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Q and A at the Patreon

During December, I asked patrons if they wanted to throw me some questions, especially pretty specific to games that I've published or perhaps know well enough to say anything about. The idea was to collect a few and make a little video response, to be posted and discussed at the Patreon.

A quick point: if I wanted to be more precise, I'd say "response" instead of "answer." I'm not an encyclopedia. It's what I think or a starting point for thinking about it more, and sometimes, it just opens a bigger question or leads to another conversation.

So, the questions came in and I made the video in early January. It includes questions about rules and play-function regarding Sorcerer, Dungeons & Dragons (1977, Holmes), The Pool, and Champions Now.

After that, I mentioned doing it again, and a lot more arrived and set me up for another video just a couple of days ago. At this point, considering that the questions were generally really interesting and my responses were apparently at least tolerable, I thought I'd add another step here at Adept Play. So now you can see the January video for December's questions, including people's comments or follow-up from the Patreon discussion (presented here with permission). A month from now, I'll include the second video here. Presuming I get some February questions for a March video at the Patreon, then you'll see it here in early March.

Please feel free to keep the discussion going in the comments.

Also, I'm still reserving the question-side for patrons, but it's for all tiers. If you want to hop into the Patreon for $1 a month and join in, I certainly won't object.

Department: 
Seminar

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

The next batch! As a reminder about the structure for these things, I received these questions during January. I made the response videos and posted them at the Patreon (all patrons tier) in early February. The post accumulated comments there, and now, I've made the videos public and added them the playlist.

Here's the link directly to them, and the dialogue from the Patreon comments is attached here. I would like to see some comments in this post about this content!

One of the questions continued into the discussion and I decided I hadn't answered it well, so I'm including its extension into the March video for the Patreon, which you'll see here a month from now.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

Following procedure, I recorded these videos a month ago in response to the questions patrons asked during February, and posted them at the Patreon then. Now here they are!

Here's the direct link to the three videos, and here's the file with the discussion that followed at the Patreon.

Jesse Burneko's picture

I've gone back and forth about posting this (first at the patreon, and now here) because I don't want to seem argumentative especially about an analogy. So let me carefully frame this as not a challenge or refutation of what Ron says about "intutive continuity" being "not play" but rather just a thought I had based on the analogy Ron used.

In Ron's analogy we are playing a card game and someone plays a card. And then someone else completely overrides the card and asserts its an entirely different card based on some extra-game standard such as fun or group happiness or whatever. This kind of play cetainly happens but when I think about people who are genuinely having a good time with a game that clearly relies on something like "intuitive continuity" a different analogy fits, I think.

Imagine we have a player whose goal is to make "the best hand" of cards. At the end of the game only their hand matters and we all kind of know this. We each play a card. The leader player picks some up and discards others based on whatever shape of hand they are trying to make. We do it again, and again the leader player picks some cards up and discards others. Eventually the group begins to get a clearer and clearer picture of what kind of hand the leader is trying to make so more gets picked up than discarded.

So, I don't really see that as completely overriding. But it absolutely is an editorial role for what gets amplified and developed and what gets religated to a side vignette. The leader player still has to work with the cards the players have laid down but they do get to decide which cards are "best fit" for incorporating into the hand. I'm not sure I would call this "not play." The degree to which you find it fun probably has a lot to do with whether your cards are chosen or not, although there is sort of an accelerative hive-mind effect where more and more people "get it" and play more and more appropriate cards.

Two games which I think may fall into this category are Ten Candles and Bluebeard's Bride. Two games I have played and enjoyed but that I find somewhat frustrating around exactly this point.  Especially in Ten Candles where scene transitions are mandated on certain conditions meaning that sometimes there are things you wish you could stay with and develop but you can't because the game pushes you along, and so the GM has to pick up something and develop it into the next thing all of which is moving toward an unspecific but definitely climatic and lethal encounter of some kind.

