Railroading, once more

7 December, 2014 at 6:12 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , )

Once upon a time I wrote about railroading: https://thanuir.wordpress.com/2007/12/02/defining-railroading/ and https://thanuir.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/24/ and even https://thanuir.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/to-not-railroad/ . Jonne Arjoranta responded http://users.jyu.fi/~joolarjo/forge/role-playing/theory/by-train-for-a-change/ , but I learned of it only recently. Jonne did not link to any of my posts and so there was no pingback or other notification.

Jonne states the definition of railroading as someone restricting the diegetic (fictional) contributions of others, and concludes that this is too broad, since it is necessary for choices to have consequences, or for any roleplaying to coherence. Jonne would rather use the language of Markus Montola http://ropecon.fi/brap/ch14.pdf (in Beyond role play http://ropecon.fi/brap/practice.html ), involving integrative and dissipative actions in play.

My definition of railroading had three conditions: That someone restricted choices of others, that the others assumed they could make the removed choices, and that the action had no fictional (diegetic) reason. As such, the criticism of Jonne does not apply to the definition I stated, since my definition is much more specific than the one Jonne criticises, and the criticism is based on the large scope of the definition.

I should mention that my definition is meaningful when one consider making decisions and observing the consequences to be the central to play. If one think of something else as central to play – for example, causing a particular experience to the players as in Fastaval games http://alexandria.dk/english I read in Unelma keltaisesta kuninkaasta http://pelilauta.fi/index.php/topic,2184.0.html (forum thread in Finnish), then this definition might not be as meaningful.

This is also the reason why Will Hindmarch’s recent texts have not had much of an effect on me ( https://medium.com/gameplaywright-presents/sword-fighting-on-a-roller-coaster-railroading-for-the-best-in-rpg-play-547333c80359 , https://medium.com/gameplaywright-presents/the-illusionists-lament-dramaturgy-and-illusion-for-the-best-in-rpg-play-97d348bcb16 ). Based on a quick read (please correct me if I have interpreted them inaccurately) Will consider the game master as an artist or entertainer more than the facilitator of play who lets other participants make decisions and enforces their consequences.

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Fantastic: Assumption or exception?

3 July, 2010 at 9:16 pm (definition, game design, roleplaying, rpg theory) (, , , )

In most roleplaying settings there is something I call here fantastic: Something the players are not familiar with.

Exception

Lovecraft mythos, sword and sorcery, horror in general, LotFP’s products (this post of mister Raggi inspired my post), stories where characters discover that they (and nearly only they) have some strange powers, Stalker and Praedor.

Most of the setting is normal, non-fantastic, and typically draws heavily from the real world (present state, history, or low-key scifi). There fantastic is something that breaks the normal setting – it works with completely different principles, if any.

Assumption

Glorantha, Zelazy’s Amber, Nobilis, Carcosa, Tékumel.

These settings are fundamentally different from our reality. They work by different principles, and what is exotic and fantastic to us might be common and usual for residents of these worlds, and vice versa.

Why bother?

A setting where the fantastic is assumed can be explored to find out how it works, and supposing the setting has sufficiently interesting premises, this can be good play. A roleplaying game is a good medium for such an exploration because it allows many people to contribute and further allows several issues to be explored.

Settings with fantastic principles can also make certain dramatic issues very explicit and easy to treat via gaming. Sibling rivalry and broken families are good subjects behind any game set in Zelazny’s Amber where the amberites are played, as almost everything that happens can be traced back to some family member (at least by the first five books). This is also the justification for fantasy and science fiction as vessels of serious literature.

Settings where the fantastic is something exceptional are usually easy to understand (of equal difficulty to relevant setting minus the fantastic, assuming the fantastic is not the player characters, in which case there is more complexity). Unnatural makes sense as a concept. The fantastic creates interesting situations (in both senses mentioned above).

For short I would recommend a setting that is not entirely fantastic, simply to make learning it not a problem. A setting common to everyone would of course work, too.

The third way

There are also so-called fantasy settings where the assumptions are like those of the real world and yet where there is little uncanny even to the residents of the setting. This is the vanilla fantasy setting, which to me has no value – fantasy without the fantastic has no reason, no justification, and provides no interest. I’d love to hear from anyone who disagrees, since I almost certainly am missing something.

