Monday Lab: What We Have Learned

Pretty much what the title says! General or specific, important or unimportant, obvious or not so much … doesn’t matter.

The common items included what resolution mechanics are for, situation as a constraint which undergoes change, interactive but non-transitive forms of fun. I think most of the details tied back into these. However, one of them which was only articulated at the end, and also seems to “vibrate” back into everything previously said, is the unqualified desire to play more and to play more games.

I edited the session a little more tightly than usual, as I wanted to focus on testimony, so it loses a little bit of the “teaching glue” such as organizing who talks next when things get exciting, or minor subroutines of confusion needing clarification, or the odd tangent. So this presentation probably comes off as a bit more documentarian, as if a bunch of people independently produced personal statements out of the blue, rather than the messier and slightly-moderated form that I try not to lose in the edits. But in this case it seemed more appropriate to me, to highlight the personal nature of each concept.

The topic strayed a little, which I consider to be valuable for reflection purposes. It’s not easy to separate “what I have learned” from “now let me explain what I think,” and here, I didn’t see the need to separate them unless someone really went wandering. So you’ll see a couple of instances of that.

I’d really like to see individual or group recordings included in the comments, and if you do that, please try to stay on topic regarding specific things you’ve learned.

12 responses to “Monday Lab: What We Have Learned”

  1. Things I learned

    Here what things I was expecting when I've read this site:

    • A discussions about sorcerer ;
    • A very focused community only talking about specific games (Vincent Banker or Ron's games, something like that)
    • Informations about new games, but much more something like "what are the new kickstarters".

    You can see how those expectations (not my desires, just what I thought I would have) were naive.

    Here are some things I've done and took interests and that i don't think I would have done without adept play:

    – Buying very old second handed books with a plan to play them: Hero Wars, Bushido, Mutant Chronicles 1st edition, Runequest 2nd edition and Cults of Prax.

    – I discovered games I never heard about, or heard about but didn't know so much and was not interested, and bought them with a plan to play them: Three Sixteen, Dirty Secrets, InSpecters, Trollbabe, Elfs, Circle of Hands, Cold Soldier, The Mountain Witch.

    I kind of switched from "what new interesting rpg games with "innovative instrumentations" to kickstart" (which I see as a doomed and meaningless expression now) to "how certain games learn me something in a specific technique/dimension of this actibity we call rpg (calling a scene, describing a failure, prepping a situation, etc.)".

    The most unexpected thing I learned here, is to get interest in D&D and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

    – I bought, played, gmed and liked Lamentations of the flame princess games, I've learned about d&d history, and it lead me to read the grognardia blog where I've learned about thousand suns, which I bought and plan to play! But not without reading a lot of science-fiction before.

    It's not all. I bought books I had never read: Fritz Leiber, Howard, Ian Banks, Poul Anderson, Ursula Leguin…



    • If you were introducing Adept

      If you were introducing Adept Play to others who didn't know about it, in hopes that they would visit and participate, what would you tell them?

  2. What HAVE I learned?

    Jeez, has it really already been a month since this seminar was recorded? Since I couldn’t make it to this one, but I wanted to write down a few ramblings on the topic. I was lucky enough to play approximately 75 sessions since last summer, some with folks here, all under the influence of conversations at Adept Play. I’ve solidified two realizations about what I find rewarding in this activity.

    The first takeaway from my last year in gaming echoes Greg’s above about turning away from “‘new interesting rpg games with ‘innovative instrumentation.’”

    Maybe it’s that so many of the reviews that I read obsessively while learning the shape of the hobby were based on reading texts, not playing games; maybe it’s that much of the play advice I read was rooted in PbtA—but in my first year of doing this activity, I was looking for rule sets that explicitly laid out how to do what I wanted to do in the fiction. If I wanted a game about a team overcoming dysfunctional in high-pressure situations, I went looking for games that had a rising Pressure track and a Move called “Stare Down Your Dysfunction.” I was looking for rules (and I mean ‘rules,’ not necessarily systems) to give me permission to do what I wanted in play.

    As you might imagine, this led to awkward, stilted play, particularly when playing as GM. Everything I brought into the shared imaginative space had to be covered by a rule, a GM Move or a best practice.

    Playing a lot of games helped with this…You can’t play this hyper-conscientiously all the time, at some point you fall back on the instincts of oral storytelling. Encountering S/lay w/Me crystallized what I was learning from experience. SWM is a game that frontlines players’ freedom to actively bring in the images, phantasmagoria, themes and relationships that compel them. It’s not a freedom particular to one game, it’s a key element in roleplaying.

    Adept Play uses the term ‘instrumentation’ a lot. Rules and procedures aren’t things we passively obey. They’re tools we actively reach for, breathe life into and, sometimes, push so hard that they squawk and nearly break. As players, we don’t obey the rules any more than a jazz musician is ‘obeying’ their sax.

    The second (related) thing I’ve learned is that I don’t necessarily value innovative or novel mechanics. I want mechanics that give players relevant, decisive information about consequences with the potential for surprise.