It's been a while since I've played either game but the next time I do, I'll post a more concrete game specific post with an eye toward this issue.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Jesse, I think we need to get clear on what we all mean by "play"; I'm not confident you, Ron, and I would say the same thing. For me, "play" in the context of an rpg means role-playing: I have (or interact with) at least one character that I care about (specifically what happens to them and their goals), I play them and see what happens, and I don't know in advance what the results will be. This for me defines play, for both players and GM. Now there are always other things that people do that aren't play but are necessary tasks: players may take notes, keep track of resources, etc. and the GM checks in what's happening in the world and how their NPCs are affected, and so on. 

So when I think about the games where I've fallen into IC, I was very rarely playing in this sense - I would think, "ok, in order to have a satisfying climax, I need to get the PCs to location X, so to do that I'm going to have this NPC show up and say such-and-such; also, I'll have some baddies attack, because it looks like they're getting stuck and I want to move things along, since there's only an hour left to the session." For me that's not play, it's trying to manage things. 

How do you define "play" in your thinking?

noah's picture

Jesse, I also went back and forth on posting this reply. Frankly, I’m terrified that I’m going to put an immense amount of thought and effort into communicating and, through no ill will on my part or yours, it’s not going to make sense or it’s going to get lost. I’m not a theorist of roleplaying. I just want to do it, the Sysiphean (shit) Sisyphean task of engaging with external opinions and discourse be damned. But damn, the answer to this “conundrum” seems so obvious to me, and I know that you’re (and Manu - hi Manu!) a fellow player too, and that if we sat down at a table we’d make some awesome fiction together. So here goes.

I submit that we don’t need to go beating the bushes for the perfect definition of play. Play isn’t something we need to define to do it, any more than we need to define breathing to throw a baseball. Play is something we do, nonproblematically and obviously.

The value of the card game analogy is this: it lets us escape from a context where the phenomenon of “play” has become hopelessly muddled by fandom and self-delusion, not to mention intentionally obfuscated by profiteering shysters and hype-mongers (the roleplaying hobby). It lets us move to a context where the phenomenon of play is nonproblematic and obvious, precisely because it’s free of those external factors (sitting around a table to play a card game -- be it Cribbage with Grandma or Commander with your friends).

When you invent a hypothetical activity involving cards that describes a hypothetical activity that superficially resembles roleplaying, you remove the value of the card game analogy and force us back into the smoke and smog that it temporarily let us escape from. 

Imagine we have a player whose goal is to make "the best hand" of cards. At the end of the game only their hand matters and we all kind of know this. We each play a card. The leader player picks some up and discards others based on whatever shape of hand they are trying to make. We do it again, and again the leader player picks some cards up and discards others. Eventually the group begins to get a clearer and clearer picture of what kind of hand the leader is trying to make so more gets picked up than discarded.

Again, I think we can look at play as an observable phenomenon that we experience regularly in a totally non-problematic way. In that context, it is easy to see what functional play looks like. Just like it’s easy to observe yourself breathing when the air isn’t full of smog and cigarette smoke. 

There are observable and discussable reasons, having to do with constraints, why the activity involving cards that you describe above is not, as written, a game people could or (I submit) would play. A behavioral algorithm? Sure. A team-building exercise? Maybe. But a game? No.

After five minutes or five hours of this activity the participants are going to wander away with puzzled expressions on their faces, unless some external factor keeps them engaged (like, say, the cards having images from their favorite TV series on them or a Twitter hype person constantly assuring them “This is the most fun you can have with a deck of cards”).

To get us out of the smog, I think we have to look at an actual, observable, discussable game that in some respects resembles the hypothetical activity you describe: 

In the board game Mysterium, one or more Psychic players is trying to guess a specific combination of illustrated Person, Object and Location cards out of a larger set of such cards (with three players, for example, there are 6 Person cards, 6 Object cards, and 6 Location cards face up on the table in front of them). Each player’s combination of Person, Object and Location cards is determined through a randomized procedure and known only to a single person at the table: the Ghost player.