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The nature of fiction

2 September, 2008 at 6:48 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , , )

In this post I will muse about and offer a definition for fiction, as it exists in roleplay. First I will cover a mathematical description of possibility (or believability or acceptability or some better word). After that I will discuss how possibility works in play.

A possibility space

Take any person immersed in some work of fiction (reading a book, watching a movie, roleplaying,… ). That person has a mental notion of what is true and what is possible within that fiction.

So, I will define fiction as a set of propositions about some world (imagined or not) and possibilities assigned to these propositions.

(Proposition claims that something is true. I have previously discussed how to make truth a meaningful concept in the context of roleplaying.)

Assigning a possibility to a proposition means saying, for example, that a proposition “The princess is not married.” is certainly true, or impossible, or other similar descriptor. I found it useful to use numbers in place of descriptors. More precisely: Impossible proposition has possibility 0. Certain (or necessary) proposition has possibility 1. Any possibilities between these two are possible, with higher number meaning that the proposition is more possible, or more likely true.

The scale between 1 and 0 is used because both probability theory and fuzzy (multivalued) logic use the same scale. Fundamentally the scale does not matter. Note for the (even more) mathematically inclined: Possibility is a function from the realm of propositions to the closed interval [0, 1].

One should note that what was defined above was possibility space of a single individual.

Group-wise

So, take a number of individuals enjoying a work of fiction together. Playing an rpg or watching a movie, say, and maybe even talking about it. If one of them suggests something, the others might consider it a natural outgrowth of the fiction, or a sheer impossibility, or anything between.

Group possibility of a given proposition being true is a function of the personal possibilities regarding the proposition. The function must fulfill the following criteria (in the order they occur to me):

  1. The function’s value is 1 if and only if the personal possibilities are all 1.
  2. The function is continuous (given the normal way of measuring distance in n-dimensional and one-dimensional real number spaces).
  3. The function’s value is 0 if all personal possibilities are 0.
  4. Increasing the value of any personal possibility may not (while keeping the others fixed) descrease the function’s value.
  5. Decreasing the value of any personal possibility may not (while keeping the others fixed) increase the function’s value.

(4. and 5. can be combined by saying that the function is increasing with regards to every personal possibility.)

The above characterisation defines a number of functions. Nomenclature: F is used for the group function’s value, f(i) for ith person’s possibility. For example:

  • F = 1 if for all i f(i) = 1. Otherwise F = 0.
  • F = minimum [f(i)], i goes through all the players.
  • F = f(1)*f(2)*…*f(n), where n is the number of players.
  • nth root of the above, or geometric average.
  • F = (f(1) + f(2) + … + f(n))/n, where n is the number of players. In other words: The arithmetic average of f(i).

The group possiblity F is a measure of how readily the group will accept the given proposition into fiction or how certain they are of the piece of fiction being true.

One can interpret possibility as being the probability of the given thing being true within the fiction, though that definition is not exactly true and there are flaws. Another possibility is to consider possibility as the truth value of the proposition. For more on this, consult a random book about multivalued or fuzzy logic.

Play

Roleplay is the process of creating shared fiction. There usually are other standards for good play, many not related to creating fiction, but all roleplay does hinge on shared fiction (if you personal definition of roleplay includes solo play, consider it to be shared among one person).

Bruce has previously discussed creating shared fiction and the role of anchors, so I will not repeat the stuff too elaborately. The key point is that even though players usually have similar fictions in mind, the details are very distinct. One significant part of the activity of roleplaying is constantly aligning the fictions of the participants so that they are reasonably similar. Generally, the more similar the functions are, the smoother the game goes. In some styles the differences do provoke people to add interesting details and force the others to scramble for it all to make sense. Games with a game master and mystery only they know are like this, as are games of the Mountain Witch where all player characters have a secret no other participant, not even the GM, know.

As far as the model goes, establishing an anchor (shared fact) fixes certain possibilities to certain propositions; typically, possibility 1 to the anchor and 0 to contradictions and other possibilities to whatever is implied by them. Any change to the fiction will alter this spread of possibilities, as will out-of-game hints and references, as will time as people forget things. The fiction is very ephemeral thing, constantly shifting around.

Shared imaginare space

The part of fiction that affects future play is called shared imaginary space, as coined by Fang and later used and altered on the Forge. Material in the SIS has high possibility, maybe even possibility 1, because it is used and recognised by the participants.

