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Not hard to imagine

July 1, 2009

Rob has a really great chart about how “things happen” in the fiction in roleplaying games. (He was also kind enough to provide an example chart as well.)

While this is putting the most core aspect of roleplaying (“we make shit up”) under a microscope, it’s sadly necessary, especially when so much of design has been based around the magic box theory – that someone how knowing how it works kills the joy.

Where it becomes interesting is, when we consider System and how it manages the flow of negotiation:

A. Lumpley-Care Principle
1. Constrained by appropriate Fictional Positioning
2. Options/authority divvied by system possibly with cues serving as non-negotiable resources in play.

Thinking of it this way, it’s a little more clear what role cues play – they’re there where you -don’t- want negotiation.

Whether it’s a tactical map or a pacing mechanic to force a choice upon a player, cues serve as “guarantees” – either limiting the kinds of changes that can happen in a fiction (“I’m at 0 hitpoints, I can crawl but I can’t run”) or opening up options (“I’m spending a Narration point, I get to describe what happens!”).

This is also why a group can force many games to focus on whatever they want, and push a Creative Agenda into a game, but if you want to design a game to work a certain way, it’s about constraining negotiation options or encouraging specific contributions, and for many games (and the experience of gamers), that’s often through cues.

That said, here’s some generalizations we see along Creative Agenda lines:

Gamism – Tends to focus a lot on cues, primarily because it provides a better arena for fair competition. Gamism primarily focused on fictional positioning tends to crop up at random places – OD&D, T&T, Amber, and mixed examples – Donjon, Beast Hunters and 1001 Nights. Interesting note- authority and negotiation methods tends to stay stable throughout play for the most part (Donjon being the big exception, Rune being about taking turns being the challenge giver…)

Simulationism– Ends up all around the map in both how it juggles negotiation AND cues- Sim is about the fiction created- so how you get there is more of a personal preference of the group or aspect of the specific game played rather than tied to any method. This is why different Sim might not look the same at all and we see a lot of Sim slides into freeform pretty easily.

Narrativism– Narrativist play tends to focus heavily on negotiation, whether formal rules or informal, if only because making statements through fiction is a natural negotiation process in and of itself. Cues are often either springboards for thematic content or ways to reward or force thematic statements through choices (or cues fall off altogether).

I remember clumsily trying to talk about “The Ball” and Player Input a few years back and basically all of that is wrapped up in how we have formalized or informal negotiation processes to shape the fiction.

Lots to think about.

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