The Ghost player is trying to guide each Psychic player toward the correct guess. To do so, they have a hand of 7 illustrated Vision cards, drawn from a deck. At the beginning of each turn, they place one such card in front of each player, selecting a Vision card with an illustration that they hope will suggest the illustration on the Person, Object or Location card they’re currently trying to guess. 

Once all the players have received a card from the Ghost, they have a limited amount of time (determined by a sand timer) to confer with each other and then try to guess their card. At the end of the round, the Ghost player indicates to each Psychic player whether they have guessed correctly. Play proceeds to the next round.

If all the players correctly guess all three of their cards within 7 such rounds, then the game enters a final phase. If not, the game ends in a loss for all.

In Mysterium, the Ghost player superficially resembles the “best hand” player in your hypothetical example. Their decisions of which cards to place in front of which Psychic players do exert an “amplifying” or “religating” effect on which Person, Object and Location cards get chosen. But they are also made in the context of constraints (what the "right combination" of cards for each Psychic is, the Vision cards available in their hand, the guessed Person, Object and Location cards vs the unguessed cards remaining, how many turns are left in the first phase of the game) that make those decisions meaningful and give rise to the space of play. 

In fact, those constraints make the decision of every participant meaningful in the shared space of play. The decisions a particular Psychic player makes in the first round are entirely different, part of an entirely different context, when made in the fifth round. They have a new meaning, precisely because of how the constraints of play have changed. 

This is the most important part: It is also these constraints that mean the participant in the Ghost role is a fellow player with the Psychic players, not their manager, their controller, their chauffeur, their censor, their puppeteer, their personal chef, or their studio exec.

I don’t describe Mysterium’s procedures at such length to be tiresome (though I probably am being that), but to provide meaningful contrast with your hypothetical example. 

There are obvious, observable reasons why I can teach my mom to play Mysterium, as Ghost or as Psychic, and then actually play it alongside her as a fellow participant. There are equally obvious, observable reasons why I can’t do that with your example as written. There is too much missing from this imaginary game. What type of cards are we using? How many cards are available to each player to choose their card from? How is the “best hand of cards” determined? How many rounds do we play? When are the different operations conducted and by whom? Does one player have the role of “competing” with any of the others?

I propose that if we answer these questions about your hypothetical game we will also begin to create constraints and have designed a playable game (yay us!). Whether it’s fun or not, or could be more fun with certain features altered, is beside the point, for this example. The question is, quite simply, whether or not it functions.

On the other hand, try fucking around with the truly functional constraints of Mysterium in the middle of actual play. “No,” the Ghost player says, after a Psychic player has made their guess, “surely you meant this card.” Or a Psychic player goes back through the Ghost player’s materials and discovers that they’ve been altering the combination of Persons, Objects and Locations after each turn to ensure the Psychics only makes the correct guess in the 7th round, ensuring a “tense! fun! game!” Even my mom, who’s never (to my knowledge) read a word about game design in her life, would encounter no difficulty in saying, “Wait a minute, that can’t be right. I thought we were playing this game together.”

To return to the murk, people who think the Ghost player in Mysterium should be their manager, their controller, their chauffeur, their censor, their puppeteer, their personal chef, or their studio exec don’t want to play a game. They don’t want to be anybody’s fellow players. And they sure as hell don't want the Ghost player be an actual, coequal participant. They think smoke and smog are for breathing because they’ve forgotten clear air.

I’m perfectly willing to examine and analyze what they’re doing on its own terms. In fact, I may even be a little envious (some nights, I’d love to have my own personal chef). But I’m under no obligation to agree that what they’re doing is playing Mysterium.

Jesse Burneko's picture

Oh, this is precisely the dangerous place about analogies I was kind of worried about. Basically an image popped in my head that's been haunting me ever since I watched the video, and finally decided to share it. It's imperfect and it's merely an attempt to illustrate that I think there's a line somewhere between the power to override enitrely and the power to select from a given set. But maybe they both get shunted into techniques of control.  I don't know.

