[Independent Insurgency] Episode 25: TTMN: Vincent Baker on Clouds and Boxes

In this Talk To Me Now episode, I speak with Vincent Baker about his "cloud and box" theory and accompanying diagrams explaining his take on the interactions between fiction and real-world materials. There are a series of posts on his blog about this: How RPG Rules Work; 3 Resolution Systems; Scale, Depth, Clouds, Dice; cloud-to-cloud; A Moment of Judgment; Dice and Cloud, Mix and Match; GM fiat put to work for the good; and Dice & Cloud: a Symmetry.

This is a longer TTMN episode than I intend them to be, usually, but I felt there was enough worthwhile stuff here that going long was ok.

This episode is 53.7 MB big and 58:40 long.

01:36: What clouds and boxes are
02:16: Ben Lehman got excited on Vincent's blog
04:02: The purpose of the diagrams
06:12: The problem with traditional games
10:00: Constructing a diagram via theater of the mind
10:26: The problem with "story games" (he's talked about with me, Joshua A. C. Newman, Emily Care Boss, and Ben, about which he expects to get death threats)
15:34: Where Vincent's interests are at now: rightward-pointing arrows (RPA)
17:30: An example of RPA from Vincent's pirate game Poison'd
22:23: My malformed objections
24:08: The high ground example
30:28: Danger or problem in focusing on RPA?
30:51: The GM's attitude toward play
35:41: A false ending
42:35: The GM's role in Dogs in the Vineyard is similar to what he found when running D&D and what he wrote into Storming the Wizard's Tower
45:14: I'd like to see GMless games that employ RPA
45:52: I played in a GMless game called Salt River that uses a version of Otherkind dice
51:25: Wherein I give up
53:25: Apocalypse World is like super-Poison'd

The outgoing song on this episode is Superhero from the album Dilate.

Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis: http://danielsolis.com/

Comments

  • edited May 2009
    Yeah! Its up on iTunes already! downloading...
  • Thanks, Rob, I liked that.

    I think you've hit on something with talking to people about specific things, but not necessarily games. As a general rule, I like your interviewing best where you're encouraging people to talk and drawing out their opinions. When you're challenging and offering your own opinions, I'm slightly less engaged. But it's good stuff. Thanks.

    Graham
  • Thanks for the specific critique, Graham.

    I'm also glad that the results of my desperate flailing to keep getting material for the show has turned into a boon from your perspective.
  • ++ to what Graham said. Super-happy to have more insurgency.
  • I'm ready for the next one!
  • Loaded, now i must find some teatime for listening :)
  • This is a lot easier to understand than those drawings on Vincent's blog.
  • edited May 2009
    Please don't have that Ellingboe woman on again. She is so boring. Blah blah blah is that a tentacle in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me.

    Graham
  • So, Walmsley, that was just a tentacle in your pocket. Alas.
  • Posted By: GrahamWhen you're challenging and offering your own opinions, I'm slightly less engaged. But it's good stuff.
    I like the challenges because it shows you are really listening and attempting to make sense of what Vincent is saying. Of course, someone else might ask different questions but I'm not worried about that.

    In this respect, I think we need a Rob interview as a baseline. A bit like the analyst being analysed before they can practice. Perhaps we could send some questions in, like 'So Rob, what's the beef with GMs? Did one fuck with you once?'
  • edited May 2009
    snipped
  • Didn't Judd interview Rob for his own show already?
  • Johnstone, "easier to understand than the diagrams" is exactly what I was going for, so I'm gratified it served that purpose for you.

    Steve, I was interviewed a couple of times, on The Walking Eye, and on my own show by Judd.

    And where the GM touched me is strictly between me and my battery of therapists.
  • Posted By: Robert Bohl45:14: I'd like to see GMless games that employ RPA
    Please do not read this as a snotty comment.

    Watch any children playing make-believe, either with or without action figures.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Rob, if you can only claim a mechanical bonus for using pieces of the fiction that were introduced before the current conflict, that would probably cover your concerns about GM-less RPA play. Players can maneuver for an advantage by introducing fiction in advance, which also encourages players to create minutiae, but once you get into a conflict, you can't make up new shit that gives you a bonus, as that's where the "abuse" would lie.

    If I'm understanding you right, that is.
  • Seth: I didn't read it that way.

    Johnstone: I don't have concerns about GMless RPA play, I just wanna see it to see if it deals with my concerns about GMed RPA play.
  • At 46 minutes: "It felt alot like flying without a net, sort of"
    ".... Yes. You can do that, you know, fly without a net. In many ways, it's desirable. One might even say, that the goal, ultimately, is to fly without that net"

    That's a beautiful moment right there, and it's where I twigged. We've learnt to trust the rules to guide play, but we gotta learn to trust the fiction to guide play too.
  • Yeah, except I don't agree with him.
  • You don't agree that you can fly without a net?

    Or

    You don't agree that it's a goal?

    The former seems a little strange since I do it all the time. In fact I have an entire blog (Play Passionately) dedicated to refining techniques that let you fly without a net. (And admittedly (partially) admonishing those who do not).

    The second I can get behind as as a preference. Some people find the way I run my games stressful.

    Jesse
  • Rob, was your comment really about protecting players from playing passionately because that's not how I heard it. I think that Vincent's response was along the lines of Jesse's comment, but I am not sure that was how you intended the comment.

    Also, I thought there was a lot of stuff mushed together (yes, that's a technical term where I'm from) in the conversation. I need another listen to parse the thing into something roughly understandable.
  • Jesse, sort of both. I mean, I don't like playing a game and feeling like the fun we're having is coincidentally contingent upon our being friends and how well we happen to be able to balance gamey stuff and friendy stuff. I want a system that gives me a solid jungle gym to play on that isn't going to suddenly collapse.

