Monday Lab: Intuitive Continuity continued

It’s been a while, but the new Discord functions are serving my needs to renew Monday Labs! To review the concept, these are discussion topics which patrons (any level) can participate in. They used to be organized beforehand at the Patreon itself, but that was a little clunky – now, at the Adept Play Discord server, there’s a channel that only people with the blue names can use, and we can organize and make the calls in there. If you’re a patron and you’re not blue, let me know and I’ll fix it.

Manu asked if we could talk more about intuitive continuity, which has been a serious topic here over many posts for over a year. It took a while to hunt down the various references:

That’s a lot! (and let me know if I missed any) I consider this to be the primary theoretical work that’s been done at Adept Play to date, so … well, I hope someone will delve into the posts (not the play videos necessarily) and the extensive comments (and in this case definitely my little videos named above).

Given the scattered contact that each person has had with the topic, and my desire not to treat the labs as bullet-point lectures, the lab’s conversation meandered a lot. I think all of it was relevant but not always easy for a listener to connect to the topic. Some of the points I hope you can extract and apply include:

  • The distribution of authorities: yes, sharing them out reduces this technique, or can – but beware of simply spreading the technique around, so that everyone is railroading each other
  • The reasons for desiring total plot-emerging control: when introducing new people (representing or recruiting for the hobby), playing with younger people (not wanting to “hurt” them), fear of ensuing chaos, conceiving of play as transitive entertainment (with subsets self or game promotion).
  • The difficult point that if you seek such control, “going to the dice” will screw it up, so you turn to classic prepped railroading or to intuitive continuity
  • Grégory’s point that “you don’t know who the villain is” – for which there are two ways to read it. One is the Trollbabe, Sorcerer, Circle of Hands way, in which the NPCs are who they are, and their responses are emergent; vs. the moving-clue or moving-plot-role way, in which a needed or desired role for an NPC can be shifted to whomever the players seem most interested in. The former is not intuitive continuity and the latter is.

Well, let’s see if this summary and lab boost the collective platform for further discussion. Good luck to all of us!

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17 responses to “Monday Lab: Intuitive Continuity continued”

  1. Expectations Are Important

    I may split up my comments about this as I do not want to have one idea lost or confused with another. I appreciate the time everyone took to talk about their ideas and it was helpful for me. But my reaction is not to run out and scrub intuitive continuity out of my GM handbook. Indeed I think the technique is entirely appropriate for some kinds of play and some kinds of systems. Certainly not all and it is something I would steer away from for most situations.

    If there is anything that to me seems like THE LESSON from the talk, it is to make sure we set expectations.  You might invite someone to play Diplomacy once because you want a patsy who you can dupe into helping you win before you stab them in the back. But if you want that person to play a second game, you tell them up front that backstabbing is real in this game. Use lies and deceipt to win. There are no dice and you have to take chances to win. As board games go I think it dovetails nicely with RPGs because it invites you to get into what might be an alien mindset and take chances with your character (country). 

    But a GM needs to set expectations and allow players to commit and then decommit from the game. If I were invited to a game of D&D that was about our feelings? I would say no thank you. You are not using the best tool for what you want (more on that in a second). If you invite me to play a game about feelings and I show up, let's not all go monster bashing. A GM needs to prep game expectations as their first piece of prep. "This is what I am offering and what I would like to get out of the game. This is what I hope you get out of the game." And be flexible of course (or don't, a discussion for another day); I could see myself bashing monsters AND talking about my feelings, if that is the game the GM offers.

    Good Tools

    I am as guilty of this as anyone, but use the right game for the right point. It is true that one can use mechanics, which by themselves are not a game, for a multitude of situations. But the game, the full package, has a built in paradigm. And not all paradigms are compatable. And forcing them to be makes for play that could easily turn poor and unsatisfying.

    • Based on my experience,

      Based on my experience, saying your "Good Tools" paragraph out loud among role-players is a good way to make a lot of enemies.

  2. The Role of the GM

    Over the years one of the through-lines of this culture has been an emnity between the GM and the players and a certain degree of distrust. Players are idiots who delight in destroying the GM's hard work. GM's are control freaks who do not trust players and don't care about the players needs or desires or feelings. And it does not help that these tropes are true from time to time. 

    Is the GM there to protect everyone's fun?

    …. I think traditionally, yes. And this is one area where we as a culture may need to evolve. Everyone needs to be responsible for their own fun, but the GM has more tools at their disposal, including some authority, to help that.

    Is the GM there to do prep and lay the groundwork for the game?

    I think that is game dependent, but yes, in general.

    Is the GM there to do all of the meta work in regards to getting the group together?

    Maybe not exclusively. Players can take some of that burden. 

