Dice and Clouds and SotC and D&D 4E

edited May 2009 in Story Games
There's been lots of discussion about Vincent Baker being up to his usual clever self with his diagrams of boxes and clouds and such.

In contrast, I've been up to my usual dumbness in not understanding it very well. So I backed way up and tried to find a good place to start, and I ended up four years ago, here.

The one diagram and comment that really helped me understand this thing is this:

image

"Playing Monopoly, no arrows come rightward out of the fiction. Imagine whatever you want, nobody else cares."

Imagine whatever you want, nobody else cares.

In my own dumb way, that's what I was trying to get to with this diagram:

image

Everyone's got their own little personal SIS. They're imagining whatever they want. Nobody else cares.

So... have I played an RPG like this? Yep, I sure have: D&D 4th Edition. Now, before everyone freaks out, let me assure you that I'm not claiming D&D 4E must be played like this, or should be played like this, or anything of the sort. I'm just claiming I've seen it happen. Yes, I know saying this won't help at all.

I should probably throw out an example. Here it is: "I trip the snake. I hit! It's now prone." Things like that happen in 4E all the time. What does it mean within the fiction of the game? Doesn't matter. Imagine whatever you want. Nobody else cares.

There's at least two ways the SIS and the Boxes can relate to each other. "The map is not the territory" and "the map IS the territory."

In the D&D 4E games I've played, the Battlemap IS the SIS. If it's not on the Battlemap, it literally does not mechanically exist.

I should probably give a counter-example too. My counter-example is the games I've played of Spirit of the Century.

The characters are in a location. That location has Aspects, like Dark, or Cramped, or whatever, that carry mechanical weight. "It's Dark, so it's -2 to hit me."

Here's something to think about: How many Aspects does a location have?

The answer: an infinite number. Bounded, to be sure, but literally infinite. The deck of a pirate ship is Dark and Wet and Heaving, but it's also In Earth-Normal Gravity and Earth-Normal Oxygen Atmosphere and Moving Parallel to the Earth's Magnetic Field. In any given instance of play, a few of the infinite Aspects will have an impact on play, and all the rest won't. The map is not the territory, here.

In SotC, it behooves the players on a mechanical level to really Share the SIS. It'd be really hard to play the game without it.

In D&D 4E, there's no mechanical effects associated with the SIS. Share it, or don't; it doesn't matter. Imagine whatever you want. Nobody else cares.

There was a nice bit of discussion in the podcast that was about, essentially, what happens if in the event of SIS Sharing failure. "I take the high ground!" "Uh, there is no high ground." "Say what?" Note that this conversation is entirely plausible with SotC, while it's highly implausible with D&D 4E.

Anyway, that's been my little journey of understanding with respect to this stuff. If it's helped, great. If not, that's okay too.

Comments

  • Posted By: RogerEveryone's got their own little personal SIS. They're imagining whatever they want. Nobody else cares.
    Minor quibble: SIS is "shared imagined space." You can't have a personal AND shared imagined space. Call it PIS instead. ;)


    My own experiences with 4E have been very different than yours, I think. As Daniel describes stuff to the group, we all soak it in, even if it doesn't have stats. There's a broken bridge here? We strategize together about how to get our people across. We can climb down into the gully, or I can try to cross it with my cool Shadow Bridge ritual. There are "left-pointing arrows" coming out of the fiction into our brains. The elements of the fiction influence everything we do. It does matter that we're on the same page and not just imagining whatever we want, so we can strategize together.

    I think that applies to most D&D play, though, even when it's battlemap stuff. Can Rachel's witch doctor shift the evil dwarf boss away from the pillars so that Joe's apelord and my cleric can flank him better? We have to share this imagined space (even if we have a battlemap to help us remember where stuff is) so we can collaborate. The elements of the fiction (the pillar, the fact that it blocks us from moving, the flanking positioning of our characters) do matter to play.
  • Lots of good stuff here, Adam; thanks! I'll address these things point by point.
    Posted By: Adam DrayMinor quibble: SIS is "shared imagined space." You can't have a personal AND shared imagined space. Call it PIS instead. ;)
    Yeah, I didn't think that through as well as I needed to, and the muddled terminology is the symptom.