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Game design =/= rpg design

8 April, 2008 at 6:37 pm (definition, game design) (, , , )

During brief discussion with Phil I verbalised the idea of good game design not being the same things as good rpg design. This is obvious when discussing, say, Chess. I argue that it is also true when discussing roleplaying games, given the way I define good game design.

The definitions have my bias clearly articulated; they are there for all to see. If you have different base assumptions or definitions, your conclusions may also be different.

Definitions

Game design is building a (semi-formal) system where players can make mechanical choices that have mechanical consequences. Good game design makes this process of decision-making interesting: There are few null choices that have no effect and the best choice is often enough very hard or impossible to see, if it even exists and is unique.

Rpg design is building a fiction and a system that describes how the choices the players make affect the fiction. Good rpg design makes the process of play interesting: There are actual choices to be made, they are about something the player cares about, and there are several roughly as lucrative alternative ways of making many choices (in this paragraph several can be arbitrarily large, but not too small).

Good rpg/game design does not imply that the game itself is good, because there are numerous other factories related to that. As such, if one is only interested in how much enjoyment can be derived from a (roleplaying) game, fixating too much on the quality of the (rp)g is not advised. There is correlation: On average, well-designed stuff is more enjoyable.

Do note that the other kinds of design are immensely important (and not part of the above definitions): Designing the game so that it has a suitable social footprint (the time, effort and commitment gaming takes), building the game so that it encourages the creation of certain kinds of fiction, building functional character sheets, elegance and other usability issues, and doubtless other factors. I may someday extend this post to explicitly include some or all of those things. This is not that day.

The thesis

My thesis is that good game design and good rpg design, as defined above, are not very tightly linked. One can have an rpg that is well-designed game but not very interesting fiction-wise; likewise, a well-designed rpg need not have interesting mechanical elements.

What I am not saying is that the two design issues are orthogonal; they certainly affect each other. I am also not saying that they are independent; the quality of one factor tends to influence the other for the positive, because it is common to link certain fictional and system-level effects together.

Examples in the abstract

Assume a game with very complicated (and intense and fun) combat system. Assume the output of the system is the amount of hit points the participants have at the end of the combat. All other variables that change only affect the single combat encounter and any used resources are recovered with a moment of rest or such. This combat system is (one can assume) good an instance of game design, because it has many (mechanical) choices that are interesting. It is not good rpg design, because none of those juicy choices are persistent; all that remains is the number of hit points one is left with. To be honest, there are other potential choices one can make: Which opponent to kill, how much of one’s abilities to reveal, for example, but they are pretty minor and would work with almost all combat systems.

A game where each (player) character has a number of memories (some of which are utilitarian, some have emotional value, some both) and the character can sacrifice them to demons in order to get wishes or other benefits could be well-designed, rpg-design-wise; if the character sacrifices too much, that character can no longer enjoy from the achieved victories; if too little, something bad will happen. OTOH, sacrificing the utilitarian memories (where was the artifact hidden again?) can have much the same effect as sacrificing nothing: Failure at preventing the bad things. Game-design would only make this interesting if the memories with emotional value gave some sort of benefit; otherwise they are like spell points.

On D&D 4th

From what I have read, 4e is focused on encounters and the designer are doing game design. What about rpg design? No idea. Experience for achieving certain story points could do that, but I am more than slightly doubtful. This does not mean that “there will be no roleplay in D&D 4th”. The system just will probably not do all that much to promote the kind of roleplay I am looking for.

Bonus: Proof by antithesis

Assume that all good rpg design is always good game design. See the two example above. They are non-trivial counter-examples to the antithesis and hence the antithesis is wrong, from which it follows that the thesis is true. QED.

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Design and bricolage

29 March, 2008 at 8:53 am (definition, game design) (, , )

Bricolage is a term used here and there. Over the Forge, it was some time ago suggested to be the key concept of simulationist play. It was also suggested to be the key concept of all play. I think I agree with the former stance, as I think bricolage is an important part of human thinking.

Bricolage

Bricolage essentially means building something new (or repairing something) with recycled materials. A table is not very stable, so some innocent bundle of newspaper is jammed under one leg. That’s bricolage. Or creating a house system that is an unholy union of Runequest and Spirit of the Century. So: Using stuff with history so that the history remains relevant, though is changed. Term learned from Chris Lehrich’s essay, which is fairly heavy reading (by my standards).

