Dissociated mechanics

edited December 2018 in Story Games
From another thread: http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/21838/wherein-i-debrief-5e/

For context (and only context), a clarification of the original blog post at the Alexandrian blog: https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanics-a-brief-primer . Note the date of publication.
It may be useful to keep in mind that the disassociation theory may be viewed as a made-to-order justification that explains why trad rpgs, including D&D, are the bestest roleplaying games. With this origin in mind it may not come as a surprise if mechanics present in D&D are considered very naturally fiction-associative, while mechanics foreign to that tradition are considered disassociative. I am uncertain whether it's possible to say anything more about the disassociativeness of game mechanics except that people like what they are used to, and there's a difference between gamers in whether they react positively or negatively to new things. Take a bunch of people with a similar gaming background and a conservative mindset, and you could even get the impression that there really is some sort of disassociation phenomenon behind their consistent dislike of certain types of games, when the cause might instead be simply that they all like the same old games.
I'll try to mount a defense for the concept of "disassociated mechanic" as a useful one. Let us see how this goes.

1. Some rules are clearly and obviously tied to fiction; strength score and creature size being extreme examples.

2. Some rules, like 13th age style resting (rest once every 4 encounters; the number might be wrong), are quite disassociated from the fiction.

3. An associated (non-disassociated, whatever) mechanic allows the participants to guess the game mechanical interpretations of various things in the fiction, or at least not be surprised by them.

Given a description of a monster, different people can give it strength scores and they will probably be in the same ballpark, and they can have a discussion about how strong a monster should be (by comparing it to other monsters and considering that it can lift a carriage and so on).

In a similar way, in a noisy clockwork dungeon, if a game master says that it is not possible to get a long rest because the clanking makes sleep impossible, this is more likely to be accepted by the players than an arbitrary explanation (the dungeon has blue walls so no sleep), and, in fact, clever players might have considered the possibility as soon as they got to know that the dungeon is noisy.

On the other hand, monster hit dice (or level) is fairly disassociated - for big monsters one can use their body mass as some kind of indicator. But what about new and unique undead and demons and such?

Likewise, Adam's mechanic seems fairly disassociated. Is it about fatigue? If so, getting tired, in general, should help one learn, and that should allow getting similar bonuses. Pressure? Does having my boss yell at me give similar bonuses? If magic changes my emotional state, then does it also change the relevant bonuses?

4. Disassociation is partially a matter of not having a good explanation that the participants accept. There is a reason why D&D people have figured out explanations for alignment, hit points (that work as long as poisonous bites are not considered), and so on.

5. Some disassociated mechanics are fairly harmless (EDIT: for the purpose of not rewarding disruptive in-game behaviour, as per the next sentence; this is obviously not relevant for games where one is not playing the fiction and the rules for their advantage). These are the ones that do not suggest disruptive behaviour of the characters. Adam's rule is, I guess, fairly harmless in this sense. Giving experience for finishing goals or finding treasure and so on is harmless in this sense, and beneficial for giving structure to the game. Giving experience for killing things (and not overcoming them otherwise) is harmful if one does not want to play a game of monster hunters, because it suggests what is presumably undesired behaviour (seeking and fighting monsters for the sake of doing so).

6. Generally speaking, for traditional games, less disassociated mechanics is better (EDIT: consider two rules that are otherwise equivalent, except one is associated and the other dissociated). a. It allows aligning player and character goals. and b. It allows fiction-based problem solving. Many traditional games have elements of both a. and b., in varying degrees.
Well said. I wonder if you would consider in-character perspective important for the associativeness of a given game mechanic, in addition to it corresponding to the fiction. I don't remember ever seeing the term used without also claiming that associative rules are important because they allow a player to rely solely on an in-character perspective while playing the game. (A rule can easily, after all, be both out of character and have a clear correspondence to fiction.)
I'll respond to that later. Feel free to have a discussion about the subject; no need to wait.
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Comments

  • edited November 2018
    OK, so disassociated mechanic is a term for traditional roleplaying gamers to explain why they don't like games more focused on creating a story.

    I like disassociated mechanics, and I play nowadays mostly collaborative storytelling games because I'm tired of traditional games.

    Only thing I don't like about the article is the dreaded "What is a roleplaying discussion", even if the author is given their own definition so I can better understand the point of view.

    Here are some quotes that shed the light for me about how this "disassociated mechanic" should be used.
    The problem is that this is a Daily power — which means it can only be used once per day by the rogue.

    Huh? Why is Robin Hood losing his skill with the bow after using his skill with the bow? /.../

    There’s a fundamental disconnect between what the mechanics are supposed to be modeling (the rogue’s skill with a blade or a bow) and what the mechanics are actually doing.

    If you’re watching a football game, for example, and a player makes an amazing one-handed catch, you don’t think to yourself: “Wow, they won’t be able to do that again until tomorrow!” /.../

    ROLEPLAYING vs. STORYTELLING
    There’s another long discussion that can be had about stances and goals that a player can have while playing an RPG, but I’m going to simplify things a bit for the purposes of this discussion and talk about just two broad approaches:

    First, you can play a role. In this approach you get inside your character’s head and figure out what they would do.

    Second, you can create a story. In this approach you are focusing on the creation of a compelling narrative. [Wushu, Dread, https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/6517/roleplaying-games/roleplaying-games-vs-storytelling-games, my remark]

    /.../

    The difference between the two lies not in describing the result of what happened (which will always be a story), but with the approach by which you decided what would happen. Another way to think of it, perhaps, is to consider the difference between an actor (who plays a character) and an author (who writes a story).
    https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1545/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanic

    If the term is used in a context to explain why person X doesn't like roleplaying game Y, then I personally have no problem with it.
  • Critisising the article is not terribly difficult or instructive, so I would prefer it be done elsewhere. It was there for context.

    Dissociative mechanic is a tool for classifying rpg rules, just like many others (task resolution, dice pool, etc.). Having particular types of rules would be useful for some things one might want to do with roleplaying and harmful for others.
  • edited November 2018
    Robin Hood in the story can't make repeated use of "split arrow" because it doesn't work this way in the story. Use once per chapter is a very good mechanic for simulating a story. It is disassociated with the character psychology, but not with the character concept. Thank Chomsky, not every story has to be realistic, deterministic, psychologistic, like a XIXth century novel.
    I am saying it's not about player understanding vs character understanding. There's the player in the game, the player outside the game (also, bored), the character in the world, the character in the story.
    This distinction is not even subtle. Whereas you can find mechanics that don't simulate a world, nor a story, that are just gamey. "Once per day" is just ... poorly informed.
  • edited November 2018
    Dissociative mechanic is a tool for classifying rpg rules, just like many others (task resolution, dice pool, etc.).
    Sure, but it's IMHO more classified from taste than from something objective.
  • Well said. I wonder if you would consider in-character perspective important for the associativeness of a given game mechanic, in addition to it corresponding to the fiction. I don't remember ever seeing the term used without also claiming that associative rules are important because they allow a player to rely solely on an in-character perspective while playing the game. (A rule can easily, after all, be both out of character and have a clear correspondence to fiction.)
    I would say that many people playing traditional roleplaying games (GM runs the world, rules tell what happens there, players play their characters) care about both aligning their thinking with the thinking of their character, and about being able to reason through the fiction. These things typically support each other.

    I do not know if associativeness refers to one or both or if it is meaningful to try to draw the line. Any line I would draw would be based on my own preferences about which is more important.
    Dissociative mechanic is a tool for classifying rpg rules, just like many others (task resolution, dice pool, etc.).
    Sure, but it's IMHO more classified from taste than from something objective.
    Well, I tried to give a useful definition (more solid than mere taste) in the opening post. Please let me know where it fails, or write down your critique, so we can learn more about this.
  • edited November 2018
    I didn't make myself clear, it seems.
    How is "association" different from realism ?
    How is "once every 4 encounters" disassociated ?
    Are there no ways of aligning player and character with "disassociated mechanics" ?
    Wasn't this old concept, suspension of disbelief, good enough for you ?
  • Robin Hood in the story can't make repeated use of "split arrow" because it doesn't work this way in the story. Use once per chapter is a very good mechanic for simulating a story.
    Per chapter is interesting! Invert it. Use "split arrow" as much as you want! But it's a Climactic skill. When enough Climax has built up, this chapter ends. When the chapter ends, [other mechanics happen]. You want to spam "split arrow"? Fine, but that means we're going to zoom in reeeaaalll close to the action, because you're gonna cause chapter breaks, and we need to fill out each chapter...
  • edited November 2018
    I think this is a pretty interesting discussion, because the concept of "dissociation" is, in some respects, immediately apparent to many people who play roleplaying games. However, I'm not at all convinced that a clear line can be drawn, since many/most game mechanics operate at varying levels of abstraction (but almost all lean on abstraction at *some* level).

    (To clarify what I mean: consider a hypothetical "fatigue" rule. In one version, we decide when a character might be tired, based on the fictional circumstances, and when the character is tired, we assign a penalty of -1 to all his rolls. This is subjective and rather binary*, but otherwise most people wouldn't find it at all "dissociated".