Either way, I really don't want to chase this any further.  At least not here.  So I'll just say that I have read what you both wrote and will probably re-read it a few times, so I can process it a bit more.  And if I find an opportunity to revisit this in the more concrete context of play I will.

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Noah! Always a pleasure to hear from you. I get what you're saying, but IMHO what play is could use at least some discussion, mostly because if you look at a lot of - maybe most of? - the GMing advice out there, it doesn't look like play at all to me. In fact, when I've followed it (basically, IC or illusionist railroading) in the past it led to frustration and GM burnout more often than not. If we can help other people not have that experience, I think we'll have done a public service :-)

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm teaching a class about this and all related points right now, and as of its first meeting last Monday, seeing/doing it in action rather than as a design on paper, I'm a little frightened at how strong its content is.

Each of the classes I've designed, and especially "People and Play" and "Phenomena," is aimed at a topic which I think has failed to arrive at a constructive or sensible construct in the 50-year course of the activity's existence. Internet discourse hasn't managed it even at its best. That's why I've chosen to use laboratory teaching techniques and a lower-case "a" academy environment for them.

When I say, "Guys, I can't say anything here, it's in the class," it's not because there's a nugget of a secret I'm demanding payment for, nor because the class will indoctrinate you into thinking right, but because only those formal techniques are at all capable of getting anywhere. Furthermore, "anywhere" isn't some epiphany during class itself as in a movie, but at some unknown point at some later time, personally phrased or known in a specific way, per person.

Given this discussion, and a few others going on at the moment, I've decided that "People and Play" is going to be available during all terms.

Gordon C's picture

Jesse - What the heck, I'll take a stab at something here. I think the changing rules card analogy is 1) quite interesting, for reasons I'll try and express in the next paragraphs, and 2) NOT the heart of the point I hear Ron making of late. I think the heart of the point is the CONTROL, which can be done via changing the rule or lots of other ways. Reliably identifying/avoiding that undesireable "control" (vs. desireable exercise of authorities?) remains a bit slippery for me, but that angle feels like less of a hopeless pit of unending discussion.

But back to card game rules for a bit. I think the card game Mao has been discussed in connection with RPGs at some point, but I failed to find anything searching in the likely places. Mao doesn't tell you the rules, you're supposed to figure them out while playing. Some versions have rules made up each game - not refuting earlier rules, but effectively changing them significantly. I played just a bit with a couple different groups in college(s), and I *hate* the game - it seems like the kind of puzzle-solving that should appeal to me, but in practice it was ridicule-the-new-players, ha-ha you-haven't-figured-it-out bullying.

But remembering that RPG rules are always "what we do", not "what the text says" (even if we're striving real hard to match those up) ... it's always (sigh) kind of like Mao, usually also with some kind of "rule about altering rules" element (and the common admired/despised Rule 0 is NOT a generically good one) . Additionally (and I'm not sure where this bit sits in Ron's current structure/classes), I think RPG rules can also easily (desireably? not so sure) be elusive, so that shifts can sometimes, unsurprisingly, happen with no "control" or other ill-intent.

All that said, in your example card game I think the "is it play (for everyone)?" question gets answered in context and/or control issues. Interesting to note that it supports a pretty pure "intuitive continuity" structure without the refute/override-a-card analogy - I'd be fine with saying it's a better structure/analogy for potentially enjoyable play. But "is it actually enjoyable, and actually play?" remains an open question.

noah's picture

Wanted to split this out of the main stream so as not to distract from Gordon's reply.

Jesse, first off, thanks for reading the post -- if you ever want to discuss this further with a Friendly Random Internet Guy, just let me know, but I totally agree that discussing these topics (with the added layer of various analogies) is really hard in this medium.

Hi Noah! Always a pleasure to hear from you. I get what you're saying, but IMHO what play is could use at least some discussion, mostly because if you look at a lot of - maybe most of? - the GMing advice out there, it doesn't look like play at all to me.

