and that’s what everyone went with. In my game at home, I’m the only one who has read the book but although I’ve tried to make the responsibilities clear to everyone, they are not all biting and some are too focussed on their own character’s success or failure to engage with the ideas behind Mortal Coil. To a certain extent they are missing the point. But then, that’s not what you’re talking about either is it? You’re worried that because games are going for some all-encompassing design that tighly defines roles and responsibilities of the players and GM, that some people are calling foul on anyone who steps over the line of their role. Possibly, because in Forge parlance, this is drift, which is bad. Bad in the same way that illusionism and incoherence are bad (i.e. they have negative connotations, it is recommended that games are designed without them but Forgites would never call them bad fun, no, not us). So you welcome and embrace the fog, this fog?

      2. No, okay, I think I’ve got to back this up again: I’m saying that leaving the processes whereby the mechanics come into play undefined is badwrong design, becuase it leaves every group to find it’s own solutions without even acknowledging that they’re finding their own solutions. Also, drift, not necessarily bad, but, due to the fog, both assumed by players used to the fog, and necessary in rules sets that are bound in the fog. Quite literally, every group has to make up the rules by which the written rules are brought into play. Now since in play drift is necessary to get anything resembling functional play from these rules,how can drift be de facto bad? It’s the only way you can play, say, Vampire: the Masquerade. And designs that recognise and accomodate drift gracefully are great. But why should a supposedly well designed game force the group to pick and choose from it;’s mechanics, background, etc, force players to invent chunks of process, chunks of practical honest to goodness system with little or no support from the text, in fact little or no recognition that these things have to be decided, why should a supposedly well designed system do that? Now I don’t know Mortal Coil, haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what there is in the design to say “this is the way this should be played, this is how the process works.” So I can’t address it. And please, don’t let yourself descend into “anti-forge sniping” mode. It’s cruft which doesn’t help either of us, let’s just talk about what we’re talking about. I’m not worried about designs that tightly define the process of playing their game: that’s all good. What I object to is the nebulous mass of ill-defined processes, roles, etc in most RPG design, that presumes that this kind of ambiguity is not only normal, but desirable. So, no, it’s not anti-drift. Good, clear design actually facilitates drift, as you can clearly see what you’re changing, why it’s there, and what changing it will affect. Foggy design proceeds from the old golden rule, and is predicated on system doesn’t matter. Illusionism? Well, strict illusionism involves deceiving players into thinking they have significant input, which to my mind is bad wrong fun. There, I said it. Wilful participation by players turns it into participationism, which in the hands of a skilled GM can certainly be fun. But this is all entirely peripheral to what I’m talking about.

      3. I’m saying that leaving the processes whereby the mechanics come into play undefined is badwrong design Do you mean things such as defining what a conflict is and directions such as “say ‘yes’ or roll the dice” (which is still pretty vague).

      4. Yeah, to an extent. The first is definitely an example that needs clearing up, especially in games where players define stakes, frex. Without some clear rules for what stakes can be set, we’re playing Calvinball. But also we’ve got how the conflicting elements come in to play, whether there are restraints on what can be established before conflict, how we know a conflict has finished and how we move on from that… the whole “penumbra” of a conflict system that materially affects the outcome of a conflict without getting, usually, defined by it. I personally think that “Say yes or roll the dice” is pretty unfoggy, but I’d have to dig out the book to check the context. It explicitly tells the GM what to do when faced with a thorny question, and implicitly sets up a “never say no” attitude. It implies that the GM can’t veto a PC action with back up from the dice. Anyway, you’ve got me thinking about fog, task resolution systems, conflict resolution systems and the rest, so more later

      5. See I’d have thought that D&D for example was pretty clear. If you want your character to do anything that is covered by the skill system or combat, roll the dice and apply the outcome. If what you want to do isn’t covered by the rules you have then I’m not sure what the DMG says but I think there’s advice for that too. Millions seem to play this with no real issues. It’s especially good for dungeon bashing which doesn’t often throw up issues outside the rules. D&D isn’t very well served with rules about PC interaction. In fact, I seem to remember it says something like interpersonal skills not working on PCs. In which case talking is the method of interaction, backed up with whatever threat/deal or enticement you can muster. I don’t think that’s broken or foggy, but it does often lead to interparty conflict. Mainly because the only mechanic you can use on another PC is combat. Even the “say yes” mechanic is still open to abuse from awkward players who can use it to define conflicts with unwelcome stakes such as “I eat the baby”.

      6. Firstly, I think that D&D, in it’s V.3 incarnations, is relatively fog free. It’s about killing things and taking their stuff. You create your killing machine, make your strategic and tactical choices, the DM sets up discrete encounters with nice guidelines in the DMG for appropriate threat levels, bada bing, bada boom. Step outside that model, and you’re in the fog again. I think the “interpersonal skills don’t work on PC’s” sucks. Like you say, it could be less sucky if you also said “you can’t use combat on other PC’s”. Makes as much sense. So , in D&D, intra-party interaction is foggy. Suddenly, you’re dropped out of the system, and into “sort it out yourself, your group must solve it yourselves.” To me, the spirit of D&D is suck it up: if your big bad fighter gets rings run round him by the bard, well, sucks to be you. Are we here to play or bitch about each other. Part 2: Yeah, when “say yes” is implemented in a system that allows completely free input into that question, it sucks. In that case, it’s embedded in the fog: “But the rules don’t say I can’t eat the baby!” That’s a fog-bound phrase right there “But the rules don’t say I can’t…” Hey, the rules don’t say I can’t pour paint over my players heads, or insist they turn up for play dressed as Sailor Moon.

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