    In a second version, every character gets 5 Fatigue points, and when something tiring happens - which might include using the awesome bow ability - the character loses one. At zero Fatigue Points, the character can no longer attempt cool feats like the awesome bow ability (presumably they automatically fail, instead). Would anyone find this mechanic "dissociated"? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    In the third version, we "zoom out" a little more and say that, generally speaking, we don't care about tracking other kinds of general fatigue, so let's assume a character generally goes through about 4 Fatigue points in a day, which leaves one to use the "awesome bow ability". We don't want to track the Fatigue points anymore; our ruleset has slimmed down so that we can remove the points altogether; their only remaining mechanical impact of interest to us is how it limits the character's awesome ability. So, having removed the need to track the (other) points, the final rule we write is, "The character can use his awesome bow ability once a day", since that's a fair general abstraction of what we used to get with the "5 Point Fatigue Pool" rules. As a result, the rule hasn't changed a great deal, but, presented in this format, I think many more people would label it as "dissociated".


    *: For instance, we could get into a funny discussion where we decide that hiking 9 miles is just fine, but hiking a 10th would make you Tired. What about hiking 5 miles at a time, then? And so on. Even a rule like this can create weird situations in play where your awareness of the rule makes it impossible to consider the fiction without taking into account metagame knowledge of how the rules work and how the participants apply them.



    Although I have gotten much better at doing this over time (and with practice), I still find sometimes that particular types of dissociated mechanics annoy or confuse me until or unless I can find a way to rationalize what they are or why they function the way they do. I do tend to like when the mechanics being used map to things in the fiction and don't unnaturally constrain my "in-character" thinking and decisions, especially in games where those things are a focus of play.

    On the other hand, like many other posters, I agree with this:

    Sure, but it's IMHO more classified from taste than from something objective.
    Whenever I've seen discussions of "dissociated mechanics", they seem to come awfully close to being a tool to describe what kinds of game mechanics a person likes, or a way to explain why a certain type of D&D is The Best (as Eero's quote suggests, above).

    Generally, it seems to me that people don't "mind" dissociated mechanics if they are familiar and comfortable - it's only when they're "weird" or new that people even notice.

    Otherwise how do we explain D&D fans complaining about "dissociated mechanics" in a new version of their favourite game, all the while spending years happily playing a game which has hit points, character classes and levels, alignments, experience points, Inspiration, experience bonuses/penalties for good or bad roleplaying, formulaic rules for learning and knowing spells, languages, and other forms of lore, and so forth?

    (If I were genuinely concerned about this issue, any game I play or design - with a goal of avoiding "dissociated mechanics" - wouldn't look ANYTHING like D&D.)

    (As an aside,I'm using "D&D" as a shorthand for many/most traditional RPGs, but it's one of the worst cases in this sense.)

    So, my mind is not entirely made up on this one, but the discussions I've seen often seem to be drawing clear lines where none exist in an effort to defend a preference. That's usually not a good sign.
  • Otherwise how do we explain D&D fans complaining about "dissociated mechanics" in a new version of their favourite game, all the while spending years happily playing a game which has hit points, character classes and levels, alignments, experience points, Inspiration, experience bonuses/penalties for good or bad roleplaying, formulaic rules for learning and knowing spells, languages, and other forms of lore, and so forth?
    You're conflating abstraction and dissociation again. Run these through the definition above, and you will find that of them, really, only hit points, inspiration, and roleplaying XP fit. Of those three, HP is complained about a lot and a lot of gamers that spin off from D&D looking for "more realistic" combat cite this one, so it's safe to say that it's below some people's threshold. Inspiration and XP for roleplaying are, IMHO, rules that see very little use at a lot of tables. Especially the latter, but even the former.

    So, my mind is not entirely made up on this one, but the discussions I've seen often seem to be drawing clear lines where none exist in an effort to defend a preference. That's usually not a good sign.
    I share Thanuir's frustration here; Please. Let's talk about the definition in the first post. How is it not clear?
  • edited November 2018
    By the time you get to "mechanics" you have already fully dissociated yourself from the fiction - you have handed over control, and therefore, authority over, the fiction to a distant designer. It doesn't matter whether they tell you to roll 3d8 or pick a card from a deck. It is as dissociated as it will ever be.

    The definition in the first post is extremely clear, and decidedly wrongheaded. It should be tossed on the trash heap with "GNS" and "ROLLplayers vs. ROLEplayers"
  • edited November 2018
    (Edit: cross-posted. I am responding to Airk, above.)

    That's precisely my point, though: I really don't see the clarity of the distinctions the definition is trying to make.

    For instance, you don't think characters classes are dissociative? Why not? Keep in mind that most character classes impose lots of arbitrary restrictions - a Wizard can't use a sword, for a classic example - as well as failing to correspond to anything tangible in the fictional reality of the game world (e.g. see all those D&D modules which list the shopkeeper as a level 13 Thief).

    Further, my example of the Fatigue rules was intended to illustrate how the formulation of such rules very easily creates situations in play which may or may not be "dissociative" depending on the choices they present for the players at the actual table (it may be different from moment to moment) as well as depending on how they are phrased or referenced.
  • If you think of the fiction only in terms of obstacles, maybe some mechanics appear dissociated because they're not telling you how easy or hard sth is for your character or just don't care (that's what "guess the game mechanical interpretations" means, right?). Once you leave this traditional viewpoint though, sth like Swords without Master's tone becomes very much associated.

  • edited November 2018
    "Disassociated mechanics" is really nothing more than a buzzword trad people came up with to devalue and flat-out insult storygames. Which is kind of just generally the Alexandrian's schtick when they talk about anything but trad. It's fucking ridiculous. It's just the "Actor Stance Only" BS of trad writ into something they can use to be exclusionary and rude.

    They've basically invented a fictional culture war to fight, and using its terminology realistically does nothing but validate the people who made it up;
  • @Paul_T Fallacious conclusions are "immediately apparent" too. This doesn't make them very interesting.
  • edited November 2018
    Sure, but it's IMHO more classified from taste than from something objective.
    Well, I tried to give a useful definition (more solid than mere taste) in the opening post. Please let me know where it fails, or write down your critique, so we can learn more about this.
    OK, let me rephrase. It's a term that stems from taste rather than something objective.

    It's like Story Now, Right to Dream, and ... Gamism(?). The latter two are IMHO just terms made up to promote Story Now. Ron Edwards wanted to talk about Story Now – his preferred playstyle – and came up with terms for what his taste doesn't include.

    It's the same here: dissociative mechanic is an explanation of what person X doesn't like in roleplaying games, and is also discussed in the same matter as the dreaded "This is not a roleplaying game" discussion.

    In this light, can you see why people don't like the term?

    As for myself, I have nothing against it, if people use it to explain their own preferred playstyle (as opposed to "This is so much better", or "What you do can never be the same as what I do").
  • I think it's a matter of perspective, as has been pointed out. To me, there are few things as "disassociated" as hit points, levels, turn structure and initiative in d&d, and yet it is cited here as an example of associated to the fiction mechanics. For most roleplayers, this classical wargamer representation of combat is the most natural, and will complain like hell when exposed to, say, fight in BW, which to me represents quite well The chaos of combat.
    In the end, all mechanics support a particular narrative, and there are certainly tons of possible narratives about how a combat goes, how healing, magic, advancement, go. So I guess a mechanic would only be dissociative if it contradicts the fiction style the game supposedly conveys. Can't think of an example of that right now, though.
  • "Disassociated mechanics" is really nothing more than a buzzword trad people came up with to devalue and flat-out insult storygames.
    The term "dissociative mechanics" came about in response to those 3e players who felt distaste for the gamier mechanics of 4e but had no terminology to describe why it felt wrong. Anecdotally, the only time I've seen the term come up is in discussions of D&D 4e. Not once have I heard it applied to storygames or even previous editions of D&D despite the long history of dissociated mechanics in D&D (as @Paul_T notes).

    My perspective is:

    1. The formatting of D&D 4e laid bare the mechanical framework of the system in a way that exposed its dissociated mechaniccs. Previous editions' more naturalistic language made them more palatable. "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

    3. The divorce of D&D 4e from its traditions introduced dissociated mechanics that many D&D players had not internalized, unlike things such as level and class restrictions. They balked at this.

    How you want to view the term is ultimately your perspective. I myself believe The Alexandrian was discussing the concept in good faith when he coined the phrase, and in usage, the term "dissociative mechanics" is entirely devoid of value judgment in the way that describing D&D as "feeling like a videogame" is not. It is merely descriptive.

    @JDCorley:
    By the time you get to "mechanics" you have already fully dissociated yourself from the fiction - you have handed over control, and therefore, authority over, the fiction to a distant designer. It doesn't matter whether they tell you to roll 3d8 or pick a card from a deck. It is as dissociated as it will ever be.
    The difference is that such resolution mechanics (flawed, abstract, and crafted in a way that fails to model any sort of reality) have a concrete basis for their existence. The iconic (and often denigrated) Armor Class comes to mind. The mechanics represent the likelihood of an individual's armor to shield him from harm, taking into account various fictional factors: the armor's material and construction, the defender's natural ability to dodge, any sort of enchantments upon it. All of that directly ties directly into the fiction in a way that something like, "You can attack an enemy twice, but only once per day, and then you you have to use the ability that allows you to attack an enemy and then an ally can spend a healing surge."