Hello! Yes, I may have put this point too strongly. I think the way my thought is developing is that it's difficult, for me, to discuss play in the abstract. 

If a hypothetical and terribly misguided person asked ME for advice about play, I would ideally want to invite them to play a game with me; I'd tell them that actually doing this together with other people is the only way I broke through the cloud of bad advice and started improving.

That's terribly idealistic...I might also direct them to the recordings of me playing 4e, because they provide a lot of data and actually show people playing. At any rate, I think the best antidote for all the bad advice out there is to actually play with people.

Ron Edwards's picture

A lot of these concerned my own games, with some very experienced inquiries about Sorcerer & Sword, Circle of Hands, and Champions Now, as well what is evidently an ongoing series regarding the multi-decade BRP/RuneQuest "school" of design.

Here's the direct link to Part 1 in the playlist, which continues to parts 2 and 3, and the summary of comments from the Patreon post.

Greg's picture

I had to review the Runequest Strike Rank deeply because I'm actually gming a two players Runequest Glorantha game. There were inconsistencies with the rules when I was considering "Continuous Strike Rank" as you describe, and it seems clear to me after this review that RQ:G states a "everything resets at SR1 of the next round", different of what you describes based on RQ2.

p. 194 of RQ:G has a "Limit to Strike Ranks per Melee Rounds" subchapter. This is the text from the book.

"No action or combination of actions may be performed in one melee round if the total strike rank necessary adds up to more than 12. (my emphasis)

If a spell requires more than 12 strike ranks (including strike ranks for magic points spent, DEX strike rank, unprepared spell, and any boosting magic points), more than one melee round is needed to cast the spell. A spell requiring 37 strike ranks will take 3 full melee rounds to cast and takes effect on strike rank 1 of the fourth melee round.

A parry does not take any strike ranks, though subsequent parries become increasingly difficult (see Subsequent Parries, page 200)."

Also, there is another subchapter p.195 of RG:Q "Multiple Activities Within Melee":

“An adventurer has fewer options when engaged in a melee. When engaged in melee, the adventurer must spend it attacking and defending. While an adventurer might throw a spell at an oncoming foe and then engage that foe in combat within the same round, an adventurer cannot, while engaged in combat, attack both physically and magically. (sic)

This means that an adventurer who starts a round physically engaged in melee may either:

  • Attack and defend normally; or
  • Defend normally and cast spells.

Thus, within a melee, an adventurer’s strike rank indicates when they may initiate an attack. However, the adventurer is performing that attack for the entire round and can do little else except parry or Dodge.”

The Strike Rank Tracker in the Starter Kit (p.5) states that "If an action takes more than 12 strike ranks, subtract 12. It occurs on the remaining strike rank in the next melee round."

This seems only to relate to the special case of a magic action that takes more than 12 SR.

I wasn't sure when I review that part, and with the new insight you provided, I could only find unclear description. But now considering the two different interpretations, it's clear that the RQ:G designers don't consider that you just continue to act from you current RA, but that everything is reset at the SR1 of the new round, with everyone stating their intentions together whent that new round starts.

Ron Edwards's picture

I think I've been through this before, at some point during the many Strike Rank conversations, here or in the Patreon discussions.

I also think I want to emphasize that I do not really care about RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, or how anyone plays it. Or rather, I don't care legalistically regarding their text, because whatever the authors say in there about Strike Rank, it's clearly some kind of artifact which may not reflect much about real play or, logically, how to play. I'm not particularly bound to it for yea or nay.

I will explain.

1. The text you quote about casting a long spell follows the logic I've been saying all this time, that it wraps into the next Strike Rank and you count however many you need to make up the difference. To put this more simply, the transition from 12 to the next 1 is really 12 to 13, and the transition from this upcoming 12 to the next 1 is really 24 to 25, et cetera.

