Diegetical Positioning—a key to blorb!

Lumpley, I was talking to some other dork about blorby game design and he said something similar to what you said the other day: with a very stripped down rules core very few things have to be salient.

And the game they proposed sounded to my ears similar to a game he wasn’t familiar with—Three Sixteen. Where the amount of enemy aliens that the PCs are fighting is wallpaper and can be improvised but the danger level of the group is salient and is represented by an amount of threat tokens.

And I’m like that’s all within the letter of the blorb principles, it addresses symmetry, but… the awesomeness of the blorb is that it moderates not only symbolic representation (your “dice”), which many games can do… it can also moderate diegetic representation (your “cloud”), which only few games can do.

From B4 The Lost City (good blorby example of what I want)
The door to the room, as usual, will swing shut unless held or jammed open. In each corner of the room are small holes that release gas into the room. The gas trap is triggered by opening the door. The gas is odorless, tasteless, and invisible. An elf or thief has a 50% chance to hear the hiss of escaping gas.

The gas will take one round to build up in the closed room before doing any damage. During this round the characters will feel a little dizzy. Each round after the first, the gas does 1 point of damage. When they start taking damage, the party will realize it is getting hard to breathe. Rags or iron spikes jammed into the holes will stop the gas from filling the room. If both the room’s door and the secret door are jammed open, the gas will escape without harming the party.
In another game design, this could’ve read

“Gas Trap, DC 12 to detect, DC 18 to disarm, ATK +7 / 4 dmg”. Everything salient is there, the stats, and then the specific location and mechanism for the trap can be improvised wallpaper since the players can’t meaningfully interact with it. In that game, they can only disarm the trap by making that DC 18 roll and they can only detect it by making that DC 12 roll.

So what this is telling me is that a necessary but hitherto underdiscussed component for blorb is:

Rules that have diegesis as input, not just symbols as input.

(Iow diegetical positioning needs to matter.)
Examples mechanics include finchian trap finding and lawsian talking.

Comments

  • edited July 19
    The dork (not Lumps, another dork) replied that I had misunderstood, he wasn't proposing a division along d-exp/s-exp lines but along different arenas in the game. I.e. separate definitions for saliency for "on the job" or "off the job". That does sound like a fruitful ground for game design. Reminds me of @Jason_Morningstar 's Fight Fire firefighting game.
  • When they start taking damage, the party will realize it is getting hard to breathe.
    Can I just say that I love this line specifically? The description not only states both mechanically and diegetically what happens, but here it also explicitly creates a link between the mechanical and the diegetic. This is what this specific loss of otherwise-generic hit points from this specific source feels like.

    That's wild. Even as someone who grew up reading things like that, it feels strange and foreign to see it now.
  • Right on. 100% with you here.
  • yukamichi: right? In all my 20 years of unblorb I had never seen any of the old B-series modules. It was such a missing puzzle piece. That line specifically is such a remarkable piece of technology.
  • Awesome lumps!
  • edited July 19
    I agree with this, as well. And that trap example
    Is really lovely!

    (It’s also what some - but not all! - OSR folks mean when they talk about “rulings, not rules”. It’s sort of a shorthand for how we can design that trap that way, but we wouldn’t necessarily want to codify a rule that “you don’t notice something until you suffer 1 HP loss from it” or anything like that.)

    (In other words, I think “rulings, not rules” is some people’s shorthand for “diegetic inputs to resolution methods”. Since many/most formal rules cannot accept an infinite variety of diegetic inputs, we will need to rely on rulings a lot of the time. Something like that.)
  • Agreed. "Rulings not rules" is an acceptance of the limitations of mechanics for every possible situation (a rather obvious fact in most systems, except perhaps for the most abstract); an acceptance of the fact that every case is unique no matter how much it might superficially resemble another, and one of the main reasons I find it so vital for the GM to live within, emulate, and when necessary, extend what I call the "spirit of the system."

  • I can't address the theory here, but at a practical level :
    “Gas Trap, DC 12 to detect, DC 18 to disarm, ATK +7 / 4 dmg”. Everything salient is there, the stats, and then the specific location and mechanism for the trap can be improvised wallpaper since the players can’t meaningfully interact with it.