    @hyades:
    If you think of the fiction only in terms of obstacles, maybe some mechanics appear dissociated because they're not telling you how easy or hard sth is for your character or just don't care (that's what "guess the game mechanical interpretations" means, right?).
    There are plenty of story-oriented games with associated mechanics. I consider all of Apocalypse World's moves to be associated (and most PbtA spin-offs have associated mechanics). Fate's Aspects are associated. BitD's position mechanics are associated. Burning Wheel's advancement system is associated. And so on.
  • Related to armor class, couple it with hit points and you get into trouble when describing a combat, as many players and GMs seem to believe a high amount of hps also represent the ability of a character to dodge or soak hits that would've been otherwise lethal. So it seems rolling over AC but low damage might also mean that your hit is avoided. But it's dissociation rarely comes up in play, because there's a sort of pact about not questioning much what hps actually are.

    And then you have weird stuff like a character who won initiative and gets to move and attack before anybody else even blinks.
  • Is it like "example A - the Driver in Apocalypse World always having an escape route is how he sees the world", as opposed to "example B- the pool of dice in Lady Blackbird is just spotlight management" ?

    If this is so, EmmatheExcrucian is spot on. It's like a racist saying "it's not racial, it's cultural". Whether they add something about "body odors" (example C - You can attack an ennemy twice, but only once per day") or not doesn't make it less disgusting. So it begs the question : how is it not this A-B-(C) business ?

    On the side, I am getting tired of asking questions @Thanuir and not getting responses. The analysis is lacking, and people keep using the word as if it meant some real thing, which in itself is bad protocol. I am out of here.
  • edited November 2018
    The term "dissociated mechanics" was originally used to explain why 4E Is Not A Roleplaying Game but I *have* seen it used in conversations to explain why "Story Games" Are Not Roleplaying Games as well, pretty much using the same arguments and rationales. It was unmitigated bullshit then and its unmitigated bullshit now.

    Like I said in the other thread, Dissassociated Mechanics is basically just a pseudo-intellectual way of saying They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

    Its still nonsensical, of course. Daily powers are "disassociated" because if we scrutinize them with a fine-toothed comb they don't make sense but hit points are just "abstract" because hey don't just think about it too hard? Virtually every mechanic in D&D would look "disassociated" if scrutinized to the same level of detail as daily powers.
  • edited November 2018
    DeReel, thank you for explicit questions.
    I didn't make myself clear, it seems.
    How is "association" different from realism ?
    Association means that one can reason about the mechanics based on fiction, and about the fiction based on mechanics. If the fiction is realistic, this is related to realism.

    How is "once every 4 encounters" disassociated ?
    Because it is not tied to fiction in any way - why would one regain powers after every four encounters? How is encounter defined in the fiction? If you provide answers to these questions, then you have associated the rule. Then one can think of it in terms of sacrifices to the blood god or gathering väki which allows recharging power or whatever, and has a way to reason about whether fighting amongst ourselves is an encounter and is it a good idea and so on.

    Are there no ways of aligning player and character with "disassociated mechanics" ?
    I do not understand the question.

    Wasn't this old concept, suspension of disbelief, good enough for you ?
    Suspension of disbelief is about how believable something is. Dissociation is about the relation between the rules and the fiction. There are obvious not connected if the fiction breaks suspension of disbelief. There is a non-trivial link if this is not case, I think.

    I did not coin the term.
    I think this is a pretty interesting discussion, because the concept of "dissociation" is, in some respects, immediately apparent to many people who play roleplaying games. However, I'm not at all convinced that a clear line can be drawn, since many/most game mechanics operate at varying levels of abstraction (but almost all lean on abstraction at *some* level).
    I believe Airk addressed the issue of abstraction already. Also, I believe dissociation, like almost everything in life, is a matter of degree. Clear line is not necessary for a concept to make sense or be useful.

    For the fatigue rules: If we understand where the abstraction is coming from, and are willing and capable of breaking the default of one power per day, it remains associated. Like if you are starving under the hot desert sun, maybe you have no powers left, or if you are fully relaxed and come out to demonstrate your superior archery skills, you can use a special maneuver five times a day.

    It is a beautiful feature of roleplaying games that one does not have to use the same level of abstraction all the time.

    Generally, it seems to me that people don't "mind" dissociated mechanics if they are familiar and comfortable - it's only when they're "weird" or new that people even notice.
    Yes, if you are used to something, you are more likely to tolerate it. Also, you may have developed explicit or implicit ways of aligning the rules with the fiction, and just grit your teeth or make jokes about it when there is mismatch. There are many coping strategies.

    Otherwise how do we explain D&D fans complaining about "dissociated mechanics" in a new version of their favourite game, all the while spending years happily playing a game which has hit points, character classes and levels, alignments, experience points, Inspiration, experience bonuses/penalties for good or bad roleplaying, formulaic rules for learning and knowing spells, languages, and other forms of lore, and so forth?

    (If I were genuinely concerned about this issue, any game I play or design - with a goal of avoiding "dissociated mechanics" - wouldn't look ANYTHING like D&D.)
    1. Consider my notion of harmless disassociate mechanics, point 5 in the opening post. Inspiration, for example, is far more harmless than Fate points are, because you can not and need not stockpile it to create alpha strikes. It does not affect the play as much.

    2. Many people manage to use D&D for games with lots of fiction-based problem solving play. This type of play requires quite associated mechanics. Empirically, it is doable. Maybe consider how they do it an interesting thing to find out (you might even ask them), rather than stating it is impossible.
    By the time you get to "mechanics" you have already fully dissociated yourself from the fiction - you have handed over control, and therefore, authority over, the fiction to a distant designer. It doesn't matter whether they tell you to roll 3d8 or pick a card from a deck. It is as dissociated as it will ever be.
    I do not see how this is relevant to the discussion at hand. Please be more explicit.

    The definition in the first post is extremely clear, and decidedly wrongheaded. It should be tossed on the trash heap with "GNS" and "ROLLplayers vs. ROLEplayers"
    Please provide arguments to support your claim. I provided mine in the opening post; feel free to disagree with them, or start from scratch. Stating opinions does not help in learning about roleplaying games, unless you also support the opinions with arguments.

    (more later)
  • "2. Many people manage to use D&D for games with lots of fiction-based problem solving play. This type of play requires quite associated mechanics. Empirically, it is doable. Maybe consider how they do it an interesting thing to find out (you might even ask them), rather than stating it is impossible."

    But that analysis should be done by you, not by those who deny the value of this concept. What they're saying, and I agree with them, is that not even classic d&d can resist the scrutinize of this theory. And citing the experience of players who enjoy the game seems like a poor argument to me, as pretty much the same could be done for d&d4th and story games.
  • edited November 2018
    I have a hard time closing doors.
    We can agree on 2097's way of associating stuff : PCs live in a world where hit points exist.
    In your answer to me about the "4 encounters" case you say association is the action of linking mechanic to fiction via explanation. Do it if you want, the way you want. It is of no use to me, for playing or for designing. Explaining rules to the characters is not my concern.
  • Take 3e D&D's basic attack. "You attack with the weapon you're wielding as best as you can in this six second period of time". Did anyone say "PFFFFFFFF this is DISSOCIATED, why SIX SECONDS? Can't I focus REAL HARD and attack like...THREE TIMES in six seconds?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!? Why six seconds man?!?? Can my character, like, look into the world with a stopwatch and watch a bunch of fighters and deduce that like, the six second round has some physical or magical reality?" And with Armor Class, did anyone say "UGHHHH, this is DISSOCIATED because why can't I try REAL HARD and not get hit in the six seconds the orc is supposedly dangerous to me!?!?" No. Because everyone understood that all D&D mechanics are abstractions, dissociated from the fiction by dint of their need to quickly and entertainingly introduce some fun gameplay into the resolution of conflict. And also because "dissociated mechanics" is only and forever will be only a bludgeon to attack 4eD&D with. I mean, maybe you could try to reclaim it, but now that 5e exists people have abandoned it in a hurry because if you start applying it to 5e, then the conclusion might be that 4e was actually good, and this cannot be.
  • @JDCorley:

    For the first part, yes. In my younger years, my friends and I would have numerous conversations about this. Why can't I try to parry an attack? Why do I need a feat to Cleave two goblins at once? Why does a healing spell heal the wizard more completely than it does the fighter?

    These things are discussed all the time, and they're the reason that Runequest exists.

    Furthermore:
    Because everyone understood that all D&D mechanics are abstractions, dissociated from the fiction
    You're still confusing abstraction with dissociation. The two are not the same. Encounters, rounds, and turns are all abstractions time measurements, but they aren't dissociated because we understand that we are chopping up pieces of the game into manageable, bite-sized chunks. A milestone is dissociated because it abstracts...nothing. Two units of time have passed where you didn't rest, so you get a widget as a reward for not playing the game like a 15-minute adventuring day. It's carrot for playing the game "right."
  • edited November 2018
    What can I say ? I am trying to follow, but this really looks like a nutcase. I would like to answer to the topic, but as no object is constituted, there is none. I will only refute the hydra-like fallacies until Thanuir and Katana get their definition together.

