Dice and Clouds: Now with IIEE and GNS

edited May 2009 in Story Games
So, sorta messed up this thread a bit. Starting over.

I'm still starting with "I try to trip the snake. I hit! Now the snake is prone."

There's a lot going on in there. A LOT. So let's begin at the beginning, which, for me, is IIEE. A quick summary:

IIEE: Short for Intent, Initiative, Execution, and Effect, referring to the relationship between announcements of action by real people and the establishment of those actions into the shared imaginary game-world.

* Intent is just that — the intention to do something, before one actually begins to do it. For example, "I'm going to attack the troll."
* Initiation is beginning to actually perform the action. Depending on circumstances, the initiation of attacking the troll could be to begin swinging a weapon at it, or it might involve first moving to a position where one can attack. With a ranged weapon, initiation might be when one physically starts to aim at the troll.
* Execution is when the attempt to perform the action completes — the end of the sword swing, or when the shot has been loosed and flown to or past its target.
* Effect is the point at which the question "what did the attempt accomplish?" is answered — when we know what happened to the troll as a result.

(That's the short version; the canon work on this is here.)

Now, just to get everyone on the same page, let's also define our symbols.

The Cloud
If it exists only in our heads and our conversation, it's in-game. In the past I've sometimes called this "the fiction" which I now believe is a mistake.

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. Typically includes things like character sheets, miniatures, and dice.

The Canon
I'm using this to refer to out-of-game influences in the sense of the Star Wars movies with relation to a Star Wars game, the Lord of the Rings books with relation to a Middle Earth game, and that sort of thing.

The Player
This is the particular player under consideration at any given moment.

The GM
The Game Master, or Dungeon Master, or whatever the game has.

The People
Everyone else who is playing the game, excluding the Player and the GM.

So. Let's consider Intent. And let's start right from the beginning of Intent and look at the possible influences on the Player -- the things he cares about, and where we can find the answers to the question "Why do you want to do that?"


Here's all the possible influences. Of course, for any given Player, some are going to be more influential than others. Consider the Player's answer to the question "Why are you attacking the orc?"



  • When the Cloud is the primary influence, the Player's answer is something like "It's the only way to stop them from invading our peaceful village!" I've labelled this arrow "N" because I believe it's closely related to (or actually IS) Narrativism, or Story Now.

    When the Boxes are the primary influence, the Player's answer is something like "It's got a low armour class, and I only need 50 more XP until I reach Level 4." I've labelled this arrow "G" because I believe it's closely related to (or actually IS) Gamism, or Step On Up.

    Another form of Boxes influence is a situation like "I would consider grappling the orc, but the grapple rules in this game are a nightmare."

    When the Canon is the primary influence, the Player's answer is something like "Because I'm a hero, and that's a monster, and heroes attack monsters." I've labelled this arrow "S" because I believe it's closely related to (or actually IS) Simulationism, or Right To Dream.

    When the People are the primary influence, the Player's answer is something like "All my friends expect me to, and we're all going to attack it together." I've labelled this arrow "C" because I believe it's closely related to (or actually IS) the recently-identified Creative Agenda called Cheetoism.

    When the GM is the primary influence, the Player's answer is something like "The GM obviously expects me to." I've labelled this arrow "B" because I believe it's closely related to (or actually IS) a previously-unidentified creative agenda that I'm currently referring to as "Please the Boss". If there's a more well-established term, I'd be happy to use it.

    I was a little surprised to see Creative Agendas coming up here, but in retrospect, it seems a bit obvious that forming Intent is all about why a player is doing something, which is all about Creative Agenda.

    I'll now go off on a bit of a tangent and talk about Please the Boss, since I've introduced it here and I should probably discuss it. "I'm going to attack the shopkeep because it'll really irritate the GM" is also Please the Boss (which reveals at least one problem with the name.) As another example, the "pitching the series" part of Primetime Adventures supports this mode.

    Although all of these require the influencing system to "play along" to some degree, Please the Boss is especially susceptible to refusal-to-influence. I believe this is the most common root of "But what are we supposed to be doing?" player flailing -- but it can probably arise any time an arrow a player wants isn't providing sufficient influence.

    This is the very first part of the very first step, of four, so there's a lot more coming, I think. We'll be getting to tripping the snake, honest. But in the meantime, please feel free to raise any questions or objections.
  • Just to clarify: I'm talking about the player's intent here. I've been a bit sloppy up there with the distinction between player and character, but I hope it mostly holds together. When I say "Why did you attack the orc?" I'm more accurately saying "Why did you decide your character would attack the orc?" Characters themselves have intent in some sense, but that's not what I'm talking about here.