On the elegance of engineering

Suppose I want a roleplaying game that does certain things; for example, is a communal story-creation engine and has a fast and exciting combat system. Maybe something Bourne-like. What can I do? The first option is to build it from scratch; player characters should be fugitive agents, so something that measures if they are about to be caught or get in trouble should be there. They should have some very personal goals to achieve. The natural time limit sets pressure on the goals. (Somebody make this game.) The point is that this is not easy and the end result is likely to not be familiar to the intended audience (the local gaming group, say). This approach can be called engineering. (This is of course also bricolage, but to a lesser degree, or at least of a different kind.)

The second option is to take an existing system that is close to what is wanted and to houserule it (or build a highly derivative system; same thing). The rumours tell that Savage Worlds has pretty fast combat system, so it could probably be hacked into something suitable with minor changes such as tactical renaming of character abilities and tweaking the costs of those, maybe building some new ones or banning unsuitable material. A lot easier and faster; plus, assuming the group is already familiar with Savage Worlds and enjoys it, picking up the new version is easy and likely to end up being fun. This is bricolage, as the end result is heavily defined by the original design of Savage Worlds, which is the relevant history here.

Elegance. Right. I’ll claim that usually an engineered game is more elegant than one constructed via heavy bricolage. A game engineered for specifically this purpose will not have too many irrelevant bits (assuming a good design; adding irrelevant bits is not good design; this is my bias speaking, but I think this is also fairly uncontroversial). The purpose may be very broad; a D&D-like experience with less book-keeping and prep time, for instance, is a totally valid design goal. Heavy bricolage, OTOH, always carries on the assumptions of the original game or games due to retaining their fundamental structure. Often some parts of this fundamental structure are irrelevant to the current game at hand, and hence a source of inelegancy.

So, every game should be engineered to provide a more elegant design

Personally, I don’t think so. Building upon an existing game means a strong foundation and a formidable tradition with answers to several questions that might come up. Watching bricolage in action is something I find fascinating. The end result may be infuriating, though. Witness the parts of your culture you hate the most. Also, those you love the most.

I am prone to always saying that people should design whatever they are doing from the ground up and not mod their favourite game. This is my mistake, as it usually is not true. What people should do is to broaden their toolbox; play and read several different roleplaying games and some other games as a seasoning. The larger set of tools (and places to steal from) allow for better or at least more interesting works. Originality is stealing from sufficiently different sources at the same time.

An important point is that the items one uses for bricolage (games, in this case) will significantly shape the outcome. It follows that using different games as a starting point for design leads to different ways of achieving roughly the same effect. They end results will often feel significantly different, as in the difference between D&D 3rd and Donjon. This is a good thing.

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Abstract nonsense: Systems

26 March, 2008 at 4:39 pm (definition, roleplaying-games, rpg theory) (, , , , )

This is another highly abstract rambling about a highly abstract matter of systems, in no way limited to roleplaying, though still applied to them. You were warned.

Definition

My working definition for system is that it must have at least the following qualities:

  • A means of input.
  • An output.
  • A process that uses the input to produce the output.

Trivial (and, hence, boring) systems are a legion. Some notable cases: Systems with fixed output are kind of boring. Systems where the input and output are independent (as in, knowing one tells nothing about the other; that is, they don’t affect each other) are random (or have fixed output).

As one can see, the concept is exceedingly broad. This is intentional.

The good, the bad and the aesthetically interesting

A system is well-designed (towards particular goal) if it produces the outputs that the goal says it should produce. Bad system produces outcomes contradictory with the goal. Elegant systems produce relevant outputs (with regards to the goal) and do so with as minimal a process as is possible.

A game of chess, for example, is a system. It has inputs (moving the playing pieces, social aspects), outputs (victory, defeat, draw, emotional responses of players) and processes (rules, the way humans work). The desired outputs are victory for one player, defeat to the other one, and an intellectually stimulating game for both. Draws are not a desired outcome but rather an annoying side effect of the rules. (Aside: It is also possible to build a strategy in chess such that the starting player will always win or a draw will happen; it is just so complicated nobody has done it yet, to my knowledge, but it is certainly possible.) Chess is not completely elegant: It has a number of rules for specific circumstances. One could argue that Go is as good as chess at its goals and more elegant, which would make Go a better game for someone with the stated goals (intellectual stimulation, determining a winner). Chess is still better for other goals, namely for learning to, say, play chess.

