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Who can say it and what they can say

It was good to hear from Jeff again, and especially good to know that he has been exemplifying the concept of "playful play" with his design of Levied Souls, during the two years since we discussed it. You can see those conversations and listen to the audio of playing the game as it stood then at Existential sword and sorcery and Three maybe-maybe-not heroes and that is the point.

We're in the middle of this consulting sequence, and I'm looking forward to trying the rules for cleaving flesh from bone and for spinning one's mind into the abominable vortices. At this point, however, we have focused on the topic of who says what, when they can say it, what they can and cannot say, and whether this is fun. I think it's a good example of how non-abstract the topic of authorities is, and how the details of the things I just mentioned will only be clear in design-and-play terms when the larger issues reach a point of reliable understanding among the group.

I hope you'll check it out and share similarly table-specific, concrete thoughts about the topic.

Department: 
Consulting
Games: 
Levied Souls

Comments

Simon Pettersson's picture

I finally managed to take the time to listen through a video completely! I like the "I talk to the bartender" example. I've heard you use it before, but I found I understood it better this time. Do I have the authority to actually state that this happened, or does it happen on the (implicit or explicit) consent of another player (like a GM)? Both are functional, but it's important to know which one you are playing. The brilliant french game Prosopopée by Frédéric Sintes states it beautifully in a simple rule. "Everything you say is true". It makes it very clear. If you've said it, it's true, and nobody can say it's not. (It's even more hardcore, since it says that nobody can interrupt another player; you have to wait until they finish speaking) I've seen this in other French games, like Dragonfly Motel. I like this way of playing.

The other way of playing has a master of some kind. It is often a GM, but it could be the "scene owner" or something like that. This way of playing has a distinctively different "feel" to it, and is probably (I'm guessing here) preferred by people who find that having control of things outside of your character kills their immersion.

For an actual example, in the "Fighting against yourself" Hantverksklubben session, we had an instance where I was playing Helen and Helda was playing … I want to say Peter? Let's go with that. Helen is standing on the edge of the cliff, about to jump into the water, but she's scared. Helma says how Peter is losing patience and pushes Helen off the edge so she falls in. I say "No, I think as you're about to push me I step back and grab your hand by reflex and pull you in with me". I interrupted and changed the narration that Helma was adding, but by the style of play we use at Hantverksklubben, Helma would have been completely justified in saying "No, I said I pushed you into the water, so that's what happens" if she didn't like the idea. I presented it as "No, what you said doesn't happen. Here's what happens instead," but at least in my mind, it was a "How about this thing instead, is that ok?". (How clear that was around the table is another question.)

Sean_RDP's picture

The other way of playing has a master of some kind. It is often a GM, but it could be the "scene owner" or something like that. This way of playing has a distinctively different "feel" to it, and is probably (I'm guessing here) preferred by people who find that having control of things outside of your character kills their immersion.

For myself, immersion has nothing to do with it. I feel like I would be fully immersed in the Hantverksklubben style of play were I to be involved. So its not immersion, not from my point of view. That term is such a nebulous concept, but to simplify how I look at it:

Immersion = the moments where I the player move from being invested in the activity on a social level to being invested in play on an emotional level.

And that does not have anything to do with resolution of actions or intent. The reason I like GM play is I am not satisfied if all my plans work perfectly and their is no mountain to climb. I am frustrated when my actions do not succeed, but that frustration, ideally, provides impetus for me to try again. It also provides an opportunity for another player to be the hero. 

In other words, I need bounce as a player, in whatever role I as the player have taken on. I need the possibility when my actions meet GM prep or vice versa, that the results will rarely be exactly what I want. Or they are what I want, but my character pays a price for that. 

A great example is the Heavy Gear game I played with Rod and Jon. We were moving in on a target and tryng to avoid an ambush, we moved in a tactical way. Turns out we ran headlong into the ambush anyway. We might have (I might have actually) clued the bad guys into our maneuver by trying to be far too clever. The firefight that ensued was intense and I was not sure we were going to win. We did in fact win, but we had to earn it and it was not without cost.

So, the difference in the two styles as I see them are really negotiation vs. fortune. In negotiation the tools of storytelling and improvisation offer up possible truths that the player then chooses from and delivers as their truth. And as you stated, another player can alter your truth if you allow it. However informal or subtle, I do believe there is negotiation happening in the moments. 

