Mechanics? Method!

edited March 2012 in Story Games
I ask your pardon in advance if you find part of this post hard to swallow. I am not trying to offend anyone, but are writing out of frustration with the use of the terms "mechanics" and "system" on this forum (and others). I would like to present you with a fresh perspective on role-playing games. Please try to read charitably.

From a thread on mechanics I quote:
Posted By: Upstart-In the games you play, can you trace the fiction back to mechanics ("Jo shooting Jim clearly means that Jo's player used her Condition: armed")?
-If not, does it imply you're creating the fiction without much help from the system, mechanics and fiction each staying in their own realm?
-Do easily reskinnable mechanics mean there was not that much flavor in them in the first place?
-In the games you play, do you ever have things happening in fiction that you absolutely didn't want or couldn't foresee happening, as in, you can't just always interpret the mechanics so that you get something you wanted in the first place?
-If some mechanical element doesn't come up in the game fiction at all, can it still be relevant in some way?
Mechanics

I consider that term to be responsible for the mechanical focus of indie-games in your gaming culture, in lieu with the term "system", which carries much of the same connotations.

The way these questions are phrased is typical of the mechanical focus; a lot of people talk about games as if there was no tools outside the mechanical range. Of course there is, and they know it, but it does not show in their writing! Why? the answer is easy; you lack terms for them, mainly due to the dominance of the terms "system" and "mechanics". The dominant use of these terms indicates that there is nothing but dice/coins out there. As a result you largely ignore the tools that may be had outside the "mechanics".

VISION -> INTERACTION -> FICTION
- a simple model of how to get from A to Z, when thinking of role-playing games

The habitual use of misleading terms in rpg-discussions, has enormous impact on your vision when designing a role-playing game. Envisioning game-play is part of the vision every designer has when toying with ideas of a new game. If you are limited to the mechanical range of tools, your vision will be left with little but intuition when it comes to how your game is really played; the real game-play of the game is not in the mechanical range; it takes place in the communication between players; in the verbal, physical and social techniques used by players in a game-session.

The interaction of a role-playing game is a kind of ritual. Everything you do in that ritual counts; talking, touching, grimacing, rolling dice, shuffling coins, consulting rules, doing mathematics, etc. The way you do every single of these things, and the way you bind all of it together, has impact on your game. The interaction of a role-playing game is as diverse as any inter-human interaction, with the added spice that we engage our imagination on a

The goal of the ritual is the creation of an engaging fiction. Every participant in the ritual goes away from it with his/her own fiction. Even though we build our fiction on the same elements, in cooperation, we do not share the fiction. It is internal, and individual. The fiction consist of more than the narrative; it is the thoughts and expectations surrounding the happenings of the game, your subjective point of view, the emotions it stirs in you, what you care about and not, etc.

METHOD
- an old term that can help open your field of thought on what a role-playing game is, and how such games are played

When designing for interaction you have to give the players a method. The method is how they are instructed to play the game, in full, the use of mechanics included. Included are also all elements described in the interaction-pharagraph above, especially the use of inherent skills of dialogue. You may group the elements in three main fields; mechanics, techniques and setting. The method is the totality of all you do, and all you make use of, to make the game happen.

There is no need to leave anything out. Everything that has, or may have, an impact on your game, is worth considering as a part of the game-method. If you need to have the game played with hats on; then make hats part of the method. If how players talk is essential; make it part of the method. When you really get this, you may start designing new tools, exploring the possibilities in other parts of the interaction; you may build a method with a new balance in how mechanics and techniques work in your game.

SYSTEM AND MECHANICS
- two terms which are habitually used wrong, to the detriment of clear thinking on role-playing games

I have discussed "lumpley system" before, and even though I am in agreement with most of what it stands for, I am not very keen on using it. It is far from intuitive, and too close to the term "system".

I am as opposed to the general use of "system" as I am to the general use of "mechanics". These two terms are habitually used as terms for the totality of play, and therein lies the problem; they do not represent the totality in a good way. They tend to cloud the matter at hand, leading to a lot of unchecked misreadings, when used to discuss the methodology of role-playing games.

The design of a role-playing game is a huge challenge. It is a challenge that is best met with clarity of thought. I suspect that the unfortunate use of "system" and "mechanics" is a problem for budding designers in the English speaking area. The clarity of thought that is so important when designing a new game, is clouded by the use of these terms.

THE SIMPLE WAY OF THINGS
No role-playing game has ever been played by mechanics alone. To play a role-playing game the players need to make use of techniques, first and foremost. In most games these techniques are supported by mechanics. In most discussions of role-playing games the techniques are forgotten about, and mechanics rule the field alone. Strange ...
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Comments

  • You're not saying anything I would disagree with. Obviously the system of play is made of not only mechanical elements, but also methodical ones. I don't think I've seen a compelling game where this was not the case, although maybe such would be possible.

    As for why people don't talk about methodology as much as mechanics, I don't know; I suspect that it's a case of the poisoned well, where you don't want to bother yourself with talking about something that has traditionally been dominated by vague generalizations and talking past each other. Thinking for myself, I'm eager to talk about methodology in the context of specific games, but at the same time I'm utterly disinterested in your average forum filler "what makes a good GM" threads. If others are feeling the same way I do, then that would explain why it seems that method is not appreciated, simply because it's been run to the ground as a discussion topic.
  • Mechanical elements are part of it, yes, and techniques too. The method is a term to encompass both, and all other stuff that is part of how we play the game. I use method as a term for the totality of game-play.

    As for discussions on techniques used by players to create the fiction; I find that it has been discussed, yes, but with a lot of misreadings and misconceptions stemming from lack of terminology, and from slack use of what terms we have. The discussions on the field of dialogue-techniques are suffering in the current terminological climate (LOL).
  • Although there's some potential for a very awkward overlap with the Forge meanings associated with many of these terms, I like the basic premise, and I may adopt the term "method" in this context myself. I like that: it's certainly nice to have some means of explaining that you wish to talk about *how* a certain game might be played, including techniques, player roles, and mechanics.
  • I hope you are able to turn these terms into good use, Paul. Thanks for taking up the challenge!

    In my view The Forge has some fundamental flaws to how terms are defined and used. I discussed it with Ron years back, and found him to be intellectually sharp on content, but weak on terminology. Myself, I'm a bugger for good terminology, as you may have surmised. :-)
  • edited March 2012
    I would argue that what you call the method can never be conveyed. Rather, you provide players with a rules text or teach them to play. The method arises from a momentary agreement, the game rules, between the players of an individual game instance. The mechanics of a game are the operating principles of the structures internal to the game rules. The system (in play) is the totality of the game mechanics. The system (in a wider sense) is the set of all methods under a common heading. Game designers cannot deal directly in method, they can only inspire it. The variety of contexts, players, interpretations and text-modifications is too vast. Mechanics, on the other hand, can be conveyed consistently through rules text. Hence, it is a noble goal to create mechanics that efficiently convey what you call techniques.

    tl;dr: Game text is not telepathy, mechanics are a communication tool.

    ed: I should clarify that I know nothing about the Forge meanings of these terms. I'm informed by the wider (not necessarily rp) game design discourse.
  • edited March 2012
    Sam; I've done design of role-playing games totally bereft of mechanics. My peers here in Norway have done likewise. Modern games with fully functional methods consisting of only technique and setting. I find it a challenge to write those modern games, and to convey how they are played, but no more of a challenge than designing classical role-playing games, with mechanics.