    I don't know if I can do my point of view on this justice, either in e-text or even speaking with my voice.
  • Posted By: Robert BohlJesse, sort of both. I mean, I don't like playing a game and feeling like the fun we're having is coincidentally contingent upon our being friends and how well we happen to be able to balance gamey stuff and friendy stuff. I want a system that gives me a solid jungle gym to play on that isn't going to suddenly collapse.
    That's basically how I understood your comment on the cast.
  • Posted By: Robert Bohl I want a system that gives me a solid jungle gym to play on that isn't going to suddenly collapse.
    That sounds like what most people want. A difficulty is what you call a collapse. For you this seems to include particular sorts of judgement calls, or rather, that's what you seem most afraid of, even if it doesn't happen.
  • edited May 2009
    Posted By: Robert BohlJesse, sort of both. I mean, I don't like playing a game and feeling like the fun we're having is coincidentally contingent upon our being friends and how well we happen to be able to balance gamey stuff and friendy stuff. I want a system that gives me a solid jungle gym to play on that isn't going to suddenly collapse.
    So, there's something I call Social Mandates. Social Mandates are basically rules of the game operate solely on a creative and social level. Some games even have concrete mechanics that only operate properly if everyone is observing the Social Mandates of the game's structure. Sorcerer is a good example and often why it's so confusing to people. The text attempts but doesn't really succeed at explaining its Social Mandates.

    In Sorcerer the player writes a bunch of things on their character sheet that they feel will be important to their character. The GM then takes those elements and complicates them in any manner he chooses.

    If the GM ignores those elements. He's violated the rules.
    If the Player refuses to accept how the GM has chosen to complicate those elements then the Player has broken a rule.
    The touch point on these points is the Humanity definition. Both the GM and the Player have to first buy into the Humanity definition. If either is not genuinely excited by that point, then they've broken the rules.
    The Player has agreed to present elements that, to them, speak to the Humanity definition according to his buy in. The GM has agreed to complicate those same elements in a way that ALSO speaks to the Humanity defintion according to his buy in.

    When this is genuinely present, this is 100% non-problematic. Does it require a level of creative trust? Yes. But I maintain it requires as much creative trust as trusting that your friend is really going to try his best to win a boardgame. (Have you ever noticed how much it SUCKS to play a boardgame with someone who isn't genuinely trying to win? Same effect).

    Jesse

    Edited Note: It has been my experience that people will often agree to play an RPG they haven't 100% bought into because they think it's better than not playing at all. This is generally a recipe for disaster and makes the game problematic the way a non-committed board game player will throw off the whole game even though they're playing by the rules.
  • edited May 2009
    Posted By: Jesse(Have you ever noticed how much it SUCKS to play a boardgame with someone who isn't genuinely trying to win? Same effect).
    Great example. This is the death of many boardgames. Often if people aren't trying to win or trying to simply beat another player without trying to win themselves, it can make the game drag forever and the tactical decisions suddenly don't matter (or as much as they did before).
  • One of Vincent's comments made me curious - can anyone direct me toward a place on the internet where Vincent explains why (in his definition) DitV isn't a story game? Or just sum up the idea, if no such location exists?
  • Posted By: DoyceOne of Vincent's comments made me curious - can anyone direct me toward a place on the internet where Vincent explains why (in his definition) DitV isn't a story game? Or just sum up the idea, if no such location exists?
    You know, you should just go to his site and ask him, it's a good question. As far as I know, he's never mentioned his personal definition of "story games" before online.
  • He's got a circular definition of story games. Story games, in his world, are games that have no right-pointing arrows, and therefore DiTV isn't a story game.
  • Hey, Rob. Over on anyway I wrote the following restatement of Vincent's position:

    In a computer game, no one complains that the computer gets to arbitrate reality; that's the job of the computer. In the style of design that you're discussing, the GM is the bioware computer that is responsible for creating the world. The game runs on his "hardware".
    Given that Vincent essentially agreed with this, does this change any of your thoughts or concerns?

    Just curious.

    Aside: the "original" roleplaying games that were wargame derivatives worked very much like this. The role of the game master was to provide reality for the players so that they could focus on maneuvering their squad, taking cover, returning fire, and all those sort of "in-fiction" actions. So this isn't really a new idea.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • I'd just like to add that people bitch about computer reality too, glitches, piss poor ai and whatnot.
    Heck, people yell at their televisions.
    The original wargames had players from both sides, and therefore needed a referee.
    Also, they needed a ref to bridge the gaps in the rules.
  • Posted By: Nathan HI'd just like to add that people bitch about computer reality too, glitches, piss poor ai and whatnot.
    Oh sure. But they don't object to the basic idea of a computer arbitrating reality.
    Posted By: Nathan HThe original wargames had players from both sides, and therefore needed a referee.
    Sure, there's that, too. Though, in part, I'm recalling hearing about a one-sided proto-RPG wargame that worked the way Vincent is describing. Sadly, I'm not remembering my source. Well, beyond being the Internet. :-)

    To be clear here, I'm not arguing for the innate superiority of one design over another. For example, unlike its designer, I don't find the lack of RPA/"fiction informing mechanics" to be any issue at all with IAWA, which my group played for six or seven solid chapters, having a great time. I'm just trying to offer additional ways of explaining what Vincent is talking about without any value judgments being attached.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Posted By: greatwolfGiven that Vincent essentially agreed with this, does this change any of your thoughts or concerns?

    Just curious.
    I don't think so, mostly because I don't get the linkage.
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