    I'm not sure if that's enough or not; it might be time to bust out some more diagrams if not.
  • Roger, I've barely managed to punch my brain enough to fit Baker's diagram into my thoughts, and here you are with new pictures and new arrows!

    I'm going to assume -- even thought you don't say it specifically, you definitely imply it -- that The Canon also includes anything else you might be trying to simulate in your game. So not just "Canon" in the sense of "we can't blow up the Death Star, Luke does that!" but also in the sense of "the axe blade hits your shoulder just above the collarbone, so we roll on the dismemberment chart" -- The Canon in this case being the effect of heavy, sharp objects on living beings.
  • Hi Adam! So, yeah, The Canon. "The Canon also includes anything else you might be trying to simulate in your game."

    That's a pretty good way of looking at it. When a player says "That isn't realistic!" they're almost certainly talking about a relationship with The Canon.

    Something like rolling on the dismemberment chart... it kinda depends where that's coming from; I think I'm (way) too early in the IIEE to really be able to give you a solid answer on it. But here's a few of my initial thoughts:

    1. We roll on the dismemberment chart, because we're fighting the Dread Slithy Tove which bit the arms off of 49 men in the village. That's probably coming out of The Cloud.

    2. We roll on the dismemberment chart, because look, according to rule 11.4, Effects of Being Struck in the Upper Torso By: D) Weapon, Bladed, Heavy, Axe: "then roll on Dismemberment Chart Q45." That's probably coming out of The Boxes.

    3. We roll on the dismemberment chart because, dude, I just saw a Mythbusters on this last week and they totally chopped a pig in half with a rocket-axe. That's probably coming out of The Canon ("realism"-flavoured.) Or possibly it's more like, dude, remember when Darth Vader totally chopped off Luke's hand? That's coming out of The Canon, "genre"-flavoured.

    So... yeah, it's going to be quite the ride when we get to it. But I think you've got the right idea about The Canon, is what I'm trying to say.
  • There must be something you've not communicated to me about the difference between the Cloud and the Boxes as you've defined them. Here is a simple proof: record the audio a game session, and allow all participants to listen to any previous part of it at any time during the session. Suddenly those parts of the Cloud which were conversation are now in the Boxes, but those parts of the Cloud which were only in our heads are not. Similarly move all the mechanics to memory and spoken random number generation, and suddenly everything in Boxes is now in the Cloud. This suggests to me that using Boxes and the Cloud as you've just defined them to illuminate gameplay procedures may be fine, but not to illuminate Creative Agenda, since a simple mechanical change would then have a huge effect on Creative Agenda, the players' intents. Contradiction, QED? :)

    In particular "If it exists only in our heads and our conversation, it's in-game." strikes me as a very wrong bucket for talking about CA, since the first bit "in our heads" is not easily communicable to another brain, but the second bit "our conversation" is. An extreme example: in Polaris, what is it when you invoke a key phrase? I claim that's sufficiently different from what I imagine the prone snake to look like that if I find the two in the same Cloud bucket, I should immediately be suspicious of the bucket boundaries.
  • Roger I think your diagram is just dandy, but I think you'd be much farther ahead not trying to link it to Creative Agenda or GNS at all.

    I'd also steer clear of "intent". That path is frought with peril and madness.
  • What Ralph said. This is great stuff, but CA is a bridge too far - at least until you've developed your thesis a bit more.

    I'm looking at this, and seeing a nice description of talking about Technical Agendas and Social Contract. But I'm not seeing anything I recognize as CA.

    Map out some actual play - not hypotheticals, but real play - with this, and lets see where it takes you?
  • First of all, thanks everyone. In retrospect, yeah, it's probably too early to be getting into Creative Agendas right at this time. I mean, I still believe I'm on to something, but at this stage in the game it's more of a distraction.

    With that said, it's time to answer Guy and many other folks with...

    The post in which I finally clear up the whole Cloud and Boxes thing (maybe)

    Alright. Because I'm a bad person, I totally ripped off the definitions of the Cloud and the Boxes from Vincent Baker without giving him any credit whatsoever. Sorry about that.

    As he mentions in his podcast interview, Ben Lehman got on a big kick about "so all I need to do is memorize my hit points and now it's out of the Boxes and into the Cloud!" which is essentially the same point, I think, that Guy brings up.

    I'm going to deviate pretty significantly from Vincent on this, I think, so blame everything further on me.