    In my classical design too, when designing with the leader (the "GM") of the game as an agent of mine, I like to give advice on how to set up the gaming-situation, talk to the group, make use of body-face-hands to help game-play into the right mode, etc. I trust the buyers of my games to get the techniques I'm talking about, and have in fact seen both leaders and players grasp it quite quickly.

    I do make use of mechanics too, in classical games, to lighten the burden of decision-making for the leader. In those designs the mechanics are good tools for nudging the narrative in unexpected directions, and for leaving the leader to focus on being the narrator of consequences, rather than the decider of failure/success.

    So, Sam; let us return to your statement:
    - "what you call the method can never be conveyed".
    As you may have seen already I have to refute it. I have done designs, and others have too, that proves this statement to be false. It is certainly possible to convey how a game shall be played. The method is all about how a game is played. Not telling your players that, when selling them a game, is a bit strange. Writing a method is all about telling the players how to make use of your game, and giving them the tools to do so. That must be done. I hope you agree to that.

    On another tack ...
    I prefer designing modern role-playing games without mechanics. English speaking "indie"-designers prefer to design with mechanics of some sort. They have explored the field of mechanics thoroughly, and have unearthed a lot of interesting things that way, innovations which is a boon to role-playing games as a form. I love role-playing games, and would never been without the different "schools" of design around the world.

    But I do believe that the time has come for the "Anglo school" to adopt a wider perspective now, by including more of the techniques I am talking about, when thinking and crafting new designs, whether their games are classical (leader + players) or modern (all are players).

    I believe that playing down the use and importance of terms which comes with unfortunate connotations, is a good way to start widening the perspective. By bringing the terminology up to par with the full picture of what a role-playing game is (and how we all understand it to be, actually), we enables designers (and players) to seek out the future with more clarity and confidence.
  • To start with, the goal of my post was to show that your terminological critique was not a terminological critique, but a point against the use of mechanics in roleplaying games. Looks like that went swimmingly, which I guess opens up discussion for the real subject of the thread - whether or not mechanics are good. I would say useful, but you have already admitted that they come in handy at times. So the subject, I guess, is whether or not mechanics are what we should be doing.

    Firstly, though, I have to clarify my post because you have read me as having said some things I didn't intend to mean. When I say that method cannot be conveyed, I am not saying that no part of the method other than the mechanics can be conveyed. What I am saying is that some elements of the non-mechanical part of the method cannot be conveyed, and that like most texts and practices, the game will morph as it circulates and grows. As I said in my first post, we attempt to convey the way a game is played, its rules, the agreements that players reach around play, through text, speech or teaching. The method cannot, holistically, be conveyed, just as the fiction cannot leave the mind of the author and inhabit text. This doesn't stop us from attempting the feat, but recognising impossibility greatly improves out ability to graze against it.

    Whether mechanical work in roleplaying games is useful is a pretty open question. I could be misinterpreting him, but I've had a conversation with David Berg in which he provided a pretty strong argument towards using mechanical rules to convey what you describe as techniques in game text. It's not something I do much myself, but I think that using rules to transmit teaching-by-interaction through text is a valid and useful idea. Similarly, I think that there is merit in deconstructing the game text into mechanical and other kinds of parts (e.g. setting, 'techniques', modifications, goals) to allow game elements to be more easily recombined and compared. We should also try to be aware of the presence of mechanics in our purportedly non-mechanical designs. Not because representing things as mechanical rules is inherently better, but rather that being able to nimbly re-represent designs is valuable.

    Providing your players with useful suggestions for play is the subject of roleplaying game design and writing. Which suggestions need to be made and how they should be made is an entirely different subject. So, yes, usually if you believe that you have made a game, you want to tell your players how to play it. I have not made a singular game, and therefore the goal of my roleplaying work is to provide people with tools for playing their game using our group's ideas.
  • Posted By: TomasHVMMechanicalelements are part of it, yes, andtechniquestoo.The methodis a term to encompass both, and all other stuff that is part ofhow we play the game. I usemethodas a term for the totality of game-play.
    I would argue that the overwhelming majority of play in interactive, fiction-based games does not fall under the umbrella of method. As it is, method is describing only a significant, but incomplete, part of how we design games and a small part of play behaviour. The processes of social group formation / evolution, communication, comprehension, open creativity, and aesthetic judgement are all easily important as these intentional, self-contained methods.

    Part of this is a tendency to focus on the design perspective when analysing games, to over-value what happens in play which is proactive, immediately visible, and fully conscious. It may be a revolution worth having, but its so much more provincial than the revolution I want to be having.

    Which is why I don't talk about RPG theory much any more...

    Good luck!

    - Mendel
  • Posted By: bigglesTo start with, the goal of my post was to show that your terminological critique was not a terminological critique, but a point against the use of mechanics in roleplaying games. Looks like that went swimmingly, which I guess opens up discussion for the real subject of the thread - whether or not mechanics are good.
    Please! You are derailing the thread. As said; I use mechanics in my design. I have nothing against it. Saying a professional designer is "against the use of mechanics" is absurd. It's a moot position.

    This thread is meant as an initiative towards tidying up the terminology much in use here, with the haphazard use of "mechanics" and "system" in particular. In current use these are inaccurate and chameleon terms, often encompassing so much that it is unhealthy for the clarity of discussion and thought.

    I've tried to put this in context there, to make it clear why method is a much better term to make use of.
  • edited March 2012
    I must admit, in my post, and generally, I use the terms rules, mechanics and system interchangeably. I never talk about techniques. Am I a bad person? I can't really say this thread makes the difference between the concepts clear.
  • edited March 2012
    Perhaps is the fact that I have to translate what I read into spanish in my head to understand it, but I've never had trouble with the use of these terms. However I DO have a problem with the attitude of some designers that think the way a game is played is totally up to the players and don't realize there's an important part they are leaving out of their rulesets. Understanding the way a game is played is of the utmost importance to actually enjoy it as it was designed, instead of inventing another way of playing it. Gary Gygax played old D&D in a totally different way than first edition players did, since none of the techniques he used went public until he DMed at conventions.

    So I say, hey try this out, let's use this terminology and see how much of your dreamed game you aren't explaining to the players, leaving them the work to come up with techniques on their own. I'd say in most cases they will bring to the table the ones they know from previous games you hate... which probably were the reason why you went through all the trouble of designing a new game.

    But yes, the terminology is still a bit confusing. Let me see if I got it right:

    -You give players RULES and ADVICE. The former is meant to be used in full, while the latter isn't neccesary to apply but could help.
    -The rules and advice are meant to convey MECHANICS -which are the dynamic relationship of procedures generated by the rules- and TECHNIQUES -which are guidelines for the interaction between players
    -Once the players get al least the basics of the mechanics and techniques and how they interrelate, they get a grasp of the METHOD, the way the designer meant the game to be played, and so they are actually ready to play and enjoy the game as the designer envisioned.
    -How that players use the method after that is up to them, they can generate their own house rules if they find the techniques are inssufficient or if the mechanics don't support a particular technique they are used to. And so in turn they can generate their own ADVICE.
    -Use the word SYSTEM again and Thomas will kick the crap out of you.

    Ok, I added my two cents but I think I've got it - How far I am, Thomas?
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: TomasHVMPosted By: bigglesTo start with, the goal of my post was to show that your terminological critique was not a terminological critique, but a point against the use of mechanics in roleplaying games. Looks like that went swimmingly, which I guess opens up discussion for the real subject of the thread - whether or not mechanics are good.
    Please! You are derailing the thread. As said; I use mechanics in my design. I have nothing against it. Saying a professional designer is "against the use of mechanics" is absurd. It's a moot position.