    To me, this type of game is unsatisfying. My correction in play, would be to ask the DM "How do you do that, exactly ?". Is that the "link between the mechanical and the diegetic" you're talking about ?
  • My correction in play, would be to ask the DM "How do you do that, exactly ?". Is that the "link between the mechanical and the diegetic" you're talking about ?
    I ask "How do you do that, exactly?" because I use rules where I need to know exactly how they do it in order to adjudicate the rule. If the description is just flavor text, I never remember to ask them. Which is why our old fighting system was yahtzee & stale & symbolic and our new system is brutal & detailed & diegetic.
  • It’s also what some - but not all! - OSR folks mean when they talk about “rulings, not rules”. It’s sort of a shorthand for how we can design that trap that way, but we wouldn’t necessarily want to codify a rule that “you don’t notice something until you suffer 1 HP loss from it” or anything like that.

    In other words, I think “rulings, not rules” is some people’s shorthand for “diegetic inputs to resolution methods”. Since many/most formal rules cannot accept an infinite variety of diegetic inputs, we will need to rely on rulings a lot of the time. Something like that.
    This isn’t really the same thing.

    Obv the OSR is the birthplace of blorb which is awesome but the whole “rulings not rules” thing is not something I’m into.

    What’s a rule with symbolic input? “If you have spell slots left you can regain hit points.”

    What’s a rule with diegetic input? “If the characters look in the correct place they find the figurine.”

    What’s a ruling? A rule made up on the spot. That’s not really what I’m talking about here.

    I’m talking about designed mechanics that use diegetic input. E.g. lawsian unframed style talking, or finchian trap finding. Or for that matter “to do it, do it” AW2e p10.

    We don’t need to make a ruling to answer the question “does Alice find the figurine” if Alice says “I look in the desk drawer”. I’d usually go like “wait, what, you touch the handle with your bare hands?” because I’m a b____ DM that makes everything look dangerous. But then well just say what’s in the drawer and if the figurine is there, it’s there. These interactions are mechanics.

  • edited July 23
    What’s a ruling? A rule made up on the spot.
    I could quibble over the globality of rules vs rulings. Let's just say "a local rule made up on the spot for a circumstance so unique as to confound the RAW, and which contains a multiplicity of fuzzy variable factors." But further: unlike the general rules found in the RAW, such a rule also needs to cohere to the logic and history of this particular game world and its inhabitants, without breaking the game state in any way, and (for my preference, anyway) in keeping with the "spirit of the system." In short, it must be more nuanced and fine-grained than a typical rule, and is often a fine-tuned descendant of a rule de jure.

    The obvious analogy of a legal decision is not wasted here. This is why some games literally refer to one of the GM's jobs as "judge."

  • The sticking point then is to what degree the rulings are precedence-setting.

    But I mean what I'm going for here is applying a rule with diegetic input and diegetic output. As an example of such a mechanic: "Write down the name of your character's favorite food". Calling that interaction a "ruling" is a stretch but that's kind of what Finch does on page 2 of primer. I'm not really into that appellation but otoh I'm not really into arguing semantix either.

    Any time you're parsing a string (diegetic input) vs just using an interned string (symbolic input).

    "I put my hand on the door handle."
    "OK you're electrified!"
    That's another example of applying a rule with diegetic input. The trap being designed as "Whenever someone touches the door handle…"

    (And the trap chapter in XGE was a very frustrating read for me for this reason.)
  • Oh boy! 5th edition and traps... yeah.

    Another angle on “rulings” I’ve seen a lot:

    1. Some people use this phrase to refer to the context of procedural resolution in the game’s engine.

    For instance, is the electrocution by door handle determined by a rule (roll Trap Checking against a door handle DC) or a ruling (the referee uses diegetic logic to “rule” when electrocution happens).

    In other words, sometimes “rulings not rules” I used to refer to the process of engaging diegetic logic instead of referring to a codified rule.

    (I’m not making an argument either way here; just observing how I’ve seen some people use the terms.)

    2. When we play the game, do we try hard to resolve everything by established rules, or are we comfortable with handling each situation as unique?

    In a lot of “modern” game designs, there is an established framework for resolving things. Some people use “rulings not rules” to refer to a style of play where we feel comfortable treating an electrified doorknob differently from
    a poisoned punch bowl, whereas some rulesets
    would insist that “a trap is a trap” and “all traps are resolved through [specified mechanical procedure]”.

    I’m with you, Sandra, that “finchian trap finding” can be seen as a resolution method governed by rules, not everyone sees it that way.
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