    "abstractions time measurements, (...) aren't dissociated because we understand that we are chopping up pieces of the game into manageable, bite-sized chunks" This is silly : do you mean that "associated rules" are rules that simulate the "physics" of the fiction ? that make it explainable ? or what ?

    "You're still confusing abstraction with dissociation." maybe this keeps coming because that's what the definition and examples lead to. The definition is lacking, so piling up examples yields nothing. By Chomsky, the whole logic is lacking.

    "A milestone is dissociated because it abstracts...nothing" : from what I understood from Thanuir, it's Katana's inability to explain it "in fiction terms" that makes the rule "dissociated". But what do I know ? Had I known we were gonna play "moving goalposts", I'd have brought my bazooka.
  • Paul_T, thanks for trying to find the points of disagreement or unclarity. I appreciate the effort.

    For instance, you don't think characters classes are dissociative? Why not? Keep in mind that most character classes impose lots of arbitrary restrictions - a Wizard can't use a sword, for a classic example - as well as failing to correspond to anything tangible in the fictional reality of the game world (e.g. see all those D&D modules which list the shopkeeper as a level 13 Thief).
    In Dragonlance, you had a mage's guild behind the sword thing, I think, and it is also something that has caused a fair amount of grumbling among D&D palyers and has vanished in 3rd edition and later, as well as e.g. Lamentations and some other retroclones. To me, this suggests that the strangeness (disassociation?) of the rule was a known phenomenon.

    13th level thief as a shopkeeper is a more matter of realism or suspension of disbelief or preferences than anything disassociated, as far as I see. But maybe I am missing something?
    If you think of the fiction only in terms of obstacles, maybe some mechanics appear dissociated because they're not telling you how easy or hard sth is for your character or just don't care (that's what "guess the game mechanical interpretations" means, right?). Once you leave this traditional viewpoint though, sth like Swords without Master's tone becomes very much associated.
    Yes, rules being associated is more relevant for some styles of play than others. I would also say that someone who enjoys character immersion and heavy rules (I have talked with people with precisely this pair of preferences; at least one play group exists. Probably more.) would benefit from associated mechanics, as strange behaviour of the fiction or the rules might break their immersion, and such occasions would be likely in a game with plenty of dissociated rules.

    I am sure there are other styles of play for which the matter is also relevant.

    I have neither read nor played Swords without master, so please elaborate or use another game as an example.
    "Disassociated mechanics" is really nothing more than a buzzword trad people came up with to devalue and flat-out insult storygames. Which is kind of just generally the Alexandrian's schtick when they talk about anything but trad. It's fucking ridiculous. It's just the "Actor Stance Only" BS of trad writ into something they can use to be exclusionary and rude.

    They've basically invented a fictional culture war to fight, and using its terminology realistically does nothing but validate the shitheads who made it up;
    1. I am trying to provide or clarify a definition for the concept. I am not, as far as I know, devaluing or flat-out insulting anyone, and I do not think anyone is doing that to storygames in this thread. Let me know if I am unwittingly insulting storygames here, and I will admit to it or clarify.

    2. I would appreciate criticism of the definition I am provided or alternate useful definitions.

    3. I would appreciate if you took the culture wars and gripes about former discussions to another place, such as another thread, if the subject is within the bounds of this forum.

    4. From a previous thread I understand that you play in a way where dissociated mechanics is quite irrelevant, as you do not really use rules that simulate the game world, and you agree ahead of time about the big lines of play and then play to act out and see the details. There are many people who play in different ways, and some of them do find the concept useful.

    It's a term that stems from taste rather than something objective.

    It's like Story Now, Right to Dream, and ... Gamism(?). The latter two are IMHO just terms made up to promote Story Now. Ron Edwards wanted to talk about Story Now – his preferred playstyle – and came up with terms for what his taste doesn't include.

    It's the same here: dissociative mechanic is an explanation of what person X doesn't like in roleplaying games, and is also discussed in the same matter as the dreaded "This is not a roleplaying game" discussion.

    In this light, can you see why people don't like the term?

    As for myself, I have nothing against it, if people use it to explain their own preferred playstyle (as opposed to "This is so much better", or "What you do can never be the same as what I do").
    I think the GNS example is not very useful. In particular, I doubt the tastes of Ron as are limited as you claim they are, and I think GNS gamism is a very real thing, probably more so than the other categories. Discussing Ron's preferences here is tangential and you can just ask him, so I think returning to that point is not a good idea. I doubt a GNS discussion would help clarify the matter at hand in this thread, either, so I would suggest dropping the matter in this thread. Feel free to start a new one, if you want to discuss it further.

    I can somewhat see why some people do dislike the term, but I do not care too much about that. The question is whether the concept makes sense or can be defined so as to make sense, not whether people like it or how they have used it. Those tangential subjects would be better in other threads, if someone asked for my opinion. I also do not particularly care that the term stems from preferences and trying to explain them; that is a very good reason to create new terminology.

    I am still interested in critique of the definition I try to provide in the opening post, or alternate suggestions for definitions, or useful example cases, and so on.

  • edited November 2018
    I think it's a matter of perspective, as has been pointed out. To me, there are few things as "disassociated" as hit points, levels, turn structure and initiative in d&d, and yet it is cited here as an example of associated to the fiction mechanics. For most roleplayers, this classical wargamer representation of combat is the most natural, and will complain like hell when exposed to, say, fight in BW, which to me represents quite well The chaos of combat.
    In the original post I used hit points as something people have managed to explain reasonably well, but there are still holes there. I mentioned levels as an explicit example of dissociated mechanics. I think you are the first to bring up turn order and initiative, but I have had other things to think about so maybe I or someone else mentioned them and I just forgot and can't find them.

    Burning wheel extended fight mechanics are as associated as anything else. (Though the realism of planning up to half dozen moves at once is doubtful. But realism is a separate matter.)

    Hence, I am confused by your examples.

    In the end, all mechanics support a particular narrative, and there are certainly tons of possible narratives about how a combat goes, how healing, magic, advancement, go. So I guess a mechanic would only be dissociative if it contradicts the fiction style the game supposedly conveys. Can't think of an example of that right now, though.
    I think is an orthogonal matter; mechanics can and do support or contradict styles of fiction, but that is a different issue from them being tied to and explainable within the fiction at all.
    For example, a rule that says that any acrobatics a human has ever done are possible for all characters is quite associated, while one where you have acrobatics tokens that you use to make acrobatic tricks and you regain when NPCs do the same the GM has a similar pool that they use would be dissociated, i.e. require lots of contrived explanations to make sense of and probably still fail even then. However, both of these would be a good fit for a game where lots of acrobatic action is presumed, and a bad fit for other types of games.
    Is it like "example A - the Driver in Apocalypse World always having an escape route is how he sees the world", as opposed to "example B- the pool of dice in Lady Blackbird is just spotlight management" ?

    If this is so, EmmatheExcrucian is spot on. It's like a racist saying "it's not racial, it's cultural". Whether they add something about "body odors" (example C - You can attack an ennemy twice, but only once per day") or not doesn't make it less disgusting. So it begs the question : how is it not this A-B-(C) business ?
    If the driver's ability is fairly associated - most of the time associating it requires no effort at all. When there comes a situation with no obvious escape route and the roll succeeds, the group has to decide how to handle it - either there an escape route after all, even though nobody noticed it before (this is only questionable if the presence of potential escape routes had been carefully inspected before and potential ones should have been found; this causing problems would be rare, in my experience), or the ability gets treated as supernatural and described in such a way, which has its own potential consequences, as one would expect interaction with the psychic maelstorm every now and then.

    The personal pool of dice in Lady blackbird, which gets more dice when you fail at rolls, does seem hard to associate. I would call it disassociated, but maybe I am just missing a good explanation.

    I do not understand your A-B-(C) argument. Please restate.

    On the side, I am getting tired of asking questions @Thanuir and not getting responses. The analysis is lacking, and people keep using the word as if it meant some real thing, which in itself is bad protocol. I am out of here.
    I am responding to the posts in chronological order. I ignore the posts that I have addressed in a response to an earlier (in order) post. I ignored your first post because I did not understand it at all. I addressed your later post with actual questions and this one once I got here. @DeReel

    It takes some time to answer everything, but I will, if they are relevant and I understand them.

    (more later)
  • edited November 2018
    One thing for starters : if you don't understand, ask for clarification. That yields better result than ignorance.

    You answer point by point. This shows an effort. Sadly, it takes the form of a "social" effort (answering every letter is polite) rather than an intellectual effort (defining your object would be the bare minimum). I think it would be clearer if we'd all work under the same frame. Can you bring a definition of "associated rules" first ? You may now have noticed that your points number 1 and 2 are begging the question. That maybe the reason why so many people in the thread are emoting pulling their hair. (Note that number 3 is more interesting in that it provides a practical test)
    "I tried to give a useful definition (more solid than mere taste) in the opening post."
    "I would appreciate criticism of the definition I am provided or alternate useful definitions."
    @Airk "Let's talk about the definition in the first post." => WTF ?!
    Flowery prose and all you really don't know what you're saying. There is no definition there !