    This thread is meant as an initiative towards tidying up the terminology much in use here, with the haphazard use of "mechanics" and "system" in particular. In current use these are inaccurate and chameleon terms, often encompassing so much that it is unhealthy for the clarity of discussion and thought.

    I've tried to put this in context there, to make it clear whymethodis a much better term to make use of.
    ok denn. I think there's a methodological argument implicit in your 'terminological clarification', but if you don't want to talk about it... Well, you already omitted the clarification of the part of my post you quoted. Aight then.
  • ...and to make terminological clarifications even muddier...

    A "Mechanic" in Australian English, is a person who manipulates a "Mechanism", they often do so by following a specific "Methodology".
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: WarriorMonkBut yes, the terminology is still a bit confusing. Let me see if I got it right:

    -You give players RULES and ADVICE. The former is meant to be used in full, while the latter isn't neccesary to apply but could help.
    -The rules and advice are meant to convey MECHANICS -which are the dynamic relationship of procedures generated by the rules- and TECHNIQUES -which are guidelines for the interaction between players
    -Once the players get al least the basics of the mechanics and techniques and how they interrelate, they get a grasp of the METHOD, the way the designer meant the game to be played, and so they are actually ready to play and enjoy the game as the designer envisioned.
    -How that players use the method after that is up to them, they can generate their own house rules if they find the techniques are inssufficient or if the mechanics don't support a particular technique they are used to. And so in turn they can generate their own ADVICE.
    -Use the word SYSTEM again and Thomas will kick the crap out of you.
    Paulo Rivas; I love you! :-)
    Posted By: wyrmwoodAs it is, method is describing only a significant, but incomplete, part of how we design games and a small part of play behaviour. The processes of social group formation / evolution, communication, comprehension, open creativity, and aesthetic judgement are all easily important as these intentional, self-contained methods.
    Let me rephrase:
    - The intent of method is to describe the totality of how we play a game. It is squarely located in the interactive field, and not part of the fiction. It does not encompass the effects of the game, as they are experienced in the fiction.

    And still; the "totality of how we play" is the intent, not the reality. I believe it is hard to reach that goal, but we may go a long way yet, towards it, before we need to stop and say that we can get no further. There are lots of techniques that may be described, and put to conscious use, laying in wait for the inventive designer of role-playing games. And there are, and will always be, elements of play that eludes a designer.

    So yes; you are right, in a way, looking at the situation today; a lot of the techniques I'm talking of eludes the average designer. Even the player using it does not see how it works, and ties into the game, most of the time. Still; our ignorance today, is no reason to shy away from taking active part in a development that is bound to come, sooner or later. We will learn more, and the most important lessons of the foreseeable future lies in the dialogue-techniques of the method. We need to deepen our understanding of them, invent more of them, and make them part of our design-apparatus.
    Posted By: wyrmwoodPart of this is a tendency to focus on the design perspective when analysing games, to over-value what happens in play which is proactive, immediately visible, and fully conscious. It may be a revolution worth having, but its so much more provincial than the revolution I want to be having.
    I'd like a spiritual revolution; designers and players alike getting into the magical psychology and social powers of role-playing games. Us understanding the true powers of this form, and using it to our betterment.

    You want to follow me into that landscape?
    Posted By: bigglesWhat Iamsaying is that some elements of the non-mechanical part of the method cannot be conveyed, and that like most texts and practices, the game will morph as it circulates and grows.
    It will! You are right! Games have always morphed. They propose interactive procedures to the players, and the very nature of those procedures is empowerment; we the players are masters of the game. We are co-artists!

    But the interactive nature of the game does not make the designer, nor the players, better off with inadequate and misleading terminology. It gives us a depth of engagement that is seldom found in other art-forms, and that engagement is an obligation. We are obliged to find good terms by the simple reason that we are so bloody engaged in this activity, and need to understand what it's all about. We need a deeper understanding!
  • Posted By: TomasHVM
    - Theintentof method is to describe the totality of how we play a game. It is squarely located in the interactive field, and not part of the fiction. It does not encompass the effects of the game, as they are experienced in the fiction.

    And still; the "totality of how we play" is the intent, not the reality. I believe it is hard to reach that goal, but we may go a long way yet, towards it, before we need to stop and say that we can get no further. There are lots of techniques that may be described, and put to conscious use, laying in wait for the inventive designer of role-playing games. And there are, and will always be, elements of play that eludes a designer.

    So yes; you are right, in a way, looking at the situation today; a lot of the techniques I'm talking of eludes the average designer. Even the player using it does not see how it works, and ties into the game, most of the time. Still; our ignorance today, is no reason to shy away from taking active part in a development that is bound to come, sooner or later. We will learn more, and the most important lessons of the foreseeable future lies in the dialogue-techniques of the method. We need to deepen our understanding of them, invent more of them, and make them part of our design-apparatus.

    I luv you too, please marry me. :D

    For example, the quintaessential technique for roleplaying everybody uses and no one can tell exactly when they learned it is this:
    GM: "Now what do you do?"
    It has become practically a ritual as the universal prompt for player input. I don't know how many rulebooks actually describe it and ask GMs to say it like this. I'm sure there should be more than one, but I can't recall a precise chapter in any of the ones I've readed) Now, if as a designer you take advantage of this knowledge and hack this technique and more, how many possibilities do you think that adds to the field of RPG design?

    And that was just a Technique.
  • I think you're fighting a losing battle here. We already know what system means (it means: "the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.") Telling us that it means some bad thing, and you're going to define some other word to mean exactly the same thing is not super useful.

    I agree that we haven't fully explored the non-mechanical parts of system enough (although there is a lot of movement in that direction: see Apocalypse World, for instance), but I don't see why you want to redefine all of our words just to tell us to do this thing we already wanted to do

    (@WarriorMonk: What you just described is the whole MC chapter in Apocalypse World.)
  • Posted By: TomasHVM...the dominance of the terms "system" and "mechanics". The dominant use of these terms indicates that there is nothing but dice/coins out there. As a result you largely ignore the tools that may be had outside the "mechanics".
    I completely agree with the sentiment here. We often think too much in terms of mechanics. Worse, we often read "system" and think "mechanics".

    That said, I don't like the term "method". Firstly, because terminological debates never lead anywhere. Secondly, I think the term "system" is more powerful. As you define "method", Tomas, it seems like it flows from the game designer. It's everything you (the game designer) need to make the game work.

    But system is about the group: it's everything the group agrees upon in play. It's a much more inclusive concept, incorporating emergent interactions as well as deliberately designed methods.
  • edited March 2012
    I'm new to all this but gist of your article seems to be that there is a "soft" and "hard" aspect to playing these games. In your opinion, forum discussions have been dominated by the hard aspects of game design and you are trying to reintroduce the soft aspects of game design as an important aspect that needs to be consciously discussed. If so, then maybe a better way to approach the problem is to categorize the word. After reading the thread maybe you could break the hard and soft like this:

    HARD: Rules (little instructions) -> Mechanics (instructions put togther) -> System (the overall game, all the mechanics put together)
    SOFT: Tone/Advice -> Techniques (??? still sounds "hard" to me) -> Method.