Where as in the fortune style, dice or other things, determine success or failure and then the players, be they protagonists or the GM, pick up the pieces and alter the current scene based on the result. I attack Bob, Bob is fine, bleeding, missing an arm, or dead. So that even in failure something changed. That is the ideal of course.

But I think negotiation and fortune lie on a spectrum and between them with Dharma(sp) or hero points and re-rolls or extra dice is where Jeff's game lies. The ability to alter rolls with some kind of currency seems to me to be a blend of negotiation and fortune. 

Love D's picture

"[...] but at least in my mind, it was a "How about this thing instead, is that ok?".

Just so I understand correctly, what was the reason for this implicit "checking in"? Was it because it was Helma's "go", and thus she had the final say or authority on the matter? 

Simon Pettersson's picture

@Sean, I think you're talking about a different thing. I'm tempted to talk about the Hantverksklubben style of playing and how I also don't always want to get my way either (which has nothing to do with whether or not my character gets theirs), but what you're talking about is the system setting limits on what you are allowed to say, rather than whether you are allowed to state things as true in the fiction (in free play).

To exemplify, in Prosopopée that I mentioned above, the rule is "If you've said it, it's true". However, that doesn't mean you are allowed to state anything you want (which more or less the case at Hantverksklubben, barring contradicting what has already been established). There are certain problems in the game fiction, and these problems can only be solved by using the resolution system. So you cannot just state that this problem has been solved; you have to roll for it, and if you fail, it's not solved (and you designate another player who narrates what happens, possibly worsening the problem or creating a new one). This sort of restriction coming from the system (through a resolution system or otherwise) can exist in both types of games and is independent of whether you have the authority to declare that something has happened. So we can have four different situations:

Player has the authority, no restriction from the system:
Player: "I go and talk to the bartender."
GM: "Actually, before you get to him, a girl walks up to you…"
Player: "No, I said I talk to the bartender."
GM: "Oh, ok, right. He smiles and asks you what you want to drink."
The GM has no right to override the player's established fact.

Player has the authority, but with system restrictions:
Player: "I go and talk to the bartender."
GM: "Ok, but remember, you need to pass a Sneaky roll first since people are looking for you and you're in a public place."
Player: "Oh, right."
The GM has no right to override the player's established fact, but the system has.

GM has the authority, no restrictions:
Player: "I go and talk to the bartender."
GM: "Actually, before you get to him, a girl walks up to you …"
Player: "Aw, dang, ok, what does she want?"
The player has no right to establish that the character is talking to the bartender without GM (tacit or explicit) approval.

Gm has the authority, system restrictions:
Player: "I go and talk to the bartender."
GM: "Actually, before you get to him, a girl walks up to you …"
Player: "Shit, I know what this is about. Can't I spot her and disappear into the crowd?"
GM: "Uh, sure, roll Sneaky."
The player has no right to establish that the character is talking to the bartender without GM (tacit or explicit) approval, but they may call on the system to get around the thing the GM established.

Basically, the way I see it, there's a general rule in free play, but then you can use the system to get the authority to establish certain facts in specific situations. So in a pretty traditional GM-driven game, the player has no right to establish facts, but if they make their to hit roll, the GM can't just say "actually, you miss anyway". Now there are playing styles where the GM has the authority over the rules system as well, and we could talk about dice fudging and whatnot, but that seems beside the point.

Or maybe a more general way of putting it: the system can assign authority to any player, including a GM, at any time, and it can and often does switch around during play.

(Ron, feel free to correct me if I'm misinterpreting your bartender example.)

Simon Pettersson's picture

@Love D:

Just so I understand correctly, what was the reason for this implicit "checking in"? Was it because it was Helma's "go", and thus she had the final say or authority on the matter? 

Because Helma had said something ("I push you into the water") and I wanted to establish something that in part contradicts that ("Actually, I don't get pushed, I jump back, but lose my balance, grab your arm and we both fall in."). Since she had established something, I don't have the right to say "No, that's not what happens". However, I can always suggest something. "Hey, how about this happens instead, yeah?" In actual play, however, I may phrase it as a "No, actually," to make the game flow smoother, if I don't think there's any reason she would object.

