There is a philosophical problem called the mind-body problem. Basically, it is about the nature of human mind: Is it physical, emergent from what is physical, or entirely separate? If separate, how does it connect to the body? This piece of setting metaphysics is somewhat influenced by that problem.
Originally I developed these as a metaphysical structure for my traditional fantasy setting, the current form of which is not written down anywhere. Some assumptions: Certain sorts of magic are at least possible. There are spirits everywhere; that is, animism is correct. Dragons are the most mighty creature there is by their nature.
The three realms
The reality is neatly divided into three level, or dimensions, or planes, realms, or whatever name is desired for them. Some creatures only exist on specific levels, others are defined as the places where the levels interact.
The physical level, realm of body, is much like the physical world around us. The world may be a planet, or a disc riding atop elephants riding on a turtle swimming around space, or the world may be an infinite plane, or whatever. The physical realm is associated with persistency and stability; if something exists on the level of body, removing it without a trace is difficult.
The realm of dream is where emotions, ambitions, inspiration and dreaming happen. It is an ever-changing realm where distance is determined by familiarity and will; know something and it is easy to find, and it will have easy time finding you. Those with strong will can mold the dreaming with little trouble. Spirits, fey, demons and angels (all are the same thing) are creatures of the dreaming. All emotions and feelings live in the dreaming, and like attracts like; if one sleeps and is afraid, something that lives off, enjoys, or is fear may be attracted.
One moves in the dreaming by wanting to be somewhere. Walking, closing one’s eyes, or other such gesture often helps travelling; people are not used to their environment changing with little warning, and being panicked in the realm of fae is a definite risk; those attracted by panic tend to not be friendly and helpful. A person is sad when the region around the person contains much sadness; likewise, the surroundings of a sad person will become sad. The power of these interactions is determined by the strength of will of those involved.
The mental level, realm of mind, is where all knowledge and experience is. It is an immense, mayhaps infinite, collection of knowledge. When person thinks something, he is in the corresponding part of the realm of mind. Learning something means finding, or building, quick paths and ways between regions of the mental realm. One can likewise construct barriers and drive entities away from certain regions, though they are by no means simple tasks.
The human nature
Humans are creatures that connect all the three realms, yet have difficulty focusing on more than one at a time. Human presence drifts between the three realms. When the presence is in the physical realm, humans can be skilled athletes, precise craftsmen, or careful observers. When the presence is elsewhere, body does what it should be doing; keeps walking, is inactive, remains in one place, relaxes, is paralysed.
One’s presence is on the level of dream if one is feeling a strong emotion or sleeping. One who is friendly inspires others around him to act in a friendly way; one who is depressed provokes negative reactions. The confidence of a leader makes those around her confident of their abilities. Persuading or threatening someone means pushing one’s will and dreams against theirs until they give up. Intimidation is the brute force version; persuasion means emphasising their emotions that already agree with out while dampening the parts that do not. People in shock cut the dreaming away from themselves so as to not feel the pain. So do those who deny some emotionally powerful thing.
Presence in the mental realm indicates deep thought, perhaps solving a problem, trying to remember something, learning or communicating. Recalling means trying to find the lost pathway, while learning and solving problems is the process of discoring or constructing new ways, respectively. Communication is trying to describe some landmarks and guidelines so that the other person might find a way to the desired region of the mental level. Person who is quick-witted has fast methods of getting to the desired place. Someone who is intelligent can has discovered powerful methods of finding new paths. People who know a lot have mapped large areas of the realm. When one’s presence is not on the level of mind, deep thought does not happen.
Inanimate objects have a very alien presence on the mental realm (some would say very limited), to such extent that communication with them is next to impossible. Their emotional presence can be strong. Old forests are peaceful, because the trees are calm; at night they can be menacing, for the trees do not enjoy the fire in their midst. The sense of wonderment that natural wonders can evoke is another effect of their significant emotional presence.