    *potential thread derail*
    In thinking about Hard/Soft, lets take something like draw Poker for an example. At the start of a hand, the dealer collects the cards, makes sure they are all turned face down, shuffles them a few times, hands it to the guy on the right who cuts the deck, and then deals the cards one at a time starting with the player to the left until each player has 5 face down cards. At firs glance this would look like a series of rules that encompasses the randomization mechanic for the game. However, as specific as it sounds, there is actually a lot of soft information buried in there -- there is no particular reason you have to have the guy to the right cutting the deck...or really anyone cutting the deck, nor is there a requirement for any particular way of dealing the cards, but it sure as hell feels wrong to do it otherwise. As such basic HARD mechanic is really this, randomize the cards and get 5 face down cards in front of each player. And all that other stuff is SOFT stuff which if ignored would really hamper the playing experience. All that said, after writing this paragraph maybe the hard/soft dichotomy is kind of useless...but I'll post it anyways for posterity sake.
  • Ok, maybe we aren't ready for taking this revolution so far yet. Can we start with something smaller? Can we at least keep the term Techniques? I'm like, really really interested in that right now.

    I don't know how many designers here are familiar with Social Psychology
    Techniques are somewhat an implementation of social psychology into RPGs. The reason AW flows in such a good way is because it incorporates some of this. I don't know how much of it is just common sense from the genius and experience of Vincent Baker and how much is actual research in that particular field. I've got the feeling norwegian games are more developed in the techniques side, and I'm wondering how much (and exactly how) could we benefit from this. I'd really like to see an actual list of techniques if there's such thing. Does anybody knows more about the subject?
  • Tomas, I don't doubt that you can run a good game, and teach someone else how to run your game by playing with them and talking to them, but when it comes time to teach your game to people who will never meet you, how do you propose to achieve that?

    A good mechanic is compulsory and/or rewarding. You learn it, remember it, and use it, because it is a basic part of how you play the game and pursue your game goals. If you roll a die and it gets your character closer to winning, chances are good you'll remember that and roll again.

    A method which fails those conditions may not survive the journey from your brain to the printed page to another player's table as easily. Any method that fails that journey isn't a viable ingredient for design, no matter how vital an ingredient it is for play.

    Could you share a paragraph of methods from one of your favorite games here?
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: GrahamI completely agree with the sentiment here. We often think too much in terms of mechanics. Worse, we often read "system" and think "mechanics".
    Very good, Graham. The purpose of this thread is accomplished. I really want to introduce another perspective on here. What I am proposing is not just a single term, method, but a school of thinking that makes it easier to discover the design-possibilities within the field of dialogue-techniques; the real motor of any role-playing game. It is really the motor, much more so than any mechanics, and being that it is flabbergastingly little talked about. I believe the reason is that the psycho-social elements of dialogue makes is hard to grasp, much harder than the challenges of measuring how a die should affect a quantified paper-persona. Making good mechanics is a challenge, ja, but it presents a bleak challenge, in comparison to understanding and working the nuances of a dialogue in a gaming group.
    Posted By: PeterBBI think you're fighting a losing battle here.
    I'm not fighting a battle, Peter. I do not expect a change to happen by me posting here, not a general change at least. I hope it will, but don't expect it to. But I do expect that someone will see the substance of these writings, like Graham above, and be better aware of how these things connects, and thus be able to apply another perspective to their game-play or design.

    System means "the way we play", and it means "mechanics", and it means "game". Some people says it means "the means by which the group agrees to imaginary events during play", but I do believe those are a tiny minority, and they are also battling the other ways of interpreting this term. That battle is lost again and again, leading to misreadings.
    Posted By: GrahamAs you define "method", Tomas, it seems like it flows from the game designer. It's everything you (the game designer) need to make the game work.
    I'm a designer, so it might well be that what I write reads like a designers perspective. I'm fine with that. What is the problem? Should I be more player than I am? LOL

    It does not follow by that, that this term method is a "designers term". It's not everything a designer needs to make a game work. It is a term that can help players and designers alike to a better understanding of what they actually do:
    - by being a pliable term for discussing role-playing games on a certain level (the totality of how we play)
    and
    - by being a term that indicates more than the "system" or "mechanics" in use on that level at present.
    You still need to walk the walk, and you do have to explore the miles of "soft" ground in a wider understanding of the rpg-landscape. You need to "bog down" into the mire of psychosocial realities of dialogue. I expect designers to lead on in such a quest, and players to join in while contributing their particular perspective as an important corrective.
    Posted By: WarriorMonkFor example, the quintaessential technique for roleplaying everybody uses and no one can tell exactly when they learned it is this:
    GM:"Now what do you do?"
    It has become practically a ritual as the universal prompt for player input.
    Yes. We play a simple game, actually. And yet; so complex!

    The tools are simple, and we do have them in us already. Role-playing games would be impossible without human skill in communication; our training in improvising dialogue in every meeting with other humans, every day. Those skills are the true gist and motor of role-playing games. I purport to organize our thoughts on those skills, and make use of them in a conscious manner, so to make role-playing games play even better in the future.

    Have a nice day!

    BTW: I'm luckily married, so no marriage proposals will be expected. LOL
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: TomasHVM
    It will! You are right! Games have always morphed. They propose interactive procedures to the players, and the very nature of those procedures isempowerment; we the players are masters of the game. We are co-artists!

    But the interactive nature of the game does not make the designer, nor the players, better off with inadequate and misleading terminology. It gives us a depth of engagement that is seldom found in other art-forms, and that engagement is an obligation. We are obliged to find good terms by the simple reason that we are so bloody engaged in this activity, and need to understand what it's all about. We need a deeper understanding!
    Mechanic and System are useful terms and are definable in the sense I used in my first post in this thread, so they don't carry an inherent muddiness. The kind of many-meaning-ness carried by these words is carried by most other words too. I bet you didn't know that "lamp" was both a verb meaning "to relax" and a term for a web server configuration.

    I agree that the analysis of concepts is a useful activity in game design. I also think that looking at the way words are used is potentially a useful activity. I don't think that your particular criticisms are justified because I don't think that most people really do use [i]mechanics[/i] to refer to the totality of play. As for [i]system[/i] I think that it has taken on a double meaning, as I analysed above. I don't find the two uses of the word particularly confusing, but if you do, you could call the local sense the "immediate core mechanics" and the wider sense the "church" or "family".

    A preferable approach to trying to come up with new and distinctive terminology for each analysed meaning of a word is to be clear about how you are using words when you use them and clarify when necessary. This is particularly helpful when dealing with people who don't necessarily know the jargon your design tradition is fond of. The body of research on games is wide enough as it is. Between the computer scientists, the literary theorists and the philosophers, I think we have enough obscure terminology as it is.
    Posted By: WarriorMonk
    For example, the quintaessential technique for roleplaying everybody uses and no one can tell exactly when they learned it is this:
    GM:"Now what do you do?"
    It has become practically a ritual as the universal prompt for player input. I don't know how many rulebooks actually describe it and ask GMs to say it like this. I'm sure there should be more than one, but I can't recall a precise chapter in any of the ones I've readed) Now, if as a designer you take advantage of this knowledge and hack this technique and more, how many possibilities do you think that adds to the field of RPG design?
    And that was just a Technique.
    Believe it or not, I first found out this existed about a month ago when I read the rules to Apocalypse World. We don't do it. I actually thought Vincent invented it until right now. Firm sounding and all that, but people tend to take the usual conversational cues for input just as well. I guess if you were used to waiting until you were asked "What do you do?", you might not slip into a game where you're expected to respond to conversational pauses in description so well? Anyways, we don't do it! Must be part of an endemic New Zealand tradition somehow or something.
  • edited March 2012
    That's interesting, Sam! I would really like to read a report of what you do; the conversational pauses, and whatever a leader in your games use to nudge players into action; or to open the field for them. And how the players behave in such an interactive climate. Maybe paired with some thoughts on how it affects your game-play. If you could open a thread on that subject, I would be very interested. :-)
  • A note on the approach: may I propose to go tabula rasa with the terminology and start using abstract words that carry no semantic baggage? Call stuff alpha, beta and turtleblue.