    So. Here's the deal.

    The Cloud consists of details that are inherently subjective, complex, and which require interpretation. They're in the Cloud because you could write books and books about them without really capturing everything.

    The Boxes consist of details that are inherently objective, simple, and which require little interpretation. They're in the Boxes because they're easy to write down in their entirety.

    The Canon consists of details that lie outside the "state of play". They are usually objective, but not always; sometimes complex, sometimes simple, but always abundant.

    And here's the really important thing:

    Nothing in the game exists purely in any one of those categories. They're all a mixture.

    That's a lot to take on faith without some examples, so here they come:

    D&D Hit Points


    These are almost purely a Box thing. "I have 27 out of 34 hit points." Sure, go ahead, memorize it if you want; it's still a Box.

    SotC Aspect: Irish


    This is largely a Canon thing, somewhat a Cloud thing, and a bit of Box thing. It's a single word on the character sheet, so that's the Box component. But that's not enough to really do anything with all by itself. The Canon component ties in to all the real-world things, facts, stereotypes, genre conventions, associated with "Irish." And within the state of play, there's probably associations with "Irish" as well. Similar, but slightly different, from our next example:

    SotC Aspect: Eye of Anubis


    Here, there isn't as much Canon to fall back on, because it's a fictional thing peculiar to our particular game. But eyes are real and Anubis was real and the Eye of Anubis is a real thing, so it's not totally divorced from Canon. The Box component remains small.

    OD&D: Elf


    This is having "Race: Elf" on your character sheet back in Old D&D. It carries some strictly mechanical Box elements, like notice a secret door on a 1-3 on a d6. It has Cloud components, which are peculiar to each game.

    And it has a considerable Canon component, which is certainly inspired by LotR but distinct from it. When Ron Edwards talks about "D&D emulates the genre of D&D" I think this is the sort of thing he's talking about.

    I believe that newer editions of D&D have, over time, eroded away the Canon aspects, and probably the Cloud aspects, of "Race: Elf."

    To get back to an example from the earlier thread, let's consider Prone for a moment. In D&D 4E, Prone is much like our Hit Points diagram, above. I think this is illustrated by the fact that the publisher released official errata clarifying that one cannot Run while Prone.

    In SotC, Prone is more like our Irish diagram. The rules themselves are silent on whether Prone restricts one's movement, and are likely to remain silent on it. The effects of being Prone come largely out of Canon (mostly of real life, in this case.)

    Sometimes these divisions are not entirely clear, or differ between people. A good example is Alignment. This is pretty much entirely where the Alignment Wars come from. Some people argue it's mostly a Canon thing (and then don't always agree on which Canon,) others that it's mostly a Cloud thing, and yet others that it's mostly a Box thing.

    So... there we have it.
  • edited May 2009
    It's not just too early for the GNS labels, they're also very very very wrong. Kick down the door and machine gun blazing wrong. Not that your definitions are wrong, but having CA stuff on an "intent" diagram goes against everything CAs are even about. When I am deciding to attack a troll, in this specific instance, the CA at work is entirely opaque. I can do it for any reason on your diagram (plus 30 million others) and it says nothing about my preferred CA.

    I sound like quite the Forge twunt right now, but I have seen CA talks go way off the rails because of this idea that in-the-moment choices are CA relevant. And they're not. Down that road is nothing but explosions and screaming.

    EDIT: Uh. Wow. That was quite the rant. Sorry, Roger. I do think you're on to something interesting here.
  • That's okay, John! We'll burn that bridge when we get back to it.
  • All right, that'll teach me not to listen to the podcast. :D

    Here's what it sounds like to me you're trying to make distinctions between, possibly because they're the distinctions I find most natural which are closest to what I think you've made:

    Things: Real honest-to-goodness objective things that happen/exist around the table. A 6-sided die which rolled a 4, the fact that Lisa just spoke the sentence "Suddenly, a slithy tove bursts in on you and attacks!", that character sheet which has "Lawful Good" written on it, my copy of the D&D 4e DMG, Ron's picture of an ur-character (here). Your Boxes?

    Thoughts: How people playing the game interpret things in their heads. Players' differing feelings about randomness, the fact that I picture a slithy tove with limbs but no legs and didn't communicate that to anyone, his deep understanding of economic theory coloring what actions he considers "good", the relative importance we place on page 42, whether I feel the cartoony style of your character's picture is a statement or simply your style. Your Cloud?