Most animal, likewise, have fairly strange ways of thinking. Many mammals are so alike people that rudimentary communication, or at least one-way understanding, is possible.
The denizens of dreaming are known by many names: Angels, demons, spirits, fey. Their physical presence varies from none through normal everyday object and animals to unique forms. Their mental presence likewise varies from sapient to mere instincts that the nameless spirits have. Even the least of feykind can mold the dreaming wtih great ability; the most pitiful imp has little trouble tricking an average dreamer (that’s why nightmares are common). The powerful lords of the dreaming can incite bloody rebellions or even wars with their mere presence.
Dragons are unique in that their presence never really leaves any realm. Dragon does not merely wonder about your name; its mental presence makes you want to say it out loud and when you do, it is already listening at you. Dragon does not merely try to eat you; when it bites at you, you willingly jump into its mouth and it has additionally determined your possible reactions, as well as how it will respond to each. An angry dragon flying overhead creates a storm by provoking the spirits of clouds and air; people will flee, faint, or kill each other. (Younger dragons are less powerful, but only in scope and force of the effect.)
The original setting metaphysics were a mess similar to Platon’s ideas. It did not work well because there existed a god of fire, of mountains, of a vulcano, of lava, of heat, … Most of them were mere disembodied spirits, some were dragons, the most powerful actual gods. It became too much of a mess to understand.
That there are three realms is a matter of design history; the original had at least dreaming and physical world. Neither of those worked like deep thinking does, so I decided for it to be the third one. This is somewhat similar to BESM, actually, which I disliked way back then because it had only three stats (all strong people are also dexterous, for example).
Not of the ninja variety. Note that this is an origin, not the origin.
The nature of turtling
When playing, most people want their character to do well, not be eaten by the grue, not be tortured by random demon lords, not lose all of their loved ones, not remain a dirt-poor loser and so on. The effect happens due to character identification or even immersion.
Turtling is the same thing, but taken to an unhealthy extreme. Namely, avoiding all sorts of risks to have the character be safe, where the category “risks” includes plot hooks and other story-making opportunities, as well as anything resembling a mystery.
What follows is a description of a bad system. It can be worked around, but on system-level, the desired outputs fight each other, which is a bad thing. Playing in roleplaying is usually made enjoyable by at least two things: Interesting game, which usually requires that there are conflicts in the game, and identification with a character. The inherent conflict between these two is obvious. There are several ways to handle it.
One way is for players to always avoid all trouble, creating characters optimised to survive whatever happens to them and even triumph over such challenges. The character is practically untouchable. Not rarely have random green-skinned or undead creatures killed everyone the character ever loved and now the character’s life is only fueled by the desire to revenge them (and get rich in the process). The GM’s role is to challenge the character and engage it in something resembling a story. I call this a bad system. This is because the player wants to create a character who is actively hard to engage (in the long run), which makes the GM’s job harder, which is likely to reduce the quality of whatever story does manage to manifest, which usually reduces the player’s enjoyment.
Second way is that the player creates a character that is vulnerable in some way that helps the GM in engaging the character. The point is that any decent GM can see this flag and target the character there. This makes for less contrived stories as the need to use artificial plot hooks is reduced. Orcs killed your family, save for those of your age, whom they kidnapped, and you are out to discover and rescue them. This gives a plenty of material to the GM: Rescue missions, your sister who internalised to orcish culture, grabbed control of a tribe, and is now attacking the human lands, general orc slaughtering. All good fun. The downside, for the player, is that the GM might misuse the vulnerabilities of the character. Arbitrary killing those the character is about to save might provoke some interesting roleplay from certain players, but it is more likely to simply annoy. This I like very much.
Third way is to give the player a reward of some sort for hurting the character (often in specific way). Fate points (by whatever name) are the most common method, though others exist. This means that the player can both create interesting story material and play to the best outcome for the character, or at least not play to the worst. This often works.