Love D's picture

Yes! Then I think I understood you corretly. It's understandable and functional. It could be descibed as a clear distrubution of authorities, moment to moment, just because of the simple fact that the things you say when it's your turn to speak becomes true. Interruption for suggestions etc. are then a natural, non-tedious part of the social activity, because the authorities are clear. If she Helma, on the other hand, was mandated to take "your thing" into account in some way, particularly for example by negotiating a "nice" compromise that all of you could agree too, it would not only be exhausting but also lead to the least surprising or least meaningfully bouncy outcomes.

Love D's picture

The "mechanics" of the game, then, is made of the bounciness inherent in the shifting of authorities from moment to moment, and the constraints that you now have to work from within because of what Helma just "made true" (and also of course the constraints of the Hantverksklubben night's "title" or "topic", and the even fictional earlier events, etc)

Ron Edwards's picture

Regarding the instance of Hantverksklubben play, I have a contrasting view, but also a key point I'll state at the end.

  • Player 1 says "I push you into the lake."
  • Player 2 says "No, you don't, is that OK?"

I see this as a potential failure to communicate and indeed likely to have been murky. Although you as player 2 experienced it as a fine little table-talk moment of, "well, why not this way?" and Helma as player 1agreed, is it even understood, by player 1 (Helma or anyone in this position), that the actual fictional event is still decided by them? I submit that it might not be.

The question is whether the agreement was actually "why, yes, thank you, I shall use this suggestion instead," or is it, "You didn't like that? OK, I'll change it to what you want."

Dialogue of this kind very easily slips into "this is a negotiation and consensus moment," due to lots of things: confusion as to how we do these things at all, specific disorientation at the moment (I, for example, can be badly rattled and blurt out any response), or fatigue of any sort which just agrees to get past the effort of interacting about it.

I wasn't there, of course. But that sets up my key point: you weren't "there" either, i.e., in the position of player 1. Since I don't want to put Helma on the spot (interrogation is not one of my goals here), I think we have to allow for a certain degree of uncertainty about just what was occurring.

Simon Pettersson's picture

Oh, yes, it was absolutely a bit murky. I was even worried afterwards that I had pushed my vision and overridden my fellow player's idea. The fact remains, though, that there was, at least as I saw it, a clear division of authority and about who had the right to say what. It would probably have been better for me to explicitly ask for permission in that situation. There are many similar situations, though, and one doesn't ask for permission every time, since the game would get very tedious. In the bartender example, the player will usually not say "Is it ok if I go up to the bartender to speak to him?". Instead, the player will state "I walk up to the bartender," even when everyone around the table is aware that the player doesn't have the authority to state that, and if something happens to prevent it, the GM will interfere.

In a situation where there is no clear reason why anybody should object, we generally talk like this. However, if the situation is that the bar is absolutely packed and lots of people are ordering drinks from a very busy bartender, the player is more likely to say something like "I'm going to try to talk to the bartender" or "So can I get the bartender's attention?". Here it's obvious that there are reasons why the GM, who has the authority, could object to it, so we may want to be sure we get permission for the fiction we want to add.

In the actual play example, when I said it, I thought of it as a small flavor change with no real consequence. Whether or not Peter fell in was pretty unimportant; the scene mostly established Helen's inelegance and fear. Peter was a side character. It's still probably an important enough distinction that it might have been better to ask for permission first, but I think that's a separate issue from the authority thing. We don't always ask for permission, or it would get really old really quickly, as a player could pretty much not say anything without permission in a game with strong GM authority.

Ron Edwards's picture

This example has led us astray. I'd much rather follow up in a screen discussion some time, or better, I suggest that the topic be addressed by the only proper fellow participant, who isn't me, outside of this post in some way.

Here, I'd like to get back to your first comment's points before the example. I'll start a new comment stream for that.

Ron Edwards's picture

We went right into the fight stuff for this one, applying a different variable to the "who says what" issue: whether speaking is revising what's been said vs. developing/resolving what's been said.

Here's the direct link into the playlist.

Ron Edwards's picture

Now this part is some of my favorite stuff: how characters change. It ties right into a lot of prior discussions across all the sections of Adept Play, especially "spending points" in just about every configuration of that phrase. Please check it out: here's the link into the playtest.

(special consulting note: a unit of consulting is made of three sessions, but our first conversation in this set is pretty short, so I said up-front that it didn't count for the three. Hence, four sessions in terms of numbering the videos.)

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