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Design Curriculum: Talk/Roll

Justin Nichol and I continue our discussion, or training, regarding game design. This session (in 5 videos) delves into the way we talk / the way we roll. The topic shifts quite logically from whether & when describing things colorfully works, to gaudy and painful consequences of moment-by-moment decision-making.

I have never thought the fiction-first/mechanics-first distinction to be well-constructed. Even setting it up that way presupposes a bunch of things I do not think are correct. So although you might expect that terminology to appear at many points throughout the sessions, it never does. I hope to show my alternate view through example.

We don't get into much about IIEE (intent, initiation, execution, effect), but if you're familiar with the concept, I'm sure you'll see the groundwork being laid for it next time.

Some of the points are harsh. Wushu gets the hardest hit, as I consider it to be blatantly failed design. Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures get examined for whether and when playing them leans into the same trap. I planned to talk about the same issue regarding bonus dice for Sorcerer when I brought it up, but forgot about it and missed the chance to discuss its origin in Champions.

Since my YouTube fu hit a speedbump, in that I haven't yet managed how to make the ending of Vid A flow into the start of Vid B (seriously, how hard can this be?), here are the direct links to the later parts.

The post's lead image is from Heroic Do-Gooders and Dastardly Deed-Doers, a game which isn't discussed in the videos but could have been, as its mechanics about stunting should be compared with those of Feng Shui.

PDF icon venus2141.pdf


Just want to say that I've learned a lot from the "Design Curricum" videos. Thank you!

Ron Edwards's picture

Thanks! I find myself to be very critical of the argument so far.

For one thing, I'm thinking that perhaps the Phenomenology / Design / Publishing sequence is missing "Play" as step 2. I really need to distinguish better between the guts of the car vs. what it's like to be driving it, for the obvious reason that they are completely different experiences, and that knowing their precise interface is not actually necessary for anyone except for designers who really want to. A little too much of the current dialogue focuses on play, when it should be referencing a bank of terms or points from its own dialogue.

For another, the process of the designer keeps being left out. I'm focusing on content, "how the car works," without enough attention to what it's like to be sitting there with a wrench.I think that Justin is OK with this, for his purposes, but a more general presentation will have to shift the focus.

Gordon C's picture

Ron -

If I see your bold "process" as how to think and act after you find a wrench in your hand - that is, what happens after you decide you're designing a game (with whatever degree of clarity, at various levels, you might have at the moment) ... is this where Jared Sorensen's 3 Questions ("What is your game about?","How does your game do this?","How does your game encourage / reward this?") live? John Wick apparently added one ("How do you make this fun?") Then there's Troy's Power 19 (19 is too many to summarize - check the links below). And I REALLY like Vincent's 3 Insights ("something about the subject matter or genre of your game","something about roleplaying as a practice","something about real live human nature").

Maybe your take on what keeps getting left out ISN'T ... overlapping/adjacent to these ideas, but they're what I thought of reading the post above.

3 Questions:

3 Questions rephrased and +1:

Power 19:

3 Insights:

Ron Edwards's picture

At the time that Jared first mentioned these, it seemed so sensible. They even arose out of a conversation we had at the GAMA Trade Show in 2001. However, in retrospect, Jared was already designing games with a healthy insouciant, unpressured attitude. He had about five or six at that point, including eight and that weird clowns one with the glass of milk mechanic. In other words, he was not anxious about designing role-playing games, was perfectly happy about setting the ideas down on a page under a title place-holder, and was having fun doing it.

When others encountered those questions, and when Troy wrote his 19 questions, I observed the most horrifying cognitive traffic pile-ups ever. Anxious and unconfident people are determined to find ways to prevent themselves from doing things, and the questions were nothing but a trap door for them to jump on until it gave way beneath them. You may remember any number of times people responded to "what is your game about" with long dissertations on the race and profession options, or a long setting history. They simply had no idea what was being asked, and it seemed so abstract to them that they almost hysterically began reciting the things that Everyone Knows Must Be In An RPG.

For the record, I thought Troy's so-called Power 19 was a terrible device and never recommended it to anyone. In addition to the issues I mentioned above, it was too easily read as a checklist and even as a doctrinal menu for the Forge.

As for Vincent's points, I agree with them, i.e., yes, those are insights, but they are not very good instructional process points. They are somewhere a person gets to, or are capable of talking about, only after the instructions in their notes and notions in their head have a foundation of confidence, or excitement. Without that, they seem like an mysterious (and coming from Vincent, unfortunately authoritative) interrogation, some kind of test the person didn't study for and will make or break them, so they panic.

It should probably be clear from my consulting videos that I really focus, as in maniacally, on the color/inspiration basis for play. It's a pole star, always there, always reliable for its purpose, easy to forget about but reassuringly still there when the person is reminded.

Gordon C's picture

They seemed to fit ... and yet even as I finished the comment I wondered if they were really at all like what you thought was getting "left out". I sure did see folks utterly fail to understand what the 3 Questions were actually asking, and couldn't get behind NINETEEN questions.

A core of color/inspiration seems great - certainly, if what-a-GM-does (when focusing/playing a particular game with a particular group) is at all like what-a-designer-does, it's where I've spent a lot of time for the past decade-ish. But acknowleding that all your concerns about how folks have responded/are likely to respond to such things with confusion/panic ... I do also look for something a bit more abstract. I LIKE looking for something a bit more abstract, not as a first-step, but pretty darn quickly. But maybe that's just me, and/or a different thing entire from the process you think keeps getting left out.

Driving a car, designing the engine, and knowing the engineering theory are each a different category, I think.

Ron Edwards's picture

We might have to unpack that in some detail, when our schedules permit.

Jason D'Angelo's picture

These conversations continue to impress.

I think your points about how color and mechanics need to interrelate is powerful and much more cogent than the simple "fiction first" talk.

You've got several threads leading from this lesson (IIEE, issues of authority, the roll of risk in players'/characters' choices), and I'm interested to see where you take the conversation from here.  You're doing an impressive job so far of giving each lesson a strong, single focus.

Ron Edwards's picture

I am inclined to be unkind about some of the topics out there. The fiction-first conversations were a strong indicator that post-Forge discourse had slipped rather than expanded, along with "push-pull" and the romance with improv.

The next installment deals with your very own topic of interest, the system diagrams!

Jason D'Angelo's picture

I'm excited for the next installment--diagrams and IIEE! Bring it on!

I missed the whole push/pull conversation, though I saw strands of it in the discussions following a few of Vincent's posts; I didn't bother to chase it down from there.

Latching on to fiction first seems like a response to seeing how one game (or set of games) interconnected the color and the mechanics and then ran with it as THE solution to a problem they experienced in gaming without exploring why it was a solution or how it could be examined in detail to see what particularly made it work.

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