    Is the GM solely responsible for plot?

    Entirely game dependent. In D&D, yes I think so. Because of the nature of the game, people come to the game with a certain expectation. The rise of streaming shows has changed this to some extent. But in plenty of games, no, plot can and should be emergent. 

    And this is where I think Intuitive Continuity has a place. Some players enjoy that illusionism. They are not interested in having the narrative control or only having the illusion of control. And its not all the time, but sometimes they do. 

    • Are you familiar with my

      Are you familiar with my breakdown of set [play-tasks] vs. set [social leadership]? I'm asking because its conclusion (following analysis of each set's interior complications) addresses the term "the GM" at a general level, or colloquially, as a thing.

    • I do not think I have read

      I do not think I have read that. I will see if my google-fu turns it up. Thanks!

    • I gopher’d at the Forge to

      I gopher'd at the Forge to find it: my comment in the thread You've landed on gaming group "Park Place," pay $15 rent.

      I distinguish between social leadership and rules/game-activity leadership. My first point is to say they aren't the same and that one does not include or contain the other. My second point is that within each one, the many different tasks or acts do not all have to reside in the same person.

    • Okay, that was a good read. 

      Okay, that was a good read. 

      Different groups certainly do things differently and I have experienced all the issues noted in the thread. 

      As someone who may be a bit of a control freak, I get anxious when some things are out of my control. But at the same time when others do not step up to support the game environment we are working in, talking about the specific game here, I get frustrated there as well. So falling back on discusssion and social contract to establish the rules and roles is useful.

  3. Kids and New People

    This is a short one. When I introduce people, especially kids, I let them enjoy the chaos. There is plenty of time to introduce the more constrained version of rules. I want them to succeed, have fun, and come back.

    • I submit that you are not

      I submit that you are not talking about "less/no rules, fun chaos" vs. "rules, more constrained," at all. I suggest that you are talking about fun rules vs. not-as-fun rules.

      I'll parse that a little. One possible response to this comment is to ask, gee, what's the benefit of the rules, if they introduce constraints that differ from the fun? However, it's not really a good question. It accepts the claimed dichotomy of less vs. more rules, whereas I think the dichotomy itself needs examining. The good question is, "what rules were you using?" They weren't written down, they may have been arrived at intuitively, they had no legalistic presence among the people playing … but they were there.

    • My answer would be: mostly

      My answer would be: mostly arrived at intuitively. I try to get a feel for what will engage the players and go from there. 

  4. Let me be the villain here.

    Finally managed to watch the full playlist. I was I could attend but kid tantrums happened – still, it was an immensely enjoyable watch!

    I found it interesting how during the initial stage of the discussion there were a couple points when, as Ron was explaining the notion of intuitive continuity people seemed to be wondering "Wait, is he explaining this as a bad thing, or something you're supposed to do?". I know that my own "circles" have been reacting very negatively to the notion that there may be anything problematic in the idea of "zero prep, full improv" play. I'm weary about writing anything that may sound damning right now, but I do feel isolated when I point out my issues with IC.

    However (and this is how I can contribute as a villain here) despite my dislike for intuitive continuity, I can provide examples because… I use it all the time, when running games in the D&D/Pathfinder family. Right now I'm running Pathfinder 2 and I can provide oh so many examples. The issue is – I cannot prepare "plot", not anymore, but the system does require me to prepare content in aggressive ways. There are certain expectations about frequency and framing of combat that blow in your face if ignored (as I experimented in the first stages of play) so without further ado, I'll try to provide a few examples and see if they can be any useful. Some of this borders on the pure illusionism side, but at times I feel it's kind of hard to find a difference (really the difference here is this is all just made up on the spot).

    The clumsy "Where do you think you're going?": players disturbed a witch's coven (interesting thing – I placed the witch's hut on the map as a color thing, but they did decide to pass by and burn it because they're madmen, so I made a note and a few sessions later, the witch comes visiting their village for revenge). As I'm laying down the first hints of the witch's possible presence, the players decide they want to save this for later and instead go exploring another big structure, one that was made up during play that night (the classic "I wonder if there's a place like this and that around here", followed by investigations and rolls that returned a "yes" as an answer).
    And I'm completely not ready for it. So as they move out of the village and start crossing the woods, they absolutely accidentally stumble into a clearing where some witchcraft/ritualistic animal sacrifice has been clearly performed. Crisis averted, expedition delayed. Horrible DM.