The outlier methods are removing character identification or character ownership. Another is ignoring the story dimension entirely.
The actually final session of the BW game.
Halvard is woken up by one of the crew members telling that Leif’s men have left. Some organising later everyone (including still somewhat befuddled Mori) are on their way back to the village. Halvard gets a roll to detect the ambush ahead; success. The group is divided into two: Brunhildr and Halvard both take 10 men. Mori hides before battle, as per the relevant trait and accidentally chooses to hide in a bunch of bushes where some warriors of Leif were hiding. Mori tells the plans of Halvard to the men, who happen to include the hunter/guide/tracker who helped in discovering the ambush site, and they use a bit of archery to carry the message forward.
Halvard and his men have taken a position below a rocky cliff (the best position for an attack, certainly). Bruhildr and the rest have likewise moved onward. Two arrows are let fly, both from behind them, one to the general direction of both groups. Brunhildr and the 10 rush towards the location of the hidden archers, who promptly try escaping across a river and taking Mori with them. Arrows are let loose, two out of the three perish, one escapes (that would be the guide) and Mori survives, but is just a bit cold.
Halvard and his ten rush the hillside and are promptly forced into hiding behind the rocks that are large enough for that by a flight of arrows and spears. Since Burning Wheel doesn’t have a mass combat system, I improvised and used the rules for ranged combats (Range and cover) with relevant adjustments. Some tense rolls are made with the defenders getting and keeping the edge, though Halvard does manage to sound his horn to notify Brunhildr about their location. Whenever they get successes that are not used to give more dice to them due to their location, I give wgaztari two choises: Take hits or have your men perish. The trick is that Halvard is well-armoured, which gives a fair chance of the arrows doing nothing at all. Some rolls are made and the situation looks grim: The defenders have position worthy of 3 dice which gives them an edge of two dice over Halvard and his retinue. They win another round. One of Halvards’ men dies and Halvard gets a nasty hit to torso. It goes through the armour. A midi wound: Very nasty -2 dice to everything. Steel roll is a failure, which means that an ordinary man would swoon, run screaming, beg ofr mercy, or just stand and drool and bleed.
Halvard, the gloryhound, instead yells “For glory!” and rushes forward. Steel close, practically suicidal maneuvre, unless one has absurdly high steel. Deeds artha, which basically let one double the dice pool used or reroll all failures, are used. End result: About 16 dice (10 is maximum for skills, 8 for human stats) are rolled. Halvard’s men run behind him. Few uneffective arrows or spears are let fly but after that the enemies rout. A massacre ensues, only Leif and few others manage to esape. Halvard gives chase.
Brunhildr and the men accompanying her discover a small ambush of theirs with the aid of Mori, who also fuzzes around with some poisons. There are few well-positioned men who try to stop their advance; end result of the sorry attempt is one dead defender (the rest escape).
Halvard and his men catch the fleeing Leif. A spear to his back, after which Leif grovels and is then slaughtered by Halvard. All PCs meet again. There are rolls made so as Halvard could recover from his wounds; failed treatment implies a permanent -1 to some stat; in this case, forte, which is kinda nasty. Mori doesn’t suffer any significant consequences due to his icy bath.
Halvard and Brunhildr go to meet Nässla, with the hearts of Nifur and Leif safely along. Gilla’s been fine. There are two plates of food ready; Brunhildr eats, Halvard does not. The food is, naturally, poisoned, but more on that later. The fire used for cooking and such is smoking profusely.
After some fumbling it becomes clear that Nässla is willing to tell who killed Halvard’s father for the small price of Nifur’s heart. Leif’s heart is evidently of no value to him.