    Later, and only then, you could show evidence that it is something that exists.
    Later, we could work what "dissociation" means. That will then be easier. And if we arrive where I think we will (that is : dissociation is "everything not X when X is the way to go"), I'll be able to show you what my ABC business was about. But you may already have an idea and I am sure you won't need a picture when we'll get there. Which will save me the trouble of saving your soul :P I have reasons and big neon lit clues to think I know where this thing goes because of the judgements in your points number 5 and 6. Notice the contrast between how the term is poorly defined and the judgements precisely aimed, and you will have made a big step toward my understanding of the question.

    And I'll show good faith bringing to the table what I have gathered with the most favorable interpretation : I am under the impression that "associated rules" are rules that simulate the "physics" of the fiction ? that make it explainable ? explained ? The whole process of applying some sort of scientific method to rules leads me to think that. See : "Is it about fatigue? If so, getting tired, in general, should help one learn, and that should allow getting similar bonuses. Pressure? Does having my boss yell at me give similar bonuses? If magic changes my emotional state, then does it also change the relevant bonuses?" please validate or invalidate this interpretation.

    You must note that sometimes the definition has seemed to vary - maybe because Katana shares your goal, but not your definition. Examples of "dissociation" were then justified by virtue of the effect of "dissociation" on a person (like : I don't see a link to fiction, I can't explain it, etc.) So what kind of phenomenon are we talking about ? an objective one or a subjective one ? Surely, point number 4 in the OP points at subjectivity, but the "partially" really doesn't mean a thing. Is it just rhetorical precaution or do you think you have gotten your hands on something that "transcends subjective and objective" ? Listen to your heart when you write, but check your logic before posting.
  • edited November 2018
    "allow a player to rely solely on an in-character perspective while playing the game." And that is your point number 3 in the OP, namely that associated rules "allow the participants to guess the game mechanical interpretations of various things in the fiction, or at least not be surprised by them." Apart from the "solely", that's the very and only test you provided for "association". Someone rephrased it and to that you replied... "I'll respond to that later." This is nonsense ! It's like you don't know what you are talking about, changing definition according to circumstances and interlocutor, even without knowing or intent. As in : rhetoric over logic. That also explains why some people are refraining from yelling at you in this thread. You pretend to explain and you blow air : a trollish trait (no offense, this is merely descriptive).
  • First of all, I’d ask you to keep your tone in check. We’re discussing our leisure activity, and there’s no need for rudeness or hostility. Nobody here is saying dissociated mechanics indicate any game is bad or not a “real” role playing game.

    Secondly, if it’s a definition you seek, I would define it associated game elements as those mechanics that:

    1. Do not strain verisimilitude without a clear fictional justification. (How could a man clean the Augean stables in a single day? That’s preposterous. Unless the man were a demigod with the strength of a hundred men.)

    2. Could be grasped, if not fully articulated, by the characters within the fiction. (A character does not know he is “low on HP,” but he can perceive his own weariness and understand that he is more likely to make a fatal mistake as he fatigues in combat.)

    The “physics of the fiction “ has a nice ring to it. I do not know if that definition will suffice. If you want clarification or more examples, you need only ask - politely.
  • I see no problem with my tone. As I said I am pulling my hair. It shows. That's communication. Your appeal to moderation implies I should take for granted claims that are utterly illogical.

    Like : how is your drfinition the definition in the OP ? have the goal posts moved again ?
  • Thanuir: seems like starting a new thread wasn't that clever of an idea after all, so sorry about that. I hope you don't mind being piled by angry storygamers.

    I don't personally have a gripe with the definition of disassociation you present here (I don't know what's difficult about it), but I'm interested in its applications: do we simply believe that there is an underlying preference for strongly fiction-associating game mechanics in some gamer demographics, and that's why one should attempt to "simulate the game world" wherever possible, or does the concept have some further implications? Or, stated in a more pointed manner: is there a theoretical point to the distinction?

    In my own experience I am most dissatisfied by incohesive game mechanics when the rules, taken as a whole, do not paint an unified picture of a single player's tasks and responsibilities in the game. This means that I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing moment to moment in the game, and I can't enjoy the activity because I don't know if my participation is appropriate to my role. It's not even "I don't like this activity" - I'm generally pretty flexible - but simply "I don't know what this activity is even supposed to be". This is not mechanical disassociation in the narrow sense, but mechanical disassociation seems like it could be a subcategory of "role incoherence" like this in some situations: the player comes into the game thinking that their job is to simply "play their character" or "participate in the adventure", and then they're thrust into making authorial decisions from a story level perspective. I could see how this would be jarring.

    I'll note that as far as I understand, disassociation theorists generally seem to be fine with the GM having and using disassociated mechanics, as long as they're not talked about openly. Many rpgs, after all, draft the big picture on the GM side with arbitrary structural mechanics.

    Following that thought, I wonder if it's possible for some people to see mechanical disassociation as an obvious problem, while for others it's not that relevant, because of an array of hidden assumptions each person brings to their gaming. As a simple example, a gamer who really rather dislikes game mechanics in general and most favours in-character immersion in games might well latch onto the idea of mechanical disassociation because associated mechanics are easier to leave for the GM to worry about. This would explain why such a gamer would see mechanical disassociation as meaningful; not because it's such a clear-cut and dramatic difference in how a game plays, but rather because it sounds nicer than "I don't want to bother with game mechanics" does.

    Or, as an opposite example: I don't immediately see the fault-line of disassociation as crucial, as I don't really, truly buy into immersion as a goal of play. As far as I'm concerned, it's exactly as Jason said upthread: all mechanics are an interface anyway.
  • edited November 2018
    What's difficult is it wasn't presented in the first place and shifted repeatedly during discussion. Only those with previous knowledge are finding it obvious. Do you see what's wrong ? You jump to discussing desirability when the object is not even there. I don't question the purpose now, only the method.

    If you understand "association" then please explain : is it objectively in the rule or is it subjective ? Are associated rules the "physics" of the fictional world ? Is it about physics or verisimilitude ? The "clear and obvious" examples all imply physics. The less obvious ones reach for metaphysics. I am beginning to suspect it all ends in verisimilitude because the other things are longer to explain. That is : it's a rhetorical object, conveniently malleable, of which people say it's good or bad before they even consider what it IS or would be. That's crazy.

    As for the pragmatical approach, again : what's the use of explaining the rules to the characters ? Consider Rêve's metaphysics : characters know their world is dreamed by remote powerful beings. That's the players. All the rules are associated. End of story. Don't you see this is silly ? Thanuir says he wants to work on a satisfying definition. Let's work on this definition then.
  • edited November 2018
    With Katana's definition we are into psychology-fiction territory. Verisimilitude concerns the players / audience. In other words, what is the assumed relation between the psychology of the character and the player's ? I think it is very peculiar.

    I'd like to thicken the line between reality and fiction for the clarity of the discussion.
    When you say : "(A character does not know he is “low on HP,” but he can perceive his own weariness and understand that he is more likely to make a fatal mistake as he fatigues in combat.)" Do you mean like this is the way it works in real life (delusion) ? or that it is credible and that's enough (verisimilitude) ? or that is what the Hit Points model, disregarding how it works in real life and how you feel about it (physics) ?

    What's the link I am missing between verisimilitude and physics, given "realism" has been very clearly and repeatedly barred from the equation ? If you know what you are talking about, if this is obvious to you, I am ready to take my lesson. Why delay it for so many pages ? From my point of view, it's because it's not clear to anyone, and we have various objects confused into one. "dis-" meaning "everything not X", that's hardly a surprise. That's why I insist on what is "associated".

    In the end, "associated" might just describe the relation between character and player's thoughts, that would be a certain kind of actor stance (see Paradox of the actor). In which case, I would plead for the abandon of terms that manage to muddy the water by moving wind.
  • The term "dissociated mechanics" was originally used to explain why 4E Is Not A Roleplaying Game but I *have* seen it used in conversations to explain why "Story Games" Are Not Roleplaying Games as well, pretty much using the same arguments and rationales. It was unmitigated bullshit then and its unmitigated bullshit now.
    I've seen it used to discuss why some people like or do not like some games; originally D&D 4, but, yes, also other games. It is also a useful tool when designing games and tinkering with them, when one has priorities that benefit from associated mechanics.

    You have not yet explained why the concept is "unmitigated bullshit". This would actually add to the discussion.

    Its still nonsensical, of course. Daily powers are "disassociated" because if we scrutinize them with a fine-toothed comb they don't make sense but hit points are just "abstract" because hey don't just think about it too hard? Virtually every mechanic in D&D would look "disassociated" if scrutinized to the same level of detail as daily powers.
    Personally, I do not think that daily powers are particularly dissociated; there is no explanation given, but one is very easy to give. It is probably a discussion that happens when there is an attack at night or early in the morning - do characters have their powers or not?
    "2. Many people manage to use D&D for games with lots of fiction-based problem solving play. This type of play requires quite associated mechanics. Empirically, it is doable. Maybe consider how they do it an interesting thing to find out (you might even ask them), rather than stating it is impossible."

    But that analysis should be done by you, not by those who deny the value of this concept. What they're saying, and I agree with them, is that not even classic d&d can resist the scrutinize of this theory. And citing the experience of players who enjoy the game seems like a poor argument to me, as pretty much the same could be done for d&d4th and story games.
    Yes. See point 5 in the opening post for a part of the answer - games where the dissociated mechanics do not cause problems in play work fine, most of the time, even if they are intellectually unsatisfying (as evidenced by plenty of discussions about hit points, peasant railguns, and so forth).