    Discuss about what goes where and the functional relationships between game parts. Draw pictures and boxes as needed.

    Stick on the terminology only once done.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: bigglesA preferable approach to trying to come up with new and distinctive terminology for each analysed meaning of a word is to be clear about how you are using words when you use them and clarify when necessary. This is particularly helpful when dealing with people who don't necessarily know the jargon your design tradition is fond of. The body of research on games is wide enough as it is. Between the computer scientists, the literary theorists and the philosophers, I think we have enough obscure terminology as it is.
    I don't think the problem is as much adding a word, but trying to replace an existing word with a new distinctive word. I think the bigger terminological problem with eliminating a word from usage is that there is a reason why everyone is using the word. Even if it is being used sloppily, the original makes intuitive sense to a lot of people and they find it a convenient vehicle for conveying concepts as they read and write. Just pulling the rug out from under everybody and replacing it with another word that is in just as ambiguous (in part due to the new term's newness) doesn't necessarily help clarify discussion.

    I think it would better to add a word (method) and then redefine the existing word (system) using this new pairing to create the more nuance/logical/etc. distinction that you want to create (now that we have this duality of method vs system we can now compare and contrast these two concepts).

    edit: There would be one exception to the suggestion above. If you are trying to BREAK the a way of thought then a word replacement would be appropriate. For example I find the discussion confusing in part because I think of mechanics as a collection of rules, and furthermore I think of system as a collection of mechanics, as such its a very convenient and logical set of definitions, even if other people use it sloppily. Now if your polemic is that there is no such thing as a pure "system" of collected "mechanics" untainted by "techniques"; then deleting the existing word and replacing it with a new one would make sense (eg it impossible to collect mechanics alone a combined set of mechanics will always include techniques, I call this collection "method"). But that wasn't how the proposal was framed, though I think Sam suspected that was where you were headed in an earlier reply.
  • Not "eliminating"; limiting the use so it does not carries all the misreadings and faulty thinking.

    I'm using mechanics for the mechanics of a game; dice rolling, number crunching, leveling. It suits that side of the games we play.

    I'm using techniques for the techniques we use in a game; dialogue, group-dynamics, leadership. it suits that side of role-playing games quite nicely.

    Method encompasses all mechanics and techniques needed to play a game, including how various setting elements are incorporated in game-play.

    Using two terms on the sub-level here (mechanics and techniques), makes it clear that an ordinary role-playing method consist of two major elements. That does a lot to ease our thinking and talking of mechanics, AND techniques. Using "mechanics" for it all, means a lot of players/designers get stuck with the idea that "dice rolling, number crunching and leveling" is all there is to it.

    A lot of people is so stuck with the mechanical perspective, that they even argue that you cannot describe or make conscious use of dialogue-techniques. When told that this is not right, and that designers have done so in a lot of games, they tend to close their ears and keep on as before. I find that a bit sad. And I do believe it is a consequence of terms, amongst other things. To change the way you use these terms will be a nice step towards a wider perspective on role-playing games.
  • ok that makes sense...so that ties in with my edit above, you find the word "system" confusing because it creates an extra layer of unecessary stratification and reinforces a false divide that you want to eliminate.
  • edited March 2012
    "System" equals mechanics to me, when I write on these things. And that makes sense to most people. I know the public (read: rpg-players) also read it as game, as in: "What system are you playing?" That makes sense too, in a way, as the public invariably mix up the use of "system" and "mechanics". Players and designers alike often believe a role-playing game consist of nothing but the mechanics.

    I'm not confused by any of this, but I feel some concern over the issues it leaves unexplored and clouded, as a consequence, at the heart of role-playing games. This thread is me trying to help clarify the situation, in my small way.

    BTW: change is a challenge to all, any which way you look at it, but the challenge is greater for those adamant about change being impossible. ;-)
  • Tomas, you know I'm already on board with the sort of linguistic distinction you're advocating for in this thread.

    Having said that, where to now with the concept covered by method+ low mechanics roleplaying/story-gaming?
  • edited March 2012
    I have two cents:

    1) I've always used "system" the way you use (or propose to use) "method". To me, system is comprised of mechanics and technique. I can't remember where or how I cam to that conclusion, but that's how I've always interpreted the word when it's used in design shop-talk.

    2) The poker analogy for hard/soft was great! And the whole hard/soft concept is something that I would find much more appealing, were we to go ahead and change design terminology. Simplify!
  • I am looking forward to read about the non mechanical techniques you have identified. On the other hand, I am even more confused about the jargon now :-)
  • LOL

    I cannot help you, Ivan. Confusion has come to stay!

    Try to imagine the techniques yourself; you do use them! All of us does!
  • We need to put an ethnographer at the table!
  • I think I get the idea of techniques, but I'd still like to see some specific examples.
  • Mere terminological linguistics are of no interest to me personally, but I should note that defining "system" as constituting "the entire structure of the game" is how Forge discourse has used the word for practically the last decade. This is called the "Lumpley Principle". ("System constitutes of the means by which the group agrees upon the fiction of the game", as it's often phrased.) This idea has some recognition out there, so saying that "system" is the same as " game mechanics" is probably going to confuse some people otherwise interested in this sort of thing, unless you're careful to specify your different meaning. Of course, I'm sure that there are plenty of others who find it important that "system" needs to be a merely mechanical term that ignores technique of play. This wouldn't do as an universal generalization, but my experience is that traditional gamers usually understand "system" to be limited to mechanics; this is because they normally play games that do not address methodology of play, so for most of the games they play the method or technique or whatever truly is not part of the game's "system"; rather, the player brings whatever methodology he might have from one game to another, translating his expertise but swapping the mechanical parts of the game. A game written like this truly is method-empty, it just assumes that you bring in the traditional method that is shared between the games. The method and technique are not the game's, but rather the player's. (This is why traditional GMing advice is universal and transferrable between games: those games are all built to play the same way.)

    Assuming for the sake of the argument that you accept my above characterization of trad gamer terminology usage, you'll note that the traditional gamer still intends to use "system" as a word that describes the entire game. The only other word he routinely uses is "setting" or "fluff", indicating the imaginative base material the system operates on. Many say that a complete game consists of a system+setting (or system and a variable fictive base of play, as a more analytical person might term it). It's notable that what "system" still means here is the totality of the game proper (in the sense that I'm ignoring the setting for this argument - neither game mechanics nor methodology are part of the setting, for sure). Thus we can say that both the Forge theorist and the traditional gamer use "system" to mean the same thing: the entire structure that forms the game's interactive parts. One of those just postulates that a game's system strictly speaking is not limited to mechanics, but also involves procedures, goals, techniques and methods - or at least may involve, even if some games texts don't. In this regard I don't see a substantial difference between the layman's usage and the Forge usage, the difference lies in what the two expect a game text to provide.