Nässla consumes the heart, seems to change somehow, throws some random herbs into the fire, which fills the entire hut with smoke. Steel tests are rolled: Gilla (played by Thalin) miserably fails while Brunhildr and Halvard both make it and don’t panic. A brief exposition ensues: Nässla was the one who poisoned Thorvald as a punishment for him consulting a pitiful pretender Grímr instead of a competent witch (Nässla). This heard from the hut’s entrance. Halvard rushes out to find that Nässla is there no longer; Brunhildr finds the panicking Gilla (who can see her aura and is more than a bit scared of her) and gets out.
One of the Nässla’s magpies craws something about the village and flies that way, guiding the characters.
For the record: Nässla never left the hut. This trick partially stolen from some Icelandic saga that I can’t name right now. They are good reading, full of drama and with a taste of the fantastic here and there.
Meanwhile, in the village, Mori had a bit of fun with a drug of his that makes people very impulsive and prone to, say, violence. I adjudicate this as a poisons test: Achieving Obstacle 4 means some deaths, 5 much killing, 6 minor fires, 7 major fire, 8 a totally devastated community. The fun part: I give Thalin the ability to get two extra successes if Mori gets caught bloody-handed. Thalin can make the call after rolling. Test result: 5 successes. Thulen makes it 7.
Brunhildr, Halvard and Gilla rush to the town. The entire place is burning (even the few wheels of any carts that might have been there). The mead hall has crumbled. Mori is standing atop the ruins, laughing/giggling in an unhealthy way. “Gilla, what do you see?” quoth Brunhildr. “He is no human.” sayeth Gilla. Brunhildr uses her bow and Mori falls off, an arrow protruding from his torso. Halvard and Brunhildr rush there. Some futile questioning ensues, followed by a summary execution of Mori by Halvard (with spear, not Nithingr).
Grímr is discovered in the ruins of a burning building. Some treatment after it is clear he will survive (albeit scarred by the flames). Some more exposition by the coughing Grímr: Thorvald did indeed ask him to divine the future. He is not actually much (or any) of a witch, so he could only give his best guess that something nasty was coming.
Not much after that was Thorvald found dead. Soon enough came Nifur.
Time paradox aside: Thorvald asked Grímr to predict the future. He said something bad was coming. Hence, Nässla poisoned Thorvald, which was a bad thing indeed, and hence predicted by Grímr. Or maybe the prediction was about Nifur and there was no time paradox.
And everyone lived happily ever after
In the distance, a ship with the body of Thorvald in it is burning.
The poison that Brunhildr ate was mind-affecting one: Brunhildr now has an instinct to guard every witch. (This is totally realistic.) Nässla is healthy and young again.
There is a bunch of scattered norsemen around with no leader and little hope. The winter is coming.
Mori is dead; Loki or Hel will no doubt enjoy his company.
There is a would-be-assassin and no doubt more than a few very angry people who would do almost anything to kill Brunhildr and Halvard; they slaughtered many men.
Personally, I am fairly happy with Burning Wheel. This is my first successful game with it; a solo game with Nakano didn’t go too well beck then. Next time I’ll be using the rules much better and not cut quite as many corners.
Traits worked well; I am confident in being able to use anything similar to any game after this. Instincts had some effect; beliefs didn’t work well. They were what the folk at BWHQ call proto-beliefs since they tended to not have a concrete statement of action in them. Most of the blame is mine to take, of course, but part goes to the character sheets not having sufficient space for them.
My acting still sucks. I can play maybe one or two different characters. Improving this is a matter of practice. Ouch.
I can now GM in a game with actual (emergent) story, even if preplanning one is out of the question due to my distaste for knowing what will happen. I can also run a game with epic enough events; Gastogh and Cryptic would be happy, now, and the Dragongame could have worked.
Next task is to update the character info on wiki. Then, chargen for Thulen’s game.
This was supposed to be the last session. Actually was the second-to-last one. The game started with the confrontation with the giant.
Nifur is moving towards the ambush site, at first followed by Halvard, who then lets the giant take some distance and blows to a horn to warn the people that the giant is coming and of the direction the giant is coming from. The relevant roll is successful and people duly warned.