    Another part of the answer: Just because a game has dissociated mechanics does not imply that adding more of them does not have effects.

    My argument is not that people enjoy play. Here is the argument I tried to write in response to Paul, extended and more explicit:

    1. There is at least one style of play that requires that rules are fairly associated. This would be OSR-style challenge-oriented games with focus on fictional problem solving. (There are doubtless others, but this is one with which I am quite familiar). Please ask if it is not clear why this style of play requires rules to be fairly associated.

    2. This is often played with D&D-type rules, which often have hit points, classes, levels, combat rounds and so forth. Including fifth edition of D&D. Claim is based on experience and online reports both.

    3. Hence, there is empirical proof that the rules in question are not so severely dissociative as to make the activity terribly difficult or impossible.

    This is not related at all to players of other games enjoying or not enjoying them - that would be relevant if I claimed that dissociated mechanics make all kinds of play more difficult, which I do not believe. If I have claimed it, point it out and I'll take it back or explain myself more clearly.
    I have a hard time closing doors.
    We can agree on 2097's way of associating stuff : PCs live in a world where hit points exist.
    In your answer to me about the "4 encounters" case you say association is the action of linking mechanic to fiction via explanation. Do it if you want, the way you want. It is of no use to me, for playing or for designing.
    I think 2097's way is only a partial solution for people who want their mechanics associated. It treats the level of abstraction as fixed and sacred. Typically illogicalities happen when this is done, as, for example, the combat rules of most roleplaying games assume a short small group skirmish. The same rules might work reasonably in that context, yet create strange results in a sprint, archery contest, chase scene or an army-level war.

    Various rules in the style of setting stakes are a fine way of getting past the problem. Many traditional roleplaying games are designed so that the abstractions work well in many situations. The "rulings, not rules" mantra of OSR solves the same problem.

    Also, it is completely fine if you do not find the concept useful. If I have claimed otherwise, then point out where and I will take it back or explain what I meant.

    And also because "dissociated mechanics" is only and forever will be only a bludgeon to attack 4eD&D with. I mean, maybe you could try to reclaim it, but now that 5e exists people have abandoned it in a hurry because if you start applying it to 5e, then the conclusion might be that 4e was actually good, and this cannot be.
    Valyrian already addressed most of your post, so I'll only comment on the last part.

    First, the claim in your first sentence is false. For example: Analysis with no bludgeoning: https://geek-related.com/2013/10/12/rule-zero-over-the-years/ . Theory concept in service of design: https://livingmythrpg.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/timing-mechanics/.
    Anyway, please do not make obviously false statements. They spread misinformation and slow down and worsen discussions.

    You seem to have something to say about fourth and fifth editions of D&D. I would be interested in reading, but please use another thread for it, as it is highly tangential here and likely to drown out otherwise useful discussions.
  • edited November 2018
    "It treats the level of abstraction as fixed and sacred." : yes, I think it makes a clear choice of saying "this is the true physics of the world and the character knows it". That it leads to problems in use is not my concern at that point. Is it "association" or not ? How can it be "partially associated" except for rhetorical convenience ?

    " The same rules might work reasonably in that context, yet create strange results in a sprint, archery contest, chase scene or an army-level war." : clearly, neither are real world physics associated for human beings ;)
  • At the request of @DeReel , a more rigorous attempt at definition.

    1. Assume at least one person is roleplaying (in the broad sense; "play a roleplaying game", not "speak in funny voices" or "speak in character"). I'll refer to them as "the player"; GM and such probably included.

    2. Assume there is fiction (diegesis if you prefer) shared by the participants in the play. By shared, I mean that they can, most of the time, agree about fact statements concerning the fiction, and they can build more fiction that they deem consistent with what they have already established.

    3. Given a rule that affects the fiction or is triggered by the fiction, and given a player, we can ask how associated or dissociated the rule is for the player. This can be extended to rules that affect or are triggered by other rules that directly affect or are triggered by the fiction, and so forth, but those tend to be automatically dissociated anyway.

    Examples of rules that affect the fiction: "When a player draws a card, the building shows new signs of collapse." "Anyone reduced to -3 hit points is dead."
    Examples of rules that are triggered by the fiction: "When hit by a weapon, take damage equal to its power." "Regain all daily powers at dawn when the first light of the new sun touches your forehead."
    Examples of rules that do both: "Anyone stung by the spelling bee must cast a spell that requires the use of speech." "No wizard may wield a sword."

    The last last one has the trivial empty trigger, as it is always in effect, or maybe it has the trigger of someone being a wizard. The precise classification of it is not relevant. In general, dividing rules into triggers and effects is also not important, here; what is important is how directly they are connected to the fiction.

    Examples of rules that affect the fiction through a circuitous route: "If you draw the highest card, give a plot token to whoever drew the lowest card." "Change the game master after each session."

    4. A rule is associated for the player when it corresponds to the events in the fiction. That is: It has an interpretation in the fiction and the interpretation is consistent with future and past fiction.

    A rule is dissociated for the player when the correspondence to the fiction does not exist. That is: The rule lacks an interpretation in the fiction, or the interpretation is not consistent with future and past fiction.

    This is a continuum.

    An example of a highly associated rule: Strength score and strength checks in traditional roleplaying games. Interpretation: Character with a high strength score is strong in the way a person in real life is strong (depending on other attributes and what cover) - a character with high strength has easier time carrying and throwing heavy things. We would expect them to do better than a weak character in an arm-wrestling contest, even if the game lacks exact rules for such.

    Another example of highly associated rule: Wizards learn spells by writing them in a spellbook and prepare them with the help of the spellbook. Interpretation: By analogy to such activities as cooking complicated meals or writing and executing computer programs. Consistency: If the wizard loses their spellbook, then they can no longer prepare spells. It requires time to learn a new spell, and some writing materials.

    Example of a highly dissociated rule: Character gains a story token whenever one is used against them. This has no single obvious counterpart in the fiction (but see point 5, below), or an obvious real world analogy. The rule, as written, could happen completely outside the fiction.

    Example of a moderate dissociated rule: "Barbarian can rage once a day to gain +4 to strength." Here, "+4 strength" has a clear fictional interpretation, being a barbarian may or may not have one depending on the details, and once a day leaves room for interpretation - when or under what conditions does the ability recharge and why? Without further specification, there are several different alternatives and they have different consequences. If hormones manufactured by a small widget inside the character create the effect and the widget takes 24 hours to make more, then messing with hormone levels or removing the widget could weaken the effect, while building a better widget or adding more of them could enhance the ability. Careless use might lead to all effects of hormone imbalance and misuse. On the other hand, the "once a day" might just be an abstraction of getting tired and only managing such effort once a while. Then, optimal or awful environment might change the frequency.

    5. A rule can become more associated by giving it an interpretation. If the new interpretation is consistently used, then the rule has become associated. See above for examples, as well as discussions about the meaning of hit points, Vancian magic and the wealth rules in Burning wheel.

    6. The definition above is for a single rule and a single player. There is an obvious extension to several people (such as a game group or gaming subcultre): Whether and to what extent their interpretations exist and are mutually consistent.

    A further extension to hypothetical rules, or rules not known by many (useful when designing a game, for example): Would the the group one is interested in (such as "all roleplayers") come up with similar and mutually consistent interpretations for the rule?

    This is as objective as a book or lecture being easy to follow and understand is objective; though there is murkiness, there is much that can said that applies to most people.

    7. The concept of associated mechanics is useful at least for the following people:

    A. People who want their game to be about players engaging in solving fictional problems by fictional means and thinking. Dissociated mechanics retract from this by making the fiction less predictable and by offering non-diegetic tools and restrictions to the problem solving.

    B. People who use a game whose rules affect the fiction, and who want to have vivid and non-jarring mental images of what happens in play. With associated rules, everything discussed in terms of rules is also, at the same time, discussed in terms of fiction.

    Obviously: If one is using entirely formal rules about scene framing and right to narrate, then this is not a concern, as the rules have very little chance of contradicting the mental images.

    C. Character immersion with heavy rules. My info is second hand, here, so I would prefer to not speculate about these people. I would be interested in hearing from any of them.

    ---

    I feel like I forgot to write something here, but I'm sure someone will let me know.

    ---

    Some commentary: Since I, and hopefully some others, are here to work out a definition, of course it will change and mutate and there will be several versions. The goal is to see if a good definition can be made and, if so, what it will look like. After further discussion it is possible to formulate a better suggestion, which is what I am doing here.
  • edited November 2018
    Thank you for your effort. So it's about players, not characters. That I can understand. I am not nitpicking, so your point 3 is not important for me, but it may avoid problems with nitpickers, so good.