    The refined "Actually, it doesn't matter where you're going": so, one of the players took over a large mansion when he moved to town. They explore it, and find there's a small complex of tunnels under it that was used for smuggling. I placed it there as part of the exploration, casually, but now it's a really good place for placing the lurking witch. So when I'm guessing that they're going to go hunting for the witch, I try to be a less horrible DM and let them take their own directions with no influx. And they immediately decide they're checking the big abandoned temple next to where they foundt the ritual site. 
    Cool. Cool cool cool.
    It's late and well, it's a viking-like culture and vikings notoriously buried their dead (?) under their temples (??) so there's now a burial chamber under the temple. With a witch in it. Horrible DM.

    The evergreen "Oh you're doing something else? I think not." Players have been clashing with a small tribe of barbaric forest dwellers. When they decide that they want to go and find their village, I set out to show off both the tribe's inhuman cruelty, but also invite the players to confront the perpective of their planned genocide. I have introduced the idea of small farmsteads/woodsmen communities existing between their village and the tribemen's forest, so I plan to have a few encounters with victims of the tribemen and I have a flash of having them find a few farmers who captured one. It would make a good scene.
    The players obviously decide to take a completely different route, to avoid roads and gain the advantage of surprise. But I want that scene, I need that scene, so they stumble upon a small camp with a few sleeping tribesmen. I have to improv a lot of details but that's a lot easier and a lot more covertly depowering than people expect. Horrible, horrible DM.

    I could go on, and this is just 3-4 sessions more or less. Once you start doing it, and even if you feel horrible doing it, it becomes so, so easy. There's the moment where a players entusiastically goes "wow this feels like an horror movie scene" and BAM, the rest of the session is now told in horror tone, with newly introduced horror details.

    So in my experience zero prep (and more importantly prep you don't commit to because you don't want to "railroad") can absolutely invite this behaviour, expecially when the game rules don't really help you. And as the Gromit gif suggest, this isn't an hard process – it's actually super easy, and you can do it at machine gun pace. And it absolutely damages the experience, in my opinion.

    I'll also add that it's very clear that a good 75% of this is my own failing, so I'm not looking for excuses here. I could have handled all those situations better.

    • Definitely a minor villain

      Definitely a minor villain compared to me. My expertise in this topic is sadly & badly earned.

      “Bad thing or not a bad thing?”

      My discussion of the entire issue, back to the original video to Alan, began with the notion of whether we (the group) do in fact create emergent plot through play – with the emphasis on “we,” meaning that players affect the fiction in the way we say they do, via the activities of their characters. If that is a desired, expressed principle of play for this group, then intuitive continuity is a bad thing.

      If play isn’t claimed to have that feature – that is, the illusionism is acknowledged as such, and no one pastes a No Railroading badge on themselves when they patently do it – then I have no criticism. Whereupon I coolly point out that the number of people who will acknowledge they do this is a flat zero.

      Like you, I see this very badge pasted on the primary, repeat offenders today, the alleged “story games” self-reinforcing design and praise community. They point to the “no single GM” and the “we didn’t prep, we improvised” as evidence – which is no evidence at all. They are very similar to the primary and repeat offenders of 25 years ago, only back then those folks pointed to “no terrible-terrible dungeons, we do real drama, and we ignore the dice,” again, as false evidence. I do not hesitate to call the techniques used by such actors bad.

      Just in case the point wasn’t clear, intuitive continuity is an illusionist technique, wholly under that designation. The cruder form is to have prepped a bunch of stuff and to force people to get there by choke-chaining and bread-crumbing at the points during play when players are allegedly making decisions. This is the more covert, more efficient form, as you have described well in your anecdotes. (I think you can see that both of them usually incorporate some form of fudging formal outcomes or distorting them through narration; that’s another side of this picture.)

      … Once you start doing it, and even if you feel horrible doing it, it becomes so, so easy.

      … zero prep (and more importantly prep you don't commit to because you don't want to "railroad") can absolutely invite this behaviour, expecially when the game rules don't really help you. And as the Gromit gif suggest, this isn't an hard process – it's actually super easy, and you can do it at machine gun pace. And it absolutely damages the experience, in my opinion.

      Acknowledged, confirmed, and increased in magnitude by dozens of years of doing this myself, trying not to, et cetera. The only cure was Sorcerer, the game that wrote me, not the other way around.

    • Before I had a term for it or

      Before I had a term for it or heard much negativity for it, I happily ackowledged that I curated the content for my players in certain games. Sometimes in all of them, but I found that unsatisfying and I became more mature and experienced. But I have never felt illusionism is bad IF, as Ron says, it is explicit and everyone knows that is what they are there for. There is still plenty of room for unexpected or even unwanted outcomes. Jumping off the train mid-ride is still possible; if illusionism is explicit then subverting it becomes part of play that is welcome as opposed something that causes friction.

      When illusionism was not explicit or even implicit, then yes I think that is and was bad on my part. A lot can be gained by a conversation about what kind of game we are playing and what everyone is consenting to.