    What I meant, I think, is that the Imaginary Space here is still (generally) Shared, but it's Non-Collaborative. I'm talking about the "and here's the 27 pages of character backstory I wrote all by myself that I'll now share with you" phenomenon that sometimes arises with a No Arrow Out of Fiction sort of game. It's Shared in some sense, but not the sense that we normally use when we sit around and talk about the SIS. So, good point.
    Posted By: Adam DrayThere's a broken bridge here? We strategize together about how to get our people across. We can climb down into the gully, or I can try to cross it with my cool Shadow Bridge ritual...
    Yep, good example of Arrow Out of Fiction, no doubt it my mind. Whether that arrow goes over to The Boxes or back into The Cloud isn't entirely clear to me from you brief example, but there's a pretty good chance it gets to The Boxes.
    Posted By: Adam DrayI think that applies to most D&D play, though, even when it's battlemap stuff. Can Rachel's witch doctor shift the evil dwarf boss away from the pillars so that Joe's apelord and my cleric can flank him better? We have to share this imagined space (even if we have a battlemap to help us remember where stuff is) so we can collaborate. The elements of the fiction (the pillar, the fact that it blocks us from moving, the flanking positioning of our characters) do matter to play.
    Let me return once more to the source and get the definitions down.
    The Boxes: "If you can pick it up and hand it to another player, or change it with a pencil and eraser, it's a real-world cue."
    The Cloud: "If it exists only in our heads and our conversation, it's in-game."

    Under these definitions, as I understand them, all that stuff -- your minis, the battlemap, the pillars -- they're real-world cues. Props. They're over in The Boxes.
  • Roger,

    I think your preferences are confusing the issue. Your SotC example and your D&D example are exactly the same in terms of Vincent's diagram.

    The fact that the character is Prone absolutely matters to me because what tactic I follow up with might get a bonus or whatever. The state of the fight matters. That's a right-ward pointing arrow. It might as well have the Prone Aspect in SotC.

    Those are identical.

    Jesse
  • The prone state in D&D is a fictional fact and not a mechanical one? Is that what you're saying, Jesse? I'm asking because Roger argued for the opposite, that being prone in modern D&D is just a mechanical state that may only happen through mechanics and not come from the fiction.
  • Yeah, I gotta go with Roger's interpretation: that's the origin of the "you can trip an ooze?!?!?" argument. (yes, you can).

    It's a fairly significant element of 4E's design philosophy to uncouple fiction from mechanics - it's fully effects-based, leaving pretty much all the RPA action right where it usually is in traditional design: in the hands of the players.

    In fairness, most of the non-mechanics text pretty strongly points this out and encourages the players to put the RPAs in, but the game plays just fine as pure skirmish game.
  • "Prone" means "lying on the ground."

    That's mechanically mediated when you're engaging in fighting, but uh, you can decide you're lying on a picnic blanket looking at clouds, and that fictional fact means you're Prone.

  • Eero,

    I'm saying that in order to apply the Prone bonus we have to know if the target is prone. We have to identify whether, in the fiction, the target is indeed prone or not, to apply the bonus.

    I realize now that the original comment was about a mechanic that causes the Prone state. A trip. I was thinking more about what happens at the beginning of a fight.

    "The giant attacks! And because you were sleeping, you're Prione! +2 for me!"

    Jesse
  • Hi everyone! Jesse brings up some excellent points so I need to address these first.
    Posted By: JesseYour SotC example and your D&D example are exactly the same in terms of Vincent's diagram.
    By the time this thread is over, I think I'll have reposted Vincent's entire original post. Maybe I should have started with that; too late for it now. In any case, here are some more diagrams from it:

    image

    This is an illustration of the rule "Subtract the roll on the damage die from your character's hit points." I'd suggest it's also the illustration for a D&D 4e rule like "When you hit with this power, the target is knocked prone."

    image

    This is an illustration of the rule "If your character has higher ground than his opponent, make your attack roll at +3." I'd suggest it's also the illustration for a SotC rule like "After placing an Aspect on a target by using a Maneuver, you can tag it for free for a +2 bonus."
    The fact that the character is Prone absolutely matters to me because what tactic I follow up with might get a bonus or whatever. The state of the fight matters.
    Yeah, absolutely! The interesting part for me of this is figuring out where this "state of the fight" exists. In any RPG, some of it is going to be in The Cloud, and some of it is going to be in The Boxes. The relative distribution matters, though, at least to me.
    It might as well have the Prone Aspect in SotC.
    At that level, yeah, they are identical -- they're both mechanical effects at that point, sitting happily inside The Boxes.

    The difference I see is this:

    In D&D 4E, every DM I've played with (and when I've DMed it myself) would allow a PC to use a power they have to knock a snake prone. Disallowing it simply because snakes live on their bellies and have no legs would be highly irregular.

    In SotC, every GM I've played with (and when I've GMed it myself) would resist a PC using a maneuver to give a snake the Prone Aspect, and resist an attempt to take advantage of that through tagging. Allowing it despite the fact that snakes live on their bellies and have no legs would be highly irregular.

    But, hey, that's just been my experience. If you've seen counter-examples, I'd be really interested to hear them.
    I think your preferences are confusing the issue.
    And I'm going to start by derailing my own thread. This is purely a tangent, but now I'm too curious to turn away. What do you think my preferences are?
  • Yeah, it's true that proneness can come about in 3rd edition D&D due to the fiction. I'd personally even argue that it's perfectly reasonable (although against the rules as written, I believe) to have trip only affect creatures that actually could be prone in the fiction.