    What I wanted is the 4a. "The rule lacks an interpretation in the fiction" don't you mean "representation" ? Again, the interpretation is at the level of the player. So, if there is "a presence of the rule" inside the fiction. Or did you mean there is someone "understanding" the rule in the fiction ? I think you left the character outside, so it must be "presence of the rule". Do you mean material presence ? certainly not by the use of magic example. So it must be physical presence, in the sense that "forces", be them gods, thermodynamic or magic are the "physics" of the world. I have the same question with 5, which only rephrases 4a : is the interpretation given to the player, or to the character ? I suppose to the player because if a character doesn't know magic, it can still be part of their world. So the interpretation in the fiction must be : "an interpretation by the player that relies solely on fictional elements".
    "Associated rules are rules (whose effects ?) the player interprets as fictional elements."
    I had "whose effect", because, if the rule is invoked but has no effect, does it count ? I'd count it had we defined the thing as "breaking immersion", but if the rule has no effect, there's nothing to explain in fiction...

    roll - miss - "Damn my luck !" (says the character / the player indifferently, when we all know that no such thing as Luck exist, but the only thing that counts is : it's believable)

    So, it's about lightening the player's effort for information management and transposition, right ? If this is so, I suggest you abandon this term, "associated" for reasons Rickard already mentioned :
    - its history only troubles the water
    - its vagueness (associating how ?) and the fact that it deals with an abstract subject (reality / fiction) makes it easy to misunderstand in an exchange
    - it is therefore plausible that the definition is not consistent among various groups
    - and my main point : there are better terms out there, that weren't coined by someone from the hobby, but apply as well. An "intuitive" vocabulary and pertinent analogies is a plus for any game. Every designer of mathematical games goes through this step of finding the analogy that will make their rules accessible in an elegant and fruitful way. For instance, playing Go as "circling enemy territories", "taking hostages", etc. The problem with checkers : Abalone found the solution turning pawns into cows : nice !) There is nothing specific to RPG in there. Using the proper concepts would give time to think about the part specific to RPG, that is : the actor stance. Or is it that specific (see Paradox of the actor) ?

    And, look, I think I made it thanks to your help ! You are very patient.

  • "abstractions time measurements, (...) aren't dissociated because we understand that we are chopping up pieces of the game into manageable, bite-sized chunks" This is silly : do you mean that "associated rules" are rules that simulate the "physics" of the fiction ? that make it explainable ? or what ?

    "You're still confusing abstraction with dissociation." maybe this keeps coming because that's what the definition and examples lead to.
    I think abstraction, association and rules as physics are all related, but distinct.

    Supposing a rule is associated, we can discuss the level of abstraction. Burning wheel Bloody versus is more abstracted than Fight; one resolves things with more detail than the other. Both are highly associated (I hope this is clear). However, if we take a concept like Fate points (dissociated because there is no obvious unique interpretation), then it is meaningless to discuss how abstracted it is without first interpreting it, i.e. associating it.

    If rules are used as physics of the game world, than they are obviously associated due to that use. However, because such rules are by necessity abstractions, this is likely to lead to unrealistic consequences; whether this is a problem or not is up to the group.
    First of all, I’d ask you to keep your tone in check. We’re discussing our leisure activity, and there’s no need for rudeness or hostility. Nobody here is saying dissociated mechanics indicate any game is bad or not a “real” role playing game.
    I suggest ignoring tone online unless someone discloses their emotional status, because it is famously difficult to read tone.

    I do agree that many people seem to answering to shadows of former discussions, not the present one.
    Thanuir: seems like starting a new thread wasn't that clever of an idea after all, so sorry about that. I hope you don't mind being piled by angry storygamers.
    The reaction surprised me, but I cope.

    I don't personally have a gripe with the definition of disassociation you present here (I don't know what's difficult about it), but I'm interested in its applications: do we simply believe that there is an underlying preference for strongly fiction-associating game mechanics in some gamer demographics, and that's why one should attempt to "simulate the game world" wherever possible, or does the concept have some further implications? Or, stated in a more pointed manner: is there a theoretical point to the distinction?
    Yes, I think there are a number of styles of play which benefit from many rules being associated. I named a few in the previous post. If you disagree or the connection is unclear, please ask.

    In my own experience I am most dissatisfied by incohesive game mechanics when the rules, taken as a whole, do not paint an unified picture of a single player's tasks and responsibilities in the game. This means that I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing moment to moment in the game, and I can't enjoy the activity because I don't know if my participation is appropriate to my role. It's not even "I don't like this activity" - I'm generally pretty flexible - but simply "I don't know what this activity is even supposed to be". This is not mechanical disassociation in the narrow sense, but mechanical disassociation seems like it could be a subcategory of "role incoherence" like this in some situations: the player comes into the game thinking that their job is to simply "play their character" or "participate in the adventure", and then they're thrust into making authorial decisions from a story level perspective. I could see how this would be jarring.
    I would say that the issue of not knowing what one is supposed to do in play (not finding a creative agenda) is a separate issue, though coming the dissociated rules conflicting with creative priorities might be common. Out-of-character narrative rights tends to make solving fictional challenges trivial, for example.

    More generally, if one wants to feel like there is a fictional world that they are exploring (as or via one's character), then dissociated mechanics are unlikely to contribute and might be detrimental.

    I'll note that as far as I understand, disassociation theorists generally seem to be fine with the GM having and using disassociated mechanics, as long as they're not talked about openly. Many rpgs, after all, draft the big picture on the GM side with arbitrary structural mechanics.
    As an OSR referee, I prefer mechanics to be associated, since that makes it easier to make rulings faithfully to the world and thus hygienically.

    This might be true for any style of play that calls for the game master to simulate and channel a solid and consistent world, but is probably not true for most other styles of play.

    Following that thought, I wonder if it's possible for some people to see mechanical disassociation as an obvious problem, while for others it's not that relevant, because of an array of hidden assumptions each person brings to their gaming. As a simple example, a gamer who really rather dislikes game mechanics in general and most favours in-character immersion in games might well latch onto the idea of mechanical disassociation because associated mechanics are easier to leave for the GM to worry about. This would explain why such a gamer would see mechanical disassociation as meaningful; not because it's such a clear-cut and dramatic difference in how a game plays, but rather because it sounds nicer than "I don't want to bother with game mechanics" does.
    The first claim is certainly true. The example sounds reasonable as a mechanism by which someone might enjoy associated mechanics. I am uncertain about why it is not a clear-cut and dramatical difference in how the game plays. Would you expand on what you mean by that?

    Or, as an opposite example: I don't immediately see the fault-line of disassociation as crucial, as I don't really, truly buy into immersion as a goal of play. As far as I'm concerned, it's exactly as Jason said upthread: all mechanics are an interface anyway.
    Which of the following claims are you making?

    1. You, personally, do not favour immersion, and therefore dissociation is not important for you.
    2. Immersion is not a true and useful concept and therefore dissociation is not useful for anyone.
  • edited November 2018
    In the end it's a game of wack-the-mouse : someone brings up a rule he can't interpret in fictional terms, and someone else tries to shoehorn the rule into fiction.

    This is supposed to be "quite dissociated" : "Character gains a story token whenever one is used against them." These characters are fortune's fools in a story, and this simulates poetic justice. Or they live in a world where Karma really exists. The proof for the character is that more often than not, one action is "repaid" by another. Have I associated the rule for you ? If so, it was rather easy. Of course, the more complex and absurd the rules, the more difficult. But absurd and complex rules are bad design to begin with, so there's that.
  • edited November 2018
    I guess the point I was making up there was that I'm an example of a person for whom disassociation is not an issue, and the reason for that might be that I don't conceptualize gaming from an immersive viewpoint.

    These types of examples of how different people might construe gaming, and therefore mechanical disassociation, might then help explain why disassociation matters or doesn't matter. Specifically, I wonder if disassociation is a fundamental issue: can you make a non-working game into a working one by reducing disassociation while retaining what the rule actually does? What kinds of games are the ones where this might be the case?

    Regarding old school wargamey D&D, I don't think that it's more than moderately associated mechanically, but if somebody feels differently, then who am I to naysay their experience. I think that getting a keep on name level is storygamey as fuck, but that's just me.
  • edited November 2018
    "can you make a non-working game into a working one by reducing disassociation while retaining what the rule actually does ? What kinds of games are the ones where this might be the case?" Those where the rules analogy are badly chosen. The history of board games is full of clever re-editions that took the concept and only changed the package and analogy. A widened audience then allows the game to live. I say "only changed" but I believe this "little something" requires talent.

  • I have neither read nor played Swords without master, so please elaborate or use another game as an example.
    Sure. You roll two dice corresponding to the two tones "jovial" and "glum." Wichever comes up higher dictates the tone for either the scene or a character's actions depending on who rolled.

    My thought was that this might appear dissociated to someone who's looking for fiction that is "predictable" in a way that serves their agenda of problem solving.

    For me, though, who doesn't care about problem-solving but does care about an authentic and convincing fiction it is very much associated.
  • edited November 2018
    I remember when I changed the layout of a webpage and suddenly people had comments about the functionality of the page when all the functions were still the same. I realized that the design made people look at it from a new perspective. That's how I think about DnD 4ED.

    During a walk, I thought about this topic, and it seems like (some) people are used to going out and into mechanics as well as acting in character, because that's how typical roleplaying games are set up. There is usually nothing in a traditional roleplaying game system that supports acting in character, or even as the character. Some parts, like combat rules, even disrupts the immersion ... but as the articles fro The Alexandrian stated:
    Traditional roleplaying games, like D&D, are based around the idea of players as actors: Each player takes on the role of a particular character and the entirety of play is defined around the player thinking of themselves as the character and asking the question, “What am I going to do?”