    Tropes: Real life experience, fictional interpretation precedence, anything that a scientist could point to and say Look! Pre-existing evidence!. Our group's policy of rerolling any dice which leave the table, the fact that slithy toves can and do gyre, the GM's previous decision that slaughtering those baby Evil-aligned fishmen was a Lawful Good thing to do, the stated "Say Yes" philosophy of 4e, the big-eyes-in-anime trope. Your Canon?

    The thing missing from these boundaries is the fact that Thoughts, how we interpret, are not random. We all have brains and interpret similar Things similarly, in general. I can anticipate that you might think of Spike when I say I block your sword with my gun. Because of that, because fairly often we all interpret something nearly exactly the same way and it's clear to everyone after the fact that we did so, sometimes it feels like Thoughts are actually Things or Tropes. In fact it is actually the physical state of the brain which is a Thing, and the previous experience we've had with these or similar brains which is a Trope, and it so happens that this pretty regularly produces coinciding Thought effects.

    Now that I've written it down, the difference between these distinctions and yours, as far as I can tell, is that you have a continuum of interpretation complexity at one end of which are Clouds and the other Boxes. This seems to map directly onto how likely it is a given Thing plus background Tropes "produces coinciding Thought effects" rather than producing differing (even if anticipable) Thought effects. So if you can conjure a Thing at the table which you're very confident will produce similar Thoughts, then it's a Box, but otherwise (and at the extreme the Thing you conjure is your own next brain state) it's a Cloud. And of course most Things will produce some similar Thoughts and some different, which makes them partially both. I see your Canon as part of the explanation for why a Thing would produce this or that Thought.

    That said, I'll now do what Mark W said to do! Our group has playtested a couple times now what we're referring to as "DD&D", Distributed D&D, wherein the DM's duties are parceled out amongst everyone by voting (plus some randomness) on what we'd like to happen next (whoever wrote it down gets the duty). Brushing over the details, we had a problem last time we played it. A certain combat encounter had a very different-than-usual hazard which turned out to be not well designed for producing fun. Some people at the table Thought the solution was to spice up the encounter (ex: a zombie dog jumps out of the lake, with his zombie friends!), and others Thought the solution was to wind up the encounter quickly (ex: we cut to all the PCs safe in the mill, safe from the zombie horde!), and none of the reasoning behind these suggestions was communicated explicitly.

    Here's the problem: the voting+randomness structure made our differing solutions end up clashing, with the encounter getting kinda spiced up, and kinda wound up, and all-in-all worse than either of the solutions alone. Here's my analysis in terms of Clouds, Boxes, Things, Thoughts, and CanonTropes: a messy encounter Thing Clouded our Thoughts since we had no good CanonTrope about how to deal with messy encounters. The solution as I see it is either systematize sharing Thoughts on long term solutions (i.e. produce Things from our reasoning process, not just our conclusions) to messy encounters Things or establish CanonTropes that will regularly produce coinciding Thought effects from messy encounter Things - for example establish an understood way to bail out of a fizzling encounter, no harm no foul.

    That turned into something longer than I anticipated. :)
  • Roger, both of your threads have fascinated me and made my head hurt a little. I appreciate the mental exercise!
    Posted By: John HarperDown that road is nothing but explosions and screaming.
    John, I'm glad that you can slip in an oblique 3:16 reference, even here. Or maybe it wasn't a reference and I see what I need to see. Whatever.
  • Posted By: RogerNow, just to get everyone on the same page, let's also define our symbols.

    The Cloud
    If it exists only in our heads and our conversation, it's in-game. In the past I've sometimes called this "the fiction" which I now believe is a mistake.

    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. Typically includes things like character sheets, miniatures, and dice.
    These definitions aren't really how you're using them. Using the definitions above, if I don't write "Condition: prone" on my character sheet, or mark it by knocking over the miniature figure, then it's part of the cloud rather than the boxes. Conversely, if I write something on my character sheet, then it is part of the boxes, even if it's something like "Trevor loves Lorelai."

    The way you're using it, though, isn't this way. You're saying that something is part of the cloud if it doesn't have strict mechanics that apply to it -- though I'm not sure about how you'd class a bunch of in-between cases.
  • Posted By: GreedyAlgorithmHere's what it sounds like to me you're trying to make distinctions between, possibly because they're the distinctions I find most natural which are closest to what I think you've made:
    This is going to be a lot of "Well, yes and no..." and "Well, sort of..." and that sort of thing. Which is really great in its way; this version of the Socratic Method has been far more useful (and a lot more fun) than just sitting around myself trying to think about things.