    Blades in the Dark, the game that got me back into the hobby a couple of years ago, is pretty interesting because, in my experience, it fails the test of decisiveness (and, by extension, the test of ‘potential for surprise’). On most rolls, characters end up getting what they want. Often, this occurs at the cost of a ‘complication.’ This puts the burden on the GM to invent complication after complication, and it’s also on them to ensure each one meaningfully changes the situation.

    There’s a scene from the TV show Peaky Blinders I’ve been thinking about in relation to this. Tommy, the show’s protagonist, is setting up an important negotiation when he’s kidnapped, drugged and beaten to within an inch of his life by a rival. He reaches deep into himself (BitD would use the mechanic for ‘Resisting a Consequence’ here) and…stumbles to the meeting anyway, accomplishing what he was going to do in the first place (except with slurred phrasing and blood all over his face). We don’t see Tommy scrambling to alter his plan. He’s not forced to examine why he’s so determined to put it into action. His injuries, while brutally rendered, feel like mere aesthetics to me, as they haven’t resulted in a substantial change to the landscape of the story.

    Contrast this with Imp of the Perverse, in which Protagonists similarly achieve their goal in the majority of rolls, but each roll has immediate consequences for the character’s traits and long-term effects on their relationships–in Imp-haunted America, you can’t go the dice without being changed. Or, hell, contrast Blades with Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha’s pass/fail skill roll. RQ’s skill rolls may not give the subtlest answer, but it is a clear one that cannot be glossed over or ignored.

    • Fuck yeah, Noah. I’ve been

      Fuck yeah, Noah. I've been having similar feelings regarding the relationship between players and rules and how it is commonly interpreted. You put it into words very well in ways that I couldn't.

    • John Harper’s work on

      John Harper's work on Stranger Things relative to Trollbabe, Lady Blackbird relative to The Shadow of Yesterday, and Blades in the Dark relative to Apocalypse World seems very consistent to me. Each adaptation turns unpredictable and dramatic mechanics into a more managed and presentable play-space, especially regarding pacing and potential endings. The three results (or two and a half; Stranger Things was not completed) are far more consistent per use than their inspirations, in the sense that "when you play it, whenever and with whomever, this is what you will certainly get."

    • Interesting, Ron! I haven’t

      Interesting, Ron! I haven't heard of Stranger Things, but I've played both Blades and Lady Blackbird. That ideal of consistency / reliability is something I've always heard talked about as a desired trait in a game. It's usually used syonymously with 'intuitiveness,' but as so many of the conversations on Adept Play have shown, that conflation bears critical scrutiny.

    • “You get the same result no

      "You get the same result no matter who uses it" is a fine principle for a tool, widget, or franchise item (food, entertainment, etc). It's a sacred mantra within the 1980s startup/self-actualization culture, which is to say, pitching for venture capital investment, with distribution as the key industry player.

      It's utter crap for making, refining,or inventing instruments.

    • It has become a very powerful

      It has become a very powerful mantra in a lot of the design communities I've been exposed to in the last few years. The capability to produce the same time of experience no matter who plays it (with a strong enfasis on each instance of play having unique cosmetic elements like "every table will give a different name to the character who will inevitably betray the player in chapter 4") seems to be considered an indicator of "good design".

      The most immediate manifestation is the (in my eyes unexplicable) fascination with predetermining outcomes, at the extreme by simply stating "whoever is talking decides what happens" but also via all sorts of self neutering randomization systems or "fail forward" dynamics that allow you to buy success by introducing new stuff (instead of using failure to introduce new stuff).

      It's immensely widespread and just last week I've witnessed one of the most popular italian designers referring to "rolling dice and seeing what happens" as an old fashioned if not disfunctional way of playing. 

    • It occurred to me that

      It occurred to me that writing accessible, lucid game texts has some overlap with this ideal of consistency and repeatability. Creating fine-tuned end products (rulebooks) that clearly lay out the procedures of the game, are usable at the table, and don't obfuscate important concepts or information is an excellent thing to strive for. BitD's rulebook and (as an example of a much shorter book) Primetime Adventures seem to me like exemplars of well-organized, usable game texts that prepare you to play as you read them.

      However, as we've been discussing, these ideals are crap for creating instrumentation for actual play. The instrumentation emerges from a very different creative process than the product design of the book. A couple of years ago, I passed over PTA because it didn't seem as exciting on the page (from the product-design perspective). Now I appreciate how its procedures, which appear quite simple on the page, blossom and lead to nuanced interactions and choices at the table.

  3. While writing in my blog….

    I was writing a blog on prep and am intending to do a tie in video, but I just wrote this and this is something I have taken from my experiences here.

    While I will mention some specific techniques, I just want to focus on the top level points and ideas of preparation. Specific techniques are easy to argue over and often lead to counter productive conversation.

  4. North American edition

    Hi, at long last, here's our companion piece to this Seminar. I took a cue from the original video in editing to highlight the specific testimonials, but we did have quite a long ramble and it was a lot of fun. As I note in the video description, I kind of bungled the video recording. to the frequent detriment of Manu and Sean, but everyone is audible, at least:

    • Thanks for taking the time to

      Thanks for taking the time to do this, Rod! I appreciated the conversation and everyone who contributed. 

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