  5. I’ve been doing a bit of catch up on the Intuitive Continuity discussion on the blog and can’t help but think of what I perceive as a current “trend” (but I am sure this has existed to some extent for a while), namely death rules that explicitly state that a PC should die only if everyone /most of the table agrees that it makes sense.

    I think this lends itself to two interpretations, one of which I assume to be the intention behind most of these rules: only letting PCs die when their “arc” has played out to a sufficient degree or when it “feels” appropriate.

    The other one, almost diametrically opposed in some ways, to interpret this would be as a reminder to *honor* (as I understand Ron’s usage of it) the situation, ie if everyone agrees that what has happened to the character must lead to their death (as a baseline, as I had learned in a first aid course, a layperson should only treat someone as dead if they have injuries “that are incompatible with life”)

    This of course begs the question of why this should only apply to character death, although these certainly are some of the highest stake situations such a game might produce.

    For reference, I am specifically thinking of Fabula Ultima as one such game that brings this rule to a somewhat more “trad” (for lack of a better word) combat system.

    • Going with your second concept, and folding in procedures (e.g., we’re playing a game in which “you can die” in the first place), I think it should be flipped around. The principle you’ve stated would be applied to everything (again, noting procedural hard/soft features) and the question becomes strictly, why would death, upon occurrence, suddenly be so problematic that it needs a special interpretation, or acknowledgement or reinforcement of the principle, or maybe some workaround, that other things don’t?

      I know the answer to this, so well that I think the question is rhetorical. The answer is not any sort of principle of play; it’s a historical artifact that I deal with in a couple of my courses: why character death ballooned in importance and took on a lowering, looming presence in play between 1975 and 1981, which unnecessarily warped general play and design for about twenty years (and maybe ongoing). It has to do with confounding “my guy lives” with “I get to play.” It’s mentioned to some extent the comments here: Necromancer 1, Party 0. But I don’t know if you know this answer. If one doesn’t, then the question seems mighty and significant, and the various empty slogans or false debates about it are endlessly engaging although they go nowhere. Let me know if you want me to break it down.

      Given that warped “shape” of character death, perceived as a “natural, obvious” feature of play itself, and given that most game design has historically run up its own ass trying to square a circle about it, no wonder intuitive continuity is so often obsessed with keeping characters alive, crudely via fudging dice rolls and playing combats softly and stupidly, and more subtly by nudging events and information to skirt violent conflict. (And never mind players’-side versions, ranging from a constant defensive crouch to bare-faced daring the GM to kill them because they know they won’t.)

      In honest design/play terms, there’s no issue at all. Either the procedures of play kill characters, or they don’t, as desired on principle for this particular game. If they do, then a character’s death relates to the player in some fashion so that the player continues to play, and not as an edge-case or workaround, but as an understandable feature of how the system works in the first place.

  6. Thank you for the Link, while I was vaguely familiar with notion that character death as an option in the first place should be embedded in appropriate game design, the specific context of character staples on play makes it much more apparent, how strongly design can mitigate (from a modern perspective) PC death.

    It seems to me, then that these sort of group consensus death rules aren’t all that different from the modern D20 approach of stacking the math overwhelmingly in your favor.

    I do still feel like the conceptualisation of what death as not even an option may look like in a lot of scenarios, perhaps this is a symptom of only ever growing up with games that proport death to be a real and looming threat, even if the game does everything to make it almost impossible and tells the GM to do the rest.

    A more recent(ly popular?) alternative to classic multi PC play
    that comes to mind is games that center a crew (like BitD) or Ships (like The Wildsea, which I hope to get to play soon and will be happy to report about here).

    These also serve as guarantors of continuity of agency (as a sort of accumulation of all player decisions) even if the lack of immediate continuity of play that multiple PCs offer may be something to take a closer look at.

    • If I’m understanding you right, I think I agree about the similarity, identity really, between (i) threatened + entirely mitigated death and (ii) group consensus chat when it happens. FATE is a perfect example of doing it/both, as (ii) is folded into the methodology of (i).

      Your third paragraph is a little opaque to me, but I’d rather see you develop it into a play post of your own to make it a real topic, rather than create rabbit holes here.

      Regarding your last point, I suggest that death may be played as exactly what it is, meaning, significant both to us and to the fictional characters (which insta-replacement with a curiously familiar “new guy” isn’t) as a functioning systemic component, in many, many ways. The crew or squad or whatever has been around for a long time; see also generational play as in Pendragon, post-death play in The Mountain Witch or Zombie Cinema, death but with uniquely significant consequences as in Albedo, the curious play-session + in-session effects in my Circle of Hands, and more.

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