[TSOY, but not really] Semantics and Mechanics

edited March 2006 in Actual Play
There's a book about videogame semantics called 'Trigger Happy' in which there's a Mario anecdote. Somebody's mum asked why her character couldn't climb the trees that dotted the landscape. Answer: they're not really trees.

I'm playing in a Shadow of Yesterday game. One of the players has only ever played Sorcerer (run by me), so her take on things is fascinating.

Last session, she asked if she could roll Vigor (a pool, not a rollable trait) to see if she was strong enough for something. The rest of the group had explained Vigor as 'strength, kinda'. And with no rollable strength trait in the game, we flailed a bit.

Not only had we explained Vigor badly, but the semantics of the system let her down. Why can't you roll hit points? Or Nature and Demeanor?




  • How did you resolve it?

    I would have let her roll Vigor however she described it, on the assumption that her instinct is righter than my preconceptions.
  • Hi, :)

    Am I mistaken or is there not an innate trait that would be appropriate for this?

    Something like bash and hold, or whatever.

  • edited March 2006
    You're thinking of Endure, which is tied to Vigor.
  • Hey, :)

    Hmmmno, I'm thinking of the one used in the rules examples where a bunch of guys are trying to knock open a door. I'm pretty sure it was [i]word[/i] and [i]word[/i], whatever those words may be.

  • Multiple characters example page 50. The ability in question is Athletics.

    Per (GM in said game)
  • edited March 2006
    Thanks for the responses, but my point was missed. :D

    Looking at the character sheet for options, and having heard us describe Vigor as strength or physicality, she assumed it was a trait she could use. Because she's a novice gamer, so hasn't yet grokked the rules of the game. She hasn't yet understood that the 'trees' aren't trees at all.

    If I'm playing a Storyteller game, my character's passionate love for another is never something I can roll. It has meaning in game, but the mechanics or semantics let me down. Same with, say, my character's nature of 'stubborn'. It doesn't make my character stubborn.


  • HeroQuest.
  • So, Joe, are you saying that we didn't explain the game's semantics well enough, or that TSOY's semantics are not that easy to decode as such for novice gamers?

    (The player in question was also hampered by not having attended the first two sessions where the rest of us came to grips with it.)

  • I see you as saying that there's often a dissonance between stuff that matters to us about our characters, and what we can actually use, in mechanical terms, to have our characters do stuff that matters.

    It's like in my Aberrant game when a player said "Well, if I could, I would roll I Love You + You're My Girlfriend." He ended up rolling on, like, Charisma or something. It was a lame moment, because the tools given him to do stuff that mattered had nothing to do with what he cared about at that moment.

    Lemme know if I'm way off here.
  • Per,

    Somewhere between the two. RPG semantics are not obvious to novices, but something we veteran gamers internalise. You can tell a gamer that Vigor is a little like strength or energy and they know what you mean. We've heard it before, because we've been immersed in similar systems.

    It would never occur to me to 'roll Vigor' because I know the 'tree' is not a 'tree'.


    Very much so. In an Aberrant game I ran, my girlfriend boggled at how many steps character creation took, and all the different categories of points she had to spend. Having used the system for ~10 years, I'd forgotten how inobvious it was. I could see the mechanical purpose behind freebie points being different to experience points; I had all the excuses/explanations ready.

    (The more I think about this, the more I realise it's not really 'actual play'. I might try rewriting it for another forum)

  • edited March 2006
    What about: You can't climb the trees because the trees don't matter. Jump over turtles. That's what we're here to do.

    Important? Dismissive? Something else?

    I also think there are two issues here. One is the "semantics" thing (which is fascinating in its own right) and the other is explaining a game properly to a new player. Which one are we gonna talk about here?
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