    For the above reasons I don't particularly recommend using "system" in a narrow manner. It's probably more confusing than having to remind people sometimes that say prestocking dungeons is part of the D&D system as written even if it's optional and doesn't necessarily involve dicing (that's an example of a non-mechanical technique of GM prep that most people would call part of the "D&D system", by the way). I am obviously biased, being used to how the Forge uses these words, but when I need to choose, I find the Forge standard terminology pretty easy on the eyes: "system" for the causally relevant structure that determines the changes to the play-state, "game mechanic" for the parts of system that are defined and mandated objectively for the procedure of play, and "method" or "technique" for optional skill-element heuristics the players may opt to use in fulfilling the tasks the mechanics of the game mandate to them. Good enough to get by for me.

    To clarify, I understand that Tomas wants to use
    • "system" to mean what is usually (at the Forge) called "mechanics",
    • "method" for the usual "system"
    • and "technique" for what would be called a "method" or "procedure" - or indeed, "technique".
    As far as I can see, he's just moving words around and complaining that the usual terminology clouds meaning and causes people to ignore soft methodology of play as a venue of design. Maybe this is true, or maybe different linguistic backgrounds make people see different nuances in these words. I don't really care, as long as I can understand what's being said substantially.

    Instead of terminological reforms, I'd recommend people to invest more in reading comprehension. You're not going to solve the clarity of communication problem from the active side; basically, if the audience can't actively match your words against meaning, then there simply are not unambiguous enough words in a natural language for making yourself understood. Understanding is a two-way road, and my experience is that I see many more oblivious audiences than ill-communicating talkers. So focus on having something to say, read others charitably (absolute key to full literacy, by the way - your goal should be to understand others better, not to complain that they're writing badly) and worry about inventing new terminology or defining the old when you really have something to say that requires such care. Terminological definition for the sake of it is useless, there's no other way to say it.
  • edited March 2012
    Ok!

    Some simple examples:

    As a leader of a game;
    Start by shaking hands with each and every player
    Effect: establishing a private space between you ...
    - makes you focus on and evaluate the player; helps you communicate during game-play
    - makes the player trust in your authority, as you are ready to meet him eye-to-eye
    - grows mutual respect between you

    As a player of a game;
    Listen in on scenes of other players
    Effect: strengthening the shared interactive space ...
    - makes the game run smoothly; less catch-up dialogue is needed
    - makes the players feel that their scenes, dialogues and actions are valued by others
    - establish the game as focal point of the evening

    As a leader of a game;
    Touch a player in interaction
    Effect: triggering automatic emotional response ...
    - strengthens emotional content of fiction
    - widens the interactive field of the game,
    - deepens immersion in character

    As a player of a serious game;
    Close your eyes and calm yourself before game-start
    Effect: introducing the game as a "different space" ...
    - awaken imaginative powers
    - creates expectation of something special
    - brings you out of everyday life, into game-mode

    As you see; quite simple techniques. Nothing magical. But effective.

    In classical games such techniques are often skills of leadership, making it easier to lead a group and enliven the fictional content, in search of the elusive flow that makes interaction explode into inspired fiction.

    In modern games the techniques are mostly guidelines on play, helping players to joyfully interact with serious purpose, in lieu with the vision of the game.

    In other threads (here and other places) there are postings of different techniques, and discussions of them. I recommend making such lists yourselves, and taking the time to think and talk them through. And do make use of the simplest things; they are often more effective when done consciously, and stronger when combined in a method.
  • Tomas, I am interested when these methods are made into rules.. becoming part of the game and not just player skills.

    Shaking the hands for example could be a ritual.

    I believe that in Blood Red Sand you have to actually stand up when challenging someone's fiction.
    In Polaris you have ritual phrases.
    In Silver & White there is a touch dynamic (between characters, not players though)
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenSo focus on having something to say, read others charitably (absolute key to full literacy, by the way - your goal should be to understand others better, not to complain that they're writing badly) and worry about inventing new terminology or defining the old when you really have something to say that requires such care.
    You're a bit moralistic here, but I'm with you in:
    - focus on having something to say
    - read charitably
    YES! Absolutely!

    As for the:
    - invent terms when you need them
    I hope you do not see me as a mere dabbler in words. I have invented terms to suit my perspective on role-playing games. It has great meaning to me, and helps me a lot both as a designer and as a professional leader of games. I do not expect all to see my perspective, to accept it as something of worth, or to adopt it for themselves. Still; I talk of it here in the hope that it may help others to some insights.

    My perspective is carefully developed through decades of discussing role-playing games, and made simpler as I got more into it. There is a clarity to the system of terms I present here, even though that may elude those reading it for the first time. Let me try to say some more on it ...

    The fundament is the simple three-step model of role-playing games:
    Vision -> Interaction -> Fiction

    The steps may be phrased like this too:
    Design -> Gaming -> Impact

    Or they may be phrased thus:
    Invention -> Execution -> Effect

    The Vision
    The first step is where the designer and the leader of a game is active, setting the goal for the game, and inventing/planning/writing down the means to reach it. A well written game book presents the vision of the game with clarity, engage the players in it, and lists up the means necessary to reach it (the method).

    The Interaction
    The second step is where game takes place, with the leader and/or the players in interaction. This is where the mechanics and/or techniques are put to use, and where the elements of the setting is included in game-play. This is the melting pot of the game, where it forms into great wonders, or melt away. A well functioning role-playing game enables the players to create a shared interactive space, in which they can work the wonders of the game.

    The Fiction
    The third step is where each and every player of a game find their fruits of the game; the impact of it; the effect it has on them; the fiction they bring with them from the table. It is an individual narrative/experience/state, that is related to other players through the shared interactive space it is created in. It is the goal of the game, a fiction that, when it is at its best, is vividly alive in the mind of the player.

    I hope this clarify some of the things I'm talking about. Have nice day!
  • Of course, I would expect you to be working off your own needs here, Tomas. I was just explaining why I don't see this as much a pressing issue - I'll use whatever words are necessary for a given theoretical model, but I'll only use the model if it's useful for real purposes, you know? But definitely, if your terminology works for you, then that's just great. Rock on, as they say.

    For what it's worth, I like the concept of vision, it's an useful one in figuring out game design. I myself usually concern myself with design goals in tandem with productization, meaning the delivery of the game. This is an important step for difficult performative games like rpgs, obviously.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: ivanWe need to put an ethnographer at the table!
    I know you're really probably joking, but yes, we probably should, at least occasionally.

    An outside observer might well catch things that folks involved would miss, especially where different methods are involved, but the mechanics are at least given lip-service as being the same in two different games.

    I do think we've already seen a fair bit of that, as people discuss things like the OSR methodology or we see reports on the way Mike Mornard runs his OD&D game, compared with other folks whose methods of aproaching a later version of D&D ( or who just got involved later or at a different age with the same version of D&D) differ greatly.

    Eero:
    Can you talk a bit more about productization/delivery of the game?

    I'm not quite sure what you're talking abou, and i'd like to hear more and see if it lines up a bit with some things I've been struggling with.

    Tomas:
    In terms of designing and transferring knowledge of method, do you think that swinging the spotlight a bit more over onto the methods side of thigs alters the way we look at what mechanics are?

    I know that after an earlier thread that saw you getting onto this topic, it got me thinking about mechanics as tools rather than rules and it started changing how I was trying to poke at a couple little designs of my own.