    I haven't been really very clear with my thinking or my speaking about just what I mean by "state of play". So let me throw a thought experiment at you right off the bat:

    The Burning House Thought Experiment

    Your group is sitting around, having a heck of a game session, when the host bursts in: Holy crap, the house is on fire! Quick, everyone has a few minutes to grab everything they need, maybe make a few notes, and because you're all so crazy hardcore, you'll resume the session over at someone else's house.

    All the stuff you need to grab or record or pay attention to before you leave? That's what the State of Play is -- all those artifacts. If you left it behind in the fire and your resumed session differs from your non-fire-interrupted session, it was part of the State of Play. And Boxes, The Cloud, The Canon are only really meaningful with respect to the State of Play.

    The Burning House Thought Experiment Addendum

    So you're all freaking out and grabbing all your stuff and the host's brother comes in to scream at you, which proves ineffective, and then to help you.

    Anything you can hand or tell to him to save it from the fire? Boxes. Things like "He said to tell his mother he had 27 hit points!"

    Anything you can't really give him or tell him in an instant? Cloud. Things like "He said to tell his mother he was the Eye of Anubis, whatever that means."

    Anything you don't need to give him or tell him because he already knows it, but that would still impact the session if it somehow disappeared? Canon. "He said to tell his mother that creatures who live underground all the time dislike bright light. Duh."

    Are "Things" in the State of Play?

    A die showing a 4? Probably not State of Play. It probably had an influence on the State of Play -- it resulted in a character taking 4 points, say, -- but it's that 4 points of damage that's in the State of Play (as a Box-heavy artifact). Once you have that in the State of Play, you don't need anyone to know that, oh yeah, he rolled a 4, in order to resume the session.

    The fact that someone said "Suddenly, a slithy tove bursts in on you and attacks!" Probably not State of Play. That attacking slithy tove itself is in the State of Play, but how it got there -- the arrow itself, to skip ahead a bit -- is a means for manipulating the State of Play. But this is not quite universal; there might be some game out there in which the fact that Lisa said, ritualistically, "But all was not as it seemed, for in their midst was a slithy tove." And who said that, and how they said it, was all very important and would need to be referenced later -- in that sort of situation, it's part of the State of Play.

    The fact that a character has "Lawful Good" written on their character sheet? This is a real wild card. It may well be that it's something very important in your game, or it may be that it's as approximately important as your character's uncle's middle name. So it might be part of the State of Play; it might not. If it is, it might be Box-heavy, but there's a good chance it's also rooted in other areas.

    Is "Thoughts" synonymous with "The Cloud"? Not really, no.

    Anything that's completely internal and private isn't part of the State of Play. It may have an influence on the State of Play, but it's not actually in there.

    It's fair to say, though, that there's some of the State of Play that's reflected inside the players' heads in the form of their thoughts. But there's lots and lots of thoughts that are not part of the State of Play -- and lots of things, too, for that matter.

    Is "Tropes" synonymous with "The Canon"? Pretty much, yeah.

    I'm really happy to see an example like "our group's policy of rerolling any dice which leave the table" which is some pure Canon goodness.

    A more problematic example is "the GM's previous decision that slaughtering those baby Evil-aligned fishmen was a Lawful Good thing to do". That in itself is more of a Cloud thing that's informed by The Canon. I have this feeling that there are mechanisms by which Cloud things can move over and become Canon things, but it's a bit slippery in my mind at the moment; I need to give it more thought.

    The Missing Thing: I think we're mostly in agreement here. It's a continuum, yeah, which is why most real artifacts like Hit Points or Elf are not purely Boxes or Cloud or whatnot; they're somewhere in the continuum.

    Your Actual Play: Interesting, and thanks for posting it, but I'm afraid I'm not quite ready for it yet. You're mostly talking about processes here, yeah? Those are the big arrows in these sorts of diagrams, which I haven't reached quite yet. But we will! So I hope you can wait a little.
  • I wish you'd made new drawings, since you're not using my definitions. Not out of ownership, but for the sake of clarity: people are going to come to me from you, or to you from me, and we're going to have to contend with one another over what those drawings show.

    Any chance you could go back and change them?
  • Yeah, it's time for that. When I started I didn't really know if I'd end up striking off in my own direction; now that I largely have, for clarity's sake, it does make sense. And I should probably stop co-opting your terms while I'm at it.

    Still, on the shoulders of giants, and all that. I remain deeply indebted to you for inspiring all this.

    In the near future: probably another thread!
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