These people include Mori and Brunhildr, of whom the latter stands guard next to the corpse with Nithingr and the former, having no time to poison everyone with a good meal, decides to go for toxic fumes. I rule the feat as absurdly hard, obstacle 8. Thalin, in spite of his generally good luck, manages to fail the roll (but gets a challenging test towards advancing poisons), which manifests as Mori accidentally inhaling some of the fumes and, after a brief struggle, falling unconscious. Thalin gets to play a soldier. To be more precise: A bowman ambushing the giant. This one just happens to be the one whose brother Brunhildr killed in a duel and who seeks revenge.
Brunhildr stands next to the Thorvald’s body. Nifur is near the valley and jumps down. Halvard runs to the scene. A tactics roll is made to determine if Nifur jumps to a pit or such; alas, that is not to be. Brunhildr runs towards Nifur, Nithingr on hand, and cuts the giant’s leg badly, making the giant fall and getting away from it. Nifur fails a steel test and some scewering is done; a dead giant lies slain, bleeding profusely. Brunhildr gets the hatred of Mori, as a result of the killing.
While this is happening, Halvard commands the people who were hidden around the valley and armed with javelins or bows. They are about to shoot/throw as the giant falls. Halvard yells: “Don’t shoot!”, and a single arrow is fired towards Brunhildr. It hits her armour, harmlessly glancing off. (This is a pity; the scene would have been beautiful if Brunhildr had died.)
Halvard demands to know who shot at Brunhildr. One man points at the character played by Thalin who is the shooter. Thalin’s NPC points back. Dice are rolled; Thalin gets far more successes than I do. The other man is hence one of Leif’s and thus can’t be trusted. Some accusations and such after, the man is thrown off the edge by Halvard, who manages to calm the situation before any further fighting is done. The man survives, Brunhildr tosses him around more than a bit, but doesn’t get any answers.
Mori’s awake. One belief of Mori was linked to Loki, who is linked to fire, so I decided this to be an excellent moment for including some drug-enhanced visions. I left the details to Thalin, which was possibly a mistake, since he didn’t seem all too eager to share them. Message: Go and cause mayhem. A lot of it.
The player characters are all more-or-less present. There is some discussion about eating the giant or immediately going to the village, but since it is dark and Nifur is nigh-inedible without suitable cooking (Brunhildr tries), the plans are postponed. Halvard gets Nifur’s heart from Brunhildr and further gets Nithingr, as Brunhildr feels it brings bad things to the one wielding it.
People are asleep, save for some guards. Mori sneaks to Thorvald’s corpse and takes the heart out. The relevant rolls are quite successful so nobody notices this (ever, as it happens). Mori is blessed by Loki: Opens a new skill at G2 (intimidate, but revised to be soothing platitudes which is essentially a form of flattery) and gains a version of the lawbreaker trait: Around Mori, fires and shadows act strangely. Mori, too, sleeps.
Given that choice is and important part of roleplaying, how do people make choices? There are useful theories out there (including game theory, with which I have a passing familiarity). I’ll try building another one so that it hopefully has something useful to say about roleplaying.
This model is specifically about how people make choices in the context of roleplay and that affect the rp. Extending the model is not particularly hard and is left as an exercise for the reader. The limitation is essentially arbitrary.
I also try out sketching a model for immersion as it is seen through this piece of theory. The threefold model is another example.
Filter is a criterion that assigns a weight to different options people have regarding their play. In case someone in the audience is mathematically inclined, a given filter is a mapping from the decision space (this is the emulation space [emspace] for those familiar with Kuma’s AGE model) to real line; generally speaking, the entire real line is not needed and one can work with a given interval or other subset.
Example filters: What would my character do? Will this result in total party kill? What will this say about me as a person? Is this appropriate to the genre?
Example filters for the more elaborate model: How much will everyone enjoy this? How genre-appropriate is this?
