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Monday Lab: Roll to Know

Usually I wait a week to post Monday Labs, partly to get enough time to edit properly, partly to keep at least something on a regular cycle at the site. But this time I couldn't help myself, it's been only two days and here you go.

The reason is nothing less than an impressive meeting of minds, specifically the degree of listening and response, regarding the two participants. It's boilerplate to say "it's a privilege to meet you," but in this case, I just could not ask for a better confirmation of the Monday Lab concept, especially from people who did not know one another previously. Anything that I was able to extract or summarize arose from the material and insights that they brought, and it was so easy to edit - basically just removing the odd pause or some stupid digression of mine - that I want to share it right away.

Our topic? Well, it's based on a clip from the Defiants game, using the alpha for Champions Now, which is included at the start. When do you "roll to know?" And to know what? With the consequences of what for success or failure? When is such a roll or other device (e.g. spending points) not used, whether in the moment or for that entire game?

As usual, the standard-fare responses - hardly worth the name "answers" - are dismissed, in favor of discovering what is really being asked.


Santiago Verón's picture

Awesome video! Halfway through, it made me anxious about starting to GM - there's simply so many ways to hurt someone, and the Planescape Perception example was just heartbreaking. Then I shook it off and felt pumped to organize local gaming groups, get to people before they get struck by something like that. At the end, it was really relieving to have the matter at hand clarified into one of personal investment, being at stake. Now I'm back of the track of being just a guy who's getting into roleplaying and strives to be comfortable at it one day. We'll leave the world saving for later.

From the GM's point of view, the problem of how to present a fixed storyline that's meant to be discovered by the players, and the contradictions thereof, has been discussed in a text I really like. It's about text videogames, and it's a response from Emily Short, an important author and researcher, to a dismissal of the situation in principle. The problem as they conceive it is that, in the part of a clever hero, there's no way to actually traverse the experience of coming up with an original solution for a problem, because deep down you know you're actually just guessing what the author already thought. In the following link Short dismantles and responds to that set of assumptions. It's also very worth it to follow the link she provides to the original post of the guy that made the critique. Also, now that I hunted the link, I see that critique was already a responde from him to an earlier comment from her about his work.

It's called "What Would James Bond Do?", and bear in mind: It was published in 2007, eleven years old at the time of this writing.


I've begun to reread it, all three texts, and so far my thoughts are that once you have this problem you're way out of the "we're playing on the now" realm of roleplaying. 

Ron Edwards's picture

I agree with the "thoughts so far" you conclude with here. I tend to think of that entire topic as over there, someone else's problem, and that when it's present in role-playing, it's because the persons involved made the mistake of going over there at all. I can't even categorize it as a form of functional play because it seems to be characterized by ways to shut down the medium of role-playing, and also by constant kvetching about why and how it's not working.

Santiago Verón's picture

What remains then, I think, is the question of how to make the mystery genre work in the medium of roleplaying. We've thankfully moved away from the question "How can I experience being Sherlock Holmes and solving a mistery", which was misstated from a wrong set of assumptions. Using what I've learned from the discussions in this site, I can ask: How can we experience being Conan Doyle and his readership? If anyone reading this knows of games, or better yet Actual Plays, that display this, please let me know.

All I can think of is that part of the text of Dogs In The Vineyard that asks the GM to let the NPCs come forward with all sorts of explanations to the PCs, not trying to hide anything as a GM. And the comments of Vincent Baker and Ron around Primetime Adventures suggest you really could build any sort of TV show with it, so I assume that includes police procedurals.

Am I veering too much from the topic? I'd be happy to participate on a Seminar, or peruse old threads of The Forge if someone points me there, etc.

Ron Edwards's picture

The topic of genuinely fun investigation and mystery-solving in role-playing has a long and productive pedigree at the Forge, and has resulted in many different angles of design and play. It's a huge task to hunt it down and to produce a summary, and would definitely be a frustrating rabbit hole to open here as a little subtopic comment. It could very well be a Seminar topic, perhaps even a multi-session one, and I'd probably want a couple people besides me to be discussion leaders for some of it, especially Jesse Burneko and Seth Ben Ezra.

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