    Perhaps Roger needs a better example? Surely D&D has some purely formalistic rules(as I call those rules that don't refer to the fiction)?
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenPerhaps Roger needs a better example? Surely D&D has some purely formalistic rules(as I call those rules that don't refer to the fiction)?
    I still think my example is pretty excellent, but sure, I can dig out something else. A good example might be Milestones.
    PHB, pg 259Milestones: You gain certain benefits when you reach a milestone -- when you complete two encounters without stopping for an extended rest. Each time you reach a milestone, you gain an action point.
    And from this thread:
    RelMilestones - There are few mechanics in 4e that I find less flavorful than the "fight two encounters, get a Milestone" bit. But after consideration, I determined that what I needed to do is to simply turn Milestones into, well, milestones. In other words, have something meaningful actually take place. And it doesn't have to be after the encounter either. It can be smack dab in the middle of the battle.

    If the PC's interrupt the Evil Wizards in the middle of their Ritual, that's a Milestone. If they maneuver past the Evil Cleric's minions and blow out the Dark Candles that have desecrated the Altar of Pelor, that's a Milestone. When they slay the Hobgoblin Lietenant who led the attack on their village, that's a Milestone. The PC's should constantly be setting short term goals and even quests. Accomplishing those is significant and earns Milestones (and therefore Action Points). Fighting a random encounter of wolves in the woods does not earn you a Milestone.
    Mike Mearls - Lead Designer, RPG R&DInteresting trivia bit: at one point, we thought about doing milestones pretty much the way you describe.

    We decided against it because we figured that for story-based games, the DM would have a natural progression of scenes, while for a dungeon-based game it might be a pain to label some encounters as important and others as trivial.
    So here we have a rule process based strictly over in The Boxes, someone proposing a house-rule that would result in a Right-Pointing-Arrow out of the Cloud, and one of the lead designers saying, yeah, we thought about doing that... but then decided not to. Is this a better example than tripping snakes? Maybe.


    While I'm here replying to people, I should clarify that I don't mean to claim that all D&D 4E is all non-RPA all the time. It has rules that are clearly RPAs. I've had those rules come into effect during some of my actual play experiences. I'm just saying the preponderance of my actual play experience with D&D 4E hasn't involved any significant Right-Pointing Arrows.
  • Hey Roger,

    I see the p. 42 DMG "stunt" table as all RPA, all the time. That table informs a significant chunk of my D&D4 play, so I tend to think of D&D4 as pretty RPA heavy. Clearly your experience is different, and that's cool, I don't want to dispute that. I'm just curious what you think of the p. 42 thing, and how it informs this conversation, in your mind.
  • edited May 2009
    Posted By: John HarperI see the p. 42 DMG "stunt" table as all RPA, all the time.
    I'm in complete agreement with you in this, John.
    That table informs a significant chunk of my D&D4 play, so I tend to think of D&D4 as pretty RPA heavy. Clearly your experience is different, and that's cool, I don't want to dispute that. I'm just curious what you think of the p. 42 thing, and how it informs this conversation, in your mind.
    It's a good topic for discussion. The first thing it impresses on me is that I've gotten lazy already with how I've been speaking about things, so it's high time I resolve that. I've been implying the D&D 4E game itself is non- or low-RPA, and that the SotC game itself is high-RPA. That isn't really accurate. It is individual rules themselves that are low- or high-RPA. A game consists of rules, of course, so if most of the rules in a game are low-RPA, it's not too much of a stretch to call the game itself low-RPA. But that's really just a discussion about the text sitting on a shelf.

    As far as a game actually being played out in the real world goes, it may well be that the few high-RPA rules in a game are the ones getting all the use and doing all the heavy lifting, and the low-RPA rules are not factoring into it. It's one of those distinctions that I really should have been more clear with from the beginning.

    So, with all that out of the way, let's take a closer look at page 42.

    The first sentence we have here is this: "A few combat situations come up rarely enough that the rules for them intentionally aren't covered in the Player's Handbook." The section heading for the remainder of this page is "Actions the Rules Don't Cover."

    What I take away from that is the sense that this rules subsystem is intended for situations that rarely come up, and is a "second-class citizen" compared to the other rules. If the 320 pages of PHB rules and 220 other pages of DMG rules don't cover a particular rare situation, then use this one page of rules. I can appreciate that some groups are going to make much heavier use of it, but I'd suggest this is a Drift to some degree.