2. If that's happening at the same time as someone whose sword-blow lands at Strike Rank 10, then the next thing they do "costs" seven Strike Ranks, then ... wait, they re-set at the next 1, and their action falls at the following Strike Rank 8? What happened to them during Strike Ranks 11 and 12 while my spellcaster was dutifully counting off the actions of the spell? Did they hang there suspended in space?

I think I understand what they do in play (if anything). Whenever anyone in play finishes an attack and it seems like there's not enough time to do another (which there probably never is), they stop/freeze. This happens to everyone. Therefore play is merely the same-old "one action per round, in order of Dexterity or whatever as modified by X and Y." The only exception is for actions which total to more than 12 Strike Ranks, in which case we switch to the wrapping.

But! Does that apply to all actions that exceed the remaining Strike Ranks? Let's see. My character finishes his sword-blow at Strike 10, and I say, "Now I run over to the big rock," which will require five Strike Ranks.

Well? Do I get two Strike Ranks in during 11 and 12, then finish my run at Strike Rank 3? Or do I "re-set" (because this isn't a spell, remember) to the next 1, which means I'll get there at Strike Rank 6?

If we pick the former, then anyone who's doing anything after their action (which is everyone) should be pointing to the remaining Strike Ranks in the round and saying "Hey, I get those too." If wrapping makes sense for the spell, then it makes sense for running to the rock. If it makes sense for running to the rock, then it makes sense for preparing another attack. If we don't permit it for preparing for another attack ("because it re-sets!") then I guess we just forget extra Strike Ranks for everyone ... and now our spellcaster becomes some kind of time mutant in a rules bubble.

Let's face it: as a combination, the texts you're quoting are blither. Instead of recognizing that "one action per round, re-set" and "rate things in sequential seconds and wrap" are incompatible, they try to do both at once. This makes an instant hash of any situation with a bunch of people running around and doing different things. This isn't a system design, it's failed design - it cannot possibly have been worked out and confirmed in play, and I can only presume they "just knew it" (from similar stuff in BRP, etc) and wrote accordingly. I consider the text that you're quoting about re-setting at 1 to be worthless - merely pissing in our faces and saying it's raining.

Greg's picture

I agree with what you say. I had to review those rules because of inconstancies to try to make sense of that.

There is one thing puzzling me: the superiority of the two-handed spear, which has a SR bonus from 0 (long) to 1 (short), where a dagger has 4 (the numbers are the same in my version of RQ Classic and in RQ:G). A dex 16 character would attack every single SR - sacrificing the opportunity to cast spells. But I didn't have this situation in play so I have not much to say for now.

Ron Edwards's picture

The two-handed spear's 0 Strike Rank - and the quarterstaff as well - have been fun for me in play. I got a good look at the latter in one of the grimdark teenfic RQ games. It's distinctive but I don't think it's broken or strange.

So, as will be evident to anyone who's played Circle of Hands, I am rather impressed by the historical spear. After seeing someone absolutely impale a human-dummy target in chainmail with one, using a running throw from about six meters, I almost think of it as the pre-gun AK-47. 

The dexterous fellow you describe can certainly attack continuously ... but only if he stays right where he is, and if people can only attack from that one optimal angle. It makes sense to me that if someone tries to jab-jab-jab like this, they better have chosen a very advantageous location for that purpose. Because if they get flanked or even if more than one foe attacks, then they need to maneuver. Also, I'm not sure whether the weapon-length rules account for it, but if I'm not mistaken, he'll have a tough time if someone gets past the spear-point and closes. [The rules in Darkurthe Legends are excellent for this - a lot of fighting is based on maintaining the optimal distance for you and not for your opponent.]

By contrast, the dagger's 4 seems unfair to me. I guess it makes sense as long as we're thinking about two guys standing face to face on a level plain. But once semi-grappled, and certainly in any circumstances like being on a bed covered in bedclothes in a bedchamber, that dagger should be super-advantaged in striking speed over literally anything else. I suppose anyone sensible playing the game would assign entirely new Strike Ranks per weapon for such situations, and I can't imagine anyone objecting.

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