    Because of this, resolution mechanics in traditional RPGs are action-based.
    https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1545/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanic
    I’m going to make a provocative statement: When you are using dissociated mechanics you are not roleplaying. Which is not to say that you can’t roleplay while playing a game featuring dissociated mechanics, but simply to say that in the moment when you are using those mechanics you are not roleplaying. [I think the author means, "playing roleplaying games", otherwise this doesn't make any sense]
    https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanics-a-brief-primer
    Another way to look at this is to strip everything back to freeform roleplaying: Just people sitting around, pretending to be characters. This isn’t a roleplaying game because there’s no game — it’s just roleplaying.

    Now add mechanics: If the mechanics are designed in such a way that the mechanical choices you’re making are directly associated with the choices your character is making [taking actions, my remark], then it’s probably a roleplaying game. If the mechanics are designed in such a way that the mechanical choices you’re making are about controlling or influencing the narrative, then it’s probably a storytelling game.
    https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/6517/roleplaying-games/roleplaying-games-vs-storytelling-games

    It seems to me that the author is used to switching between these states of mind – making choice based on mechanics or character – and doesn't seem to notice the switches. For LARPers, this jump between choices based on mechanics and choices based on the characters' views are more apparent.

    I think it's dangerous to mix these two together, and call it associative mechanics to explain a preferred playstyle, just as I think mixing several things together to call something immersion. From what I noticed, it tends to obfuscate what's really going on and see all the parts that leads up to that specific state. Breaking them apart and seeing associative mechanics as an emerging result from two sources is more beneficial in my book.

    However, the article(s) is really good at explaining this: taking actions through mechanics to simulate what a character is doing in-game (read: in the game world) is a preferred way of playing (for some people, my remark).
  • I feel the need to bring up games like torchbearer, where, for example, actions in the camp phase depend on the player using the character's traits against himself. Or artha, where certain character actions trigger meta game currency gain the player may then use to improve his rolls. Both, especially the camp phase actions, are totally disconnected from the fiction but, at the same time, totally necessary to the tone and atmosphere the game is trying to convey. And both make Torchbearer (and Burning Wheel) amazing games on their own.

    I have found players usually fight these rules at first, or take some time to adapt to them. But it's not a rules issue, it's because players are only accustomed to one type of relationship between rules and fiction. Those same players can go through a d&d combat without anything disrupting their "immersion". What I'm saying is that a concept that depends on a particular demographic of players and mostly with their inability to deal with different games doesn't seem useful to me, especially not from a design perspective. Those players should get accustomed to different types of rules, as many are (inspiration in d&d 5th), or simply stay with their games. But many of us want rules that push us out of common places, and for me at least such a concept has no use. I'd rather be interested in debating what does the camp phase in TB produce in play, than if any rule is hard to explain in the fiction.

    A quick note: I've reached "immersion" playing Monsterhearts, a game with tons of rules that are disconnected from the fiction. My players have achieved similar levels of engagement with dungeon world or Burning Wheel, too. I think immersion as a term is, as ass/diss, also problematic, because it tends to imply that only a certain style of play allows for such an intense engagement, and also implies some ideas about how a game should be designed. I'd talk instead about engagement with the activity, and thus I don't agree with the idea that disassociated rules make this engagement more difficult.
  • edited November 2018
    Now I see what is association. It is a certain understanding of the rules by the player, using concrete fictional elements (no "narrative" elements allowed). Some people like complex rules, other streamlined ones, I favour a combination of depth and simplicity. It takes all kinds.

    Dissociation for me has multiple forms, probably different in nature. It is what is not associated, for whatever reason. Including things like complex, poorly presented, gamey, narrative, counterintuitive rules, it is one judgement away from being derogatory.
  • edited November 2018
    OK, so disassociated mechanic is a term for traditional roleplaying gamers to explain why they don't like games more focused on creating a story.
    .
    This wasn't what its purpose was. It came out of the early arguments about 4th edition, and was an attempt to explain why some people didn't like many of the powers in the game. At the time, it wasn't about story or narrative mechanics. It was just about abilities some players felt were disruptive to their immersion for some reason, and Justin Alexander provided an explanation that made quite a bit of sense to folks at the time (at least it made sense to people who were not super enthused about 4th edition). He's elaborated and tried to clarify the concept since. I think if anything, most of us who were critical of 4E at the time, and who found the Alexandrian's concept useful, would have said our issue with 4E was its gaminess (not its narrative or story qualities)---in fact, I didn't even hear about people using it for narrative stuff until years later.
  • I think @DeReel says it well here:
    Now I see what is association. It is a certain understanding of the rules by the player, using concrete fictional elements [...]
    The concept seems fairly intuitive in a theoretical, abstract sense. However, in my experience, it falls apart immediately in practice if two players who aren't coming from a VERY similar background and aesthetic try to apply it.

    I've yet to see any "definition" which could be reliably applied in the same way by two different people.

    (As can be seen by some people defending D&D by comparing it to other games with more "dissociated" mechanics, whereas others feel the need to redesign the same game from scratch because the rules are too dissociated -
    Why can't I try to parry an attack? Why do I need a feat to Cleave two goblins at once? Why does a healing spell heal the wizard more completely than it does the fighter?

    These things are discussed all the time, and they're the reason that Runequest exists.

    That's why, in my view, it tends to be, in practice, about subjective taste and familiarity.

    (A common point of contention might be, "Do I accept the rather odd expectations of D&D fantasy as reflecting something I can experience as real?" Another one might be, "Do I perceive the nature of the fictional world/adventure/story we are experiencing to operate under any narrative concerns, or only some?" For example, perhaps it doesn't bother me that battlefield wounds don't get infected or that swords don't need sharpening, because I don't *expect* those things in this style of story/reality I'm playing out. So I'm OK that in our game the rules never produce a chance of dying from infection. However, I also perceive the idea that "good triumphs in the end, and nihilism is not the nature of heroic fantasy" is a fundamental aspect of the diegetic world and the 'reality' of being a fantasy hero, so the idea of a character going "from zero to hero" and having very low odds of death are totally in line with my sense of verisimilitude. Someone else might balk at one but not the other.)

    Having said that, here's my take on "dissociation":

    It's a high-brow and abstract attempt to deal with a very real, and, sometimes, unpleasant phenomenon:

    * You're playing a game and try to make choices from your character's perspective... when you realize that you must modify these choices because of the way the rules work.

    If you are able to rationalize these changes in your behaviour in a way which allows you to maintain the illusion of verisimilitude, everything is fine.

    If you are unable to do so, you are suddenly torn between doing the thing which seems natural and organic and "right" and following the rules accurately.

    That's when something feels "dissociated".

    For my tastes, this comes up ALL THE TIME in D&D, so I find it hilarious when D&D players are offended about "dissociated mechanics", but for some people the assumptions of D&D play are so deeply ingrained that it doesn't seem to bother them.

    Some classic examples:

    * The villain is sitting, with his back to us, and we want to kill him. We sneak up and decide to slit his throat from behind.

    However, the villain is a 9th-level Wizard, so we know that slitting his throat, at most, will just deplete some of his hit points.

    However, one of the characters has the Backstab feat, so he could actually hurt him significantly this way. So, now, that character should be the one to do, regardless of other fictional considerations.

    * You're a high-level warrior, walking unarmed through the palace gardens. The King's guards suddenly surround you, pointing crossbows at you. "King's orders; you are under arrest for treason. Surrender, or we shoot!"

    You look at your sheet and realize that, even if they all hit, you could walk away basically unscathed (losing a small fraction of your hit points), and, because of the way the initiative and movement rules work, you'd get away before any of them could load a crossbow for a second shot.

    Indeed, one of the reasons I moved to more " narrative" rules for a lot of my gaming was precisely to avoid such moment of "dissociation". PbtA games, for instance, rarely (or almost never) produce such awkward moments in play for me, despite having, on paper, far more "dissociated" rules.

    (As a perfect illustration, when I play Apocalypse World, the main source of dissociative moments for me is the harm rules, which are the most "simulationist" and least "narrative" aspect of the rules - they rate weapons and armor in numbers based on how likely they are to kill or protect you: the closest that game gets to "physics sim" in terms of its rules. I don't think that's a coincidence.)

  • edited November 2018
    At last we are talking of dissociation as a psychological state. It has little to do with a rule property, or only accidentally. Missing a detail in a description by the GM is dissociating. (Not understanding because the fictional element lacks). Of course, hordes of internetian could grab such a proteiform concept and use it as a bludgeon. When all the time the lumber was in their eyes. Ouch.

    One thing with the concept is that it cleaves through all my functional concepts : I can see many solutions to the problems it helps to solve, but I think it bundles so many things it is not practical.
    For instance : sometimes you will have to correct the abstraction level for realism, clean the murk with a map, sometimes you will have a discussion with the symptom player about their expectations about the game, etc.
    The very fact that players evoke the sciences of the fictive world is typical of an interest in the simulation. Like in Archipelago, if the Ocean player states there is a certain species of fish used for navigation, the fact is established for future, past and present It's a "mini game" I propose in my game for the Thinker players. But it has little to do with what I consider the rules, actually. It is rather a mode of play, something that the rules allow. I never had to use a funny word to explain this. Except maybe "establish" ?
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