    Graham:
    Since you've wriiten Play Unsafe which has made a successful product of method side text, has it changed how you've approached method in other things you've written?
  • So, Tomas, how do you get a GM to start with handshakes and touch during interactions, and how do you get players to close their eyes pre-game and listen to each other's scenes, when you yourself are not present?
  • Ah, that's one of the reasons I believe at least some techniques should be part of the rules. Of course, techniques should also be used only when appropiate to build a game atmosphere. That makes things like human contact more a natural part of the game and less an unconfortable situation you've got to overcome in order to play the game.

    A group playing an rpg about football would feel more in character and comfortable planning their strategy while doing a huddle, than a group playing Vampire, for example.
    However that should be stated on the rules, in the players advice part of the core book, or at least as an example of play for it to get transmitted to the players effectively.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenOf course, I would expect you to be working off your own needs here, Tomas. I was just explaining why I don't see this as much a pressing issue
    LOL! What a beautifully reductive man you are, Eero. I am not "working off my own needs". I am trying to give back some of my insights to a forum that has given me much through the years. I am, in spite of being geographically far removed from most of you, concerned about the way a lot of people here still seems to be "stuck in words".

    Comic relief:
    - Are you suffering a severe case of mechanical arthritis?
    - Call technical support, and we will soften your imagination!


    I do not expect people like you, Eero, with your theoretical ballast, to be in much need of my help. But I do see that a lot of people would be better off if I could communicate this perspective to them in an effective way. I'm trying to help you open the left eye too, so you may experience the glorious world of in-depth-sight. I have tried to do so before too, and will probably continue to do so so Until We Sink into oblivion ...

    I'm that kind of strange bugger. Please forgive me.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenI myself usually concern myself with design goals in tandem withproductization, meaning the delivery of the game. This is an important step for difficult performative games like rpgs, obviously.
    Yes, really. I'm in full agreement with you on this. Hard not to be.
    Posted By: komradebobIn terms of designing and transferring knowledge of method, do you think that swinging the spotlight a bit more over onto the methods side of thigs alters the way we look at what mechanics are?
    Aside from the "methods side" (the method being the whole thing, not a side), I have experienced that yes, it does. Having adopted the idea of techniques being as important as mechanics, made me look at mechanics in new ways too, both in classical (leader + players) and modern (all players) design. It has helped me big time in developing my classical fantasy role-playing game Fabula. In my many modern games it has opened up whole new venues of design, enabling me to explore methods geared towards engaging and empowering the players in new ways. I'm only just beginning to taste the fruits of this long labour now.

    I have not been alone in exploring this. Far from it; much of my insights I owe to my peers here in Norway. Our small and tight design-miliieu has developed a whole new tool-set of techniques, for both classical and modern games. Most important for me in this regard has been the game "Until We sink" by Magnus Jakobson, a piece of really groundbreaking design. The games by Matthijs Holter; "Archipelago" and "The Society of Dreamers", has left a big impression on players too, and with good reason; them helping players to soar about in the heavens of imagination. The classical game "Itras City", by Giæver and Gudmundsen, has really found a fan-base with its open and playful method geared towards urban surrealism.

    These are games that turns the table, so to speak.
    Posted By: David BergSo, Tomas, how do you get a GM to start with handshakes and touch during interactions, and how do you get players to close their eyes pre-game and listen to each other's scenes, when you yourself are not present?
    Oh, David! Woe to ye of little faith! I simply write game texts where I tell them to do it, while carefully explaining why, and telling how it can affect the game in a positive way. I place the tools in a well though of method, and do my best to convey how it may be used. How do you make players play your games, David?

    The written word is, with all its inaccuracies and limitations, a wonderful tool of communication! And if the text don't get my players to do all I say ...
    - well; role-playing games have always been about players reading a game-book for inspiration, and then to start wandering off on their own. Players always recreate the method to their own taste, they pick the berries and leave the thorns, and make up things along the way. I'm fine with that. Being a rpg-designer is hard if you insist that players should not play about with your game ... LOL
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: TomasHVMI tell them to do it, while carefully explaining why, and telling how it can affect the game in a positive way.
    Well, then perhaps there isn't as big a cultural gap here as you perceive. As far as I can tell, most folks here started roleplaying with classical games like D&D2, Vampire, and Shadowrun, all of which absolutely do what you describe.

    Vampire, for example, suggests the GM developing a theme for each session, and explains how this can bring extra oomph to play. For a variety of reasons, such instructions tended not to be milked for all they were worth, or even used at all. Maybe because there were too many of them; maybe because they were buried amid flavor text. But clearly, one of the reasons they were forgotten was because of the lack of mandate and reward. As opposed to the combat mechanics, which, while arguably not as beneficial to sustainably satisfying play, were concrete, mandatory, and got you successes and failures that compelled you to do it again (usually).

    I suspect many folks here are in my position: what you're describing is familiar to me, and I've seen it fail a lot, so I'm wondering how what you do is different. Maybe the specific methods you offer give more immediate proof of their effectiveness than Vampire's GM advice? Maybe your methods are easier to find in the book, and remember at the table? Maybe you are more concrete about how to put your methods into practice? What do you think?

    I like a lot of the methods you've described on this forum, but I somewhat despair of actually putting them to use. I feel like I'd need to mandate an intensive training session first, where we do nothing but close eyes, shake hands, touch and listen, to ingrain the behaviors. Because without that, I'm certain most of the gamers I've ever played with would simply forget that stuff and default to whatever they normally do in the midst of roleplay.
    How do you make players play your games, David?
    I've never had someone play one of my games without playing it with me first, so I can't speak from experience here. What I'd like to do is hand them something about as accessible as your average board game or party game, which quickly shows how everything you do earns you progress in the game.
    role-playing games have always been about players reading a game-book for inspiration, and then to start wandering off on their own.
    I'd certainly never hope to force someone into not wandering... but I would hope to give them all they need, so they don't have to wander off on their own unless they want to.
  • edited March 2012
    They really want to. Believe me.

    Yes, you are right, David; these techniques are in use by all role-players all over the world. There is no way of playing a role-playing game without techniques for characterization, dialogue, story-telling and leadership. It is largely done by intuition, and by using everyday skills in dialogue and socialization. But advice on such techniques has been a part of rpg-texts since the dawn of this form too, in all the games you mention, and most of the rest.

    But these techniques have been, as you correctly observe, a forgotten child of the form. Little spoken of, largely ignored as an element of study and discussion, and as a consequence; crippled in growth alongside the healthy child of Mechanics (yes, really; the mechanical side of it is indeed healthy! We have done wonders on the mechanical side of role-playing design, especially in the "indie" part of Anglo-American design-culture). It's time to give the techniques more appreciation now; to observe and explore their possibilities; to describe and share them; to make an effort bringing techniques into full growth, as a design- and game-tool.

    I'm a professional story-teller too, so that may be one reason I'm the one riding this horse. As a story-teller I'm well aware of techniques used to engage an audience, to ...
    - make words come alive in their imagination
    - evoke their emotion
    - create a meaningful dialogue
    - lead troublesome kids and adults into constructive narrative territory
    - etc.
    Much of what I do is internalized and intuitive, but having done this for years now, and being a leader of rpgs at the same time, I have started to see some techniques for what they really are; practical tools that anyone can use.