A filter is strong when it makes sharp contrasts between different options; likewise, a weak filter makes little difference. These are not exact definitions and should generally be used as a part of comparative phrases (they imply comparison to some unstated standard if not used in such a way).
A simple model
Every participant has a number of filters. Each filter accepts certain options and rejects others. In math: Filter is an indicator function of a subset of the decision space. It assigns value 1 to any option that is within the subset and 0 to any that is not.
When making a decision, participant applies filters, one at a time, with each application further restricting the possible choices (or at least not adding any). When the remaining options are sufficiently close to each other, the participant makes that choice. “Sufficiently” depends on how important the occasion is, how tired the person is, level of attention, and so forth.
The order filters are applied in is a matter of playing style and other influences.
Assumptions of this simple model
This is not a good model. It makes the following assumption (and others): That people always either reject or accept a given option; essentially, this model assume two-valued logic. This is not very accurate.
A more elaborate model
Filters work as above, expect that they can get values up to an arbitrary positive value on the real line (this can, but need not, be fixed). That is: A given filter assignes some value to all potential options the player has at a decision point (in nontrivial cases the assigned values differ from one option to the next). For desirable (according to that criterion) options, the value is high. For undesirable ones it is low. These are multiplied over all the used filters until one is sufficiently larger than the others. The option with highest value is then implemented and a choice is made.
Character immersion happens when player identifies with a character to great degree. Filter theory sees immersion as a process where the player has one or few very strong filters, so that it seems the player is not making choices at all. Typically this filter is “What does (would) my character do?”. This is clearly distinct from the disruptive behaviour sometimes known as “my guy-syndrome”, in which the relevant players uses the character’s actions as excuses for bad behaviour. In this model, players who disrupt the game and use the character as an excuse don’t make heavy use of the “what would my character do”-filter, but some other, more harmful, one.
The threefold model is a theory about filters. G, D and S all signify emphasis on given (family of) filters: dramatist GM has a strong “does this make a good story”-filter, for example. This is very explicitly not true of GNS: It is not about the way decisions are made, but rather what decisions are thought to be important, which certainly is prone to influencing the strength and priorisation of the filters that are used.
It will do little harm to think about the filters you use and of those that other people you game with use, and the order in which they are likely to be applied. Something might even be learned by such actions.
Making the fictional events personal to player characters is a good idea. This blog post is not about that. Making things personal to players may make an excellent game or cause the entire thing to burn and crash. This is not the subject, either.
The first session of the post-apocalyptic game set in Finland has been played. (What is interesting that opusinsania ran a similar game not long ago; totally unfounded claims about spying were included in the session before play began.) I set the game to happen near Pori, because most of my relatives live in that direction and I have some familiarity with the area. To be more precise: a significant encounter happened in a location which I imagined as the home of my grandparents. This was a good thing for the following reasons: There was little fear of severe contradictions as I know where everything was and what everything looked like. Second, I had an emotional connection with the place: some of the player characters effectively assaulting the place was interesting to GM.
The session consisted of the characters saving the dog (named Fifi, as any dog tends to be) of one PC. The mood was not very dark (given a post-apocalyptic game), though one character did lose an arm at the very end. This was pretty traditional game in that there was background info the players know little about. Anyway. The relevancy of the dog.
(Credit for the picture: My sister. Copyright her, I guess.)
I lived some years with Tara and still meet her at least once a month. I like dogs. Making the game about “rescuing” one means that it gets a n immediate reaction from me.
Make locations and events personal to you and you will certainly be interested in the game; the extra context the relevant elements give adds value. Enthusiasm is a likely consequence, and enthusiasm is a good thing.
Using actively painful elements might or might not work, but is certainly not adviced unless playing with close friends who can and are willing to take it.
Overall, this technique is useful for having a full, detailed mental image of something: A place, building, or person. Use it as you will. As an additional bonus, you get to know what a bunch of armed attackers would do if they wanted to attack your house. That might end up being useful.