    My own personal experience at the table has seen much less use of pg 42 than yours, so yeah, based on that alone, I'm inclined to think of the game as being pretty RPA light. And also, as a result, it doesn't really inform my side of the conversation as much as it could. But it's definitely among the Right-Pointing-Arrows in the D&D 4E rules arsenal.
  • I thought of a few more things that I should talk about.

    On the terminology front, I now think it's a mistake to think of The Cloud as "the fiction". The fiction lives in The Cloud and also in The Boxes. If I've got 25 out of 37 hitpoints, that's definitely part of the fiction and definitely in The Boxes. It's all "the state of play", as Jesse has put it.

    In practice, it seems to me that the relative sizes of The Cloud and The Boxes is closely related to the number of arrows coming out of them. (But not, interestingly enough, to the number of arrows going into them.) If lots and lots of arrows are coming out of The Cloud, making them RPAs, then generally one can conclude that most of the state of play is over in The Cloud. If there's hardly any arrows coming out of The Cloud, then most of the state of play is over in The Boxes.

    As Vincent alludes to when he talks about his old GURPS and Ars Magica games, what happens when there's not many arrows coming out of The Boxes is that The Boxes becomes an after-the-fact record of events. I suspect that the symmetry holds: when there's not many Right-Pointing-Arrows coming out of The Cloud, then it tends to become an after-the-fact story of events. I'm not entirely convinced with this line of thought, but it seems to be holding up for me sofar.


    I've been thinking of a couple of thought experiments that might also be useful to identify where the state of play is.

    1. The Substitute Player Thought Experiment.

    The players are in the midst of play when suddenly one of them has to leave, and someone else, who is familiar with the ruleset but hasn't seen any of the game session so far, steps in as a substitute.

    How much difficulty does he experience? How much conversation is required to get him up to speed on the state of play?

    In a game where most of the state of play is in The Boxes, he's got it pretty easy. The state of play is there, in the concrete things that he can see and touch and read. He's got his character sheet, his initiative order, he can see where his mini is on the map. He might need to ask a few clarifying questions, but he might not need to do even that.

    In a game where most of the state of play is in The Cloud, he's going to have a lot of troubles. He'll need to ask a lot of questions -- where are we? What are we doing? Who else is here? Who are THOSE guys? Everything that was established in a conversation that he wasn't a part of, so it needs to happen again.


    2. The Slithy Tove Thought Experiment.

    The characters are sitting around when the GM announces "Suddenly, a slithy tove bursts in on you and attacks!" The characters proceed to engage whatever conflict resolution system their game has, and emerge victorious.

    Then the GM asks the players to individually sketch a picture of the unknown monster, based on their combat.

    In a game where most of the state of play is in The Boxes, I'd expect the sketches to potentially vary pretty widely, on things like: how many legs did it have? Was it humanoid? What sort of eyes did it have? What colour was it? An outside observer considering all the sketches might not conclude that they're all of the same creature.

    In a game where most of the state of play is in The Cloud, I'd expect to see less variation between sketches. An outside observer considering all the sketches might well think they're all of the same creature.
  • Roger, please note that you rock. And your thought experiments rock.
  • Thanks, Guy! I kinda messed up a few things in this thread, I think, so I'm starting right from the beginning.
  • Posted By: RogerIn a game where most of the state of play is in The Boxes, he's got it pretty easy. The state of play is there, in the concrete things that he can see and touch and read. He's got his character sheet, his initiative order, he can see where his mini is on the map. He might need to ask a few clarifying questions, but he might not need to do even that.
    My experience of 4E has been similar to yours, Roger, that is, mostly in the Boxes, if I'm following all this at all. Case in point: I recently joined our last session late, dropped in mid-combat, asked those few clarifying questions, and just got to rocking with no troubles. In fact, I could have simply asked the GM where my fig entered, rolled my Initiative, and targeted an enemy mini. My main question, as the Cleric of the group, was, "Anybody seriously hurt?" I simply couldn't have dropped into any number of the hippie games I love so much and looked for Box cues to engage me. I certainly would have needed to be engaged by Cloud cues.

    Not meaning to resurrect this thread, as I've already visited your reboot, but thought I'd post this here in response to this particular thought experiment.
  • edited May 2009
    Posted By: RogerWhat I take away from that is the sense that this rules subsystem is intended for situations that rarely come up, and is a "second-class citizen" compared to the other rules. If the 320 pages of PHB rules and 220 other pages of DMG rules don't cover a particular rare situation, then use this one page of rules. I can appreciate that some groups are going to make much heavier use of it, but I'd suggest this is a Drift to some degree.
    And this is why drift is the fundamental act of all roleplaying game roleplaying and the only important and virtually the only fun thing about the entire hobby.

    Those are great thought experiments and the first time I have understood what this thread is about. Cool.
  • One last comment -- thanks, guys. It's great to hear some validation on the thought experiments.
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