    It has a lot to do with experience, of course, but any designer or leader of role-playing games can be told what these tools are, and may put them to good use. Knowing about them is half the voyage towards using them. And having them organized in a well conceived method, makes a lot of difference to a lot of game-leaders and players. By simple means they enter a whole new realm of possibilities.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: ivanTomas, I am interested when these methods are made into rules.. becoming part of the game and not just player skills.
    I've said something on that in the post above.
    Shaking the hands for example could be a ritual.
    Shaking hands is, in fact, a ritual. It is an age old ritual for greeting people you meet, to show them you are a honest man that will treat them with respect. Giving your hand and name is a sign, a treaty, that you will treat them justly, and that you trust them to do the same. It's a detail of ordinary life that we do not think much of, and that is going out of use, but that has ramifications we need to understand.

    We need to understand why our forefathers did such things, and put so much weight on behaving like this. People meeting strangers with a short "hi", not giving their name or hand, is actually presenting themselves in a very bad way. They hold back when they should come forth, and that makes a meeting lack in trust and meaning. They are adding to a growing distrust between people in a society. The society/fellowship/brotherhood of men is created by such small things, each and every day. Fellowship is not something we have; it is something we do. Us forgetting about the meanings of these old ways, is us forgetting about doing the brotherhood, and killing it slowly.

    Have a nice day!
  • Posted By: TomasHVMOk!

    Some simple examples:

    As a leader of a game;
    Start by shaking hands with each and every player
    Effect: establishing a private space between you ...
    - makes you focus on and evaluate the player; helps you communicate during game-play
    - makes the player trust in your authority, as you are ready to meet him eye-to-eye
    - grows mutual respect between you

    As a player of a game;
    Listen in on scenes of other players
    Effect: strengthening the shared interactive space ...
    - makes the game run smoothly; less catch-up dialogue is needed
    - makes the players feel thattheir scenes, dialogues and actionsare valued by others
    - establishthe gameas focal point of the evening

    As a leader of a game;
    Touch a player in interaction
    Effect: triggering automatic emotional response ...
    - strengthens emotional content of fiction
    - widens the interactive field of the game,
    - deepens immersion in character

    As a player of a serious game;
    Close your eyes and calm yourself before game-start
    Effect: introducing the game as a "different space" ...
    - awaken imaginative powers
    - creates expectation of something special
    - brings you out of everyday life, into game-mode

    As you see; quite simple techniques. Nothing magical. But effective.

    In classical gamessuch techniques are often skills of leadership, making it easier to lead a group and enliven the fictional content, in search of the elusive flow that makes interaction explode into inspired fiction.

    In modern gamesthe techniques are mostly guidelines on play, helping players to joyfully interact with serious purpose, in lieu with the vision of the game.

    In other threads (here and other places) there are postings of different techniques, and discussions of them. I recommend making such lists yourselves, and taking the time to think and talk them through. And do make use of the simplest things; they are often more effective when done consciously, and stronger when combined in a method.
    This is weird stuff for me. Our group has only done the listening-in thing, and I don't think it compares with the rest.
    Posted By: TomasHVMVery good, Graham. The purpose of this thread is accomplished. I really want to introduce another perspective on here. What I am proposing is not just a single term, method, but a school of thinking that makes it easier to discover the design-possibilities within the field of dialogue-techniques; the real motor of any role-playing game. It is really the motor, much more so than any mechanics, and being that it is flabbergastingly little talked about. I believe the reason is that the psycho-social elements of dialogue makes is hard to grasp, much harder than the challenges of measuring how a die should affect a quantified paper-persona. Making good mechanics is a challenge, ja, but it presents a bleak challenge, in comparison to understanding and working the nuances of a dialogue in a gaming group.
    Ok, if the dialogue techniques really are the motor of role-playing games, I'd like to see some examples of them.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: UpstartOk, if the dialogue techniques really are the motor of role-playing games, I'd like to see some examples of them.
    The techniques are more or less present in normal dialogue too, but as role-playing games are, in fact, ritualized interaction, you use techniques of characterization, dialogue, story-telling and leadership to make it happen along the lines that leads to inspired fiction. To master that you need to know what you do, and describing/defining/inventing effective techniques of dialogue is part of that.

    I hope this clarifies it a bit, Eero Laine?

    Examples:
    Talking "toneless": conveys a weird atmosphere
    Talking low: conveys an excited/threatening atmosphere
    Talking fast, demanding answers: conveys urgency, creates stress

    An example of more elaborate technique, with a leader of a classical game combining tools:
    She is starting out by talking fast in a critical action scene, driving up tempo, demanding the players to make decisions with a sketchy idea of what is happening, holding them to their first words, or leaving them as confused if not answering right away, and giving brutal consequences in either case, based on how their dice rolls or on circumstance ...
    - and then she stops up completely. The crisis is over. They have survived. And she tells them this in a soft voice. She is completely calm now, and treat the players with obvious sympathy, letting them grope about in the aftermath of stress, sinking into the empty space of reflection. She asks calm and directed questions to help them to talk/think/feel the impact of the brutal action, and make good time doing this. The action need time to sink in and spill out ...
    - and then ...
    (the game continues)

    The tools at play in the example above:
    - Characterization: she drives the players into an action-frenzy, triggering immersion in stress, shock and brutal self-preservation
    - Dialogue: brutal dialogue mimics brutal action
    - Story-telling: talking fast conveys urgency
    - Story-telling: shifts in tempo leaves the players with reverberations, and mental "lag"
    - Dialogue: calm and directed questions helps players reflect on character-impact
    - Characterization: she shows the players sympathy, triggering immersion in self-pity, bitterness and/or healing
    - Leadership: driving up tempo, demanding initiative, leaving stragglers behind .. all this mimics crisis
    - Leadership: using voice to entice players to answer in kind; first brutal and then softly, sets a shifting tone of interaction between the players that supports the drama


    etc.
  • edited March 2012
    Tomas, I'm mostly busy in other frontiers, but I'd like to see better analysis of this sort of thing.

    Some brief notes on where you are and where you could go further:

    1) It is important to that in most play there is a significant flow between rules, mechanics, and game structure on one side, and cognitive cues, dialogue techniques, and emotional responses on the other. You risk missing much of that if you artificially segregate these sides of play.

    2) Story-telling and body language techniques are powerful, but in many cases they are acting as just a subset of priming during play. Looking at priming in RPGs is possibly one of the most important analysis directions we can take right now, but at present it seems ancillary to your "revolution". It could be a very deep well of discovery.

    3) Don't neglect verbal techniques, while enumerating voice and body techniques. How a particular piece of speech is phrased, and the underlying rules and guidelines for guiding it's construction offers a wealth of dialogue techniques. Apocalypse World's "address yourself to characters, not players" is just the tip of the iceberg.

    - Mendel
  • Tomas, thanks for your response, it makes sense to me, and I agree. It would be cool to have more focus on dialogue techniques and other neglected methods. I just wish I could see a more effective way to create that focus via games themselves.

    It seems relevant to mention Puppetland here. Players may only speak in-character. GM speaks only in the past tense. The dialogue techniques are the rules are the game, and it is a good one.

    There's a variant of Delve I've experimented with, where every time the players speak, they start with "I" and then announce what their character does. The standard phrases a player uses to gather info from the GM are replaced with "I survey the area", "I look for (whatever you hope to find)", and "I try to judge if (whatever you're considering would work)". This technique can get in the way of some of the game's other goals, so I've ditched it (at least for now), but when I did use it, it was very effective at creating the orientation I wanted, and it was pretty easy to drive home, by:
    1) putting the phrasing options ("I survey", "I look for _", etc.) in a highly visible place on the character sheet, and
    2) always re-stating as GM any player input outside convention. "Dave, are there any large rocks around?" "You look for large rocks? Okay, you see some by the alcove."
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