The voting system has the goal of finding out the opinion of people about (say) who should be in power and further giving those people the power. Personally, I’d vote for the Social democratic party and the Green party. I can’t vote for both. Hence, the system can’t take that information into consideration, which weakens it and biases it towards those already in power.

As it applies to roleplaying games

Roleplayers want different things out of their games. There are some things that most players don’t mind: Consistency of the fiction and of the rules and something resembling a story. (I am not saying that people always play for story or for consistency, but rather that they wouldn’t usually mind if the game remained as good in other aspects and had better story or was more consistent; the possibility of this is a different subject entirely.)

An elegant roleplaying game is one that has a set of design goals, is good for the kinds of gaming those include and has little material that is redundant to the design goals. Many Forge-games (as in, indie games coming from the community around or nearby the Forge) are elegant. This means that they are utterly focused. One can see this as a good or a bad point. Compare and contrast to euro games in boardgaming scene.

Clearly inelegant design methodology is the exception-based design one can see in D&D 3rd and MtG; in both, most cards/feats/class powers are exceptions of the general rules. Some like this, some dislike. Generally speaking, one can get a similar experience with a leaner design over a short period of time.

Good roleplaying games, bad roleplaying games

Elegance or inelegance, though loaded words, are not the grounds for saying that a particular system is bad or good (barring extremes). Personally I do prefer elegant systems, but that is my call.

I’d say an rpg is badly-designed in so far as the processes work against some of the goals. For example, if one assumes that the new World of Darkness core book is supposed to be used in investigative horror gaming, the specific combat feats merits seem to be bad design by encouraging combative characters and focusing attention there. (If one considers how WoD is likely to actually be played, they are not that bad a choice, after all.)

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Lost in translation

28 February, 2008 at 11:20 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , , , , )

This post is about language. Tangentially related to roleplaying, more so in the end. I don’t have any training in the area, but meddling is fun, so…

There will be three examples used: Written English (you have probably heard of this one before), propositional logic (which can handle such phrases as “p and q if and only if q and p”, “if p, then q”, and usually has the operators not, and, or, if…then, if and only if) and a small indie RPG Risus by S. John Ross.

Defining a language

Language consists of four components: There is  a set of symbols (in case of spoken language, this would have something to do with the kinds of noise one can emit), a set of rules which define a grammar, a set of meanings and a set of relations that combine some meanings with some grammatically correct expressions.

English: Alphabet and other symbols used when writing constitute the set of symbols. Grammar tells that expressions such as “agonagasgjsegls” or  “write .ChA!oS” are not legal. The set of meanings is extremely large. The set of relations is even larger; it tells that such sentences as “Car is red.” can be used as a communication tool.

Propositional logic is an example of a formal language; notably, it is complete in that all grammatical expressions have a well-defined meaning. Set of symbols varies a bit, but may consist of between 2 and arbitrary number of operators and usually a countably infinite set of variables, like {c1, c2, …}. Parentheses are allowed (often). Propositional logic is severely limited, meaning-wise. A given variable can have two values (true or false). A given proposition (e.g. “c1 <=> (c2 or c1)”) may be a tautology (always true), a contradiction (never true) or neither (sometimes true, sometimes not). The relationship between propositions and truth is not terribly complicated, but also not worth writing down here.

Risus is an example of a supplemental language in that it builds upon a given natural language (English, for example) and needs one; it can have no meaning without a base language. Risus uses the symbology of natural languages. It adds new grammatically correct expressions, for example: Blogger (3) has well-defined meaning which involves rolling three dice in given situations.

Actually, I cheat

If I really wanted a good definition, it would have to be recursive so that, for example, words have meaning, words combined into sentences have meaning, and sentences that consitute a story have even more meaning, and so forth. It gets complicated and is not worth it.

Terminology

The scope of language is all the meanings it could have. Natural languages have large scope; formal logic usually does not.

Supplemental (with regards to a given purpose) language does not have sufficient scope to communicate whatever  the purpose would require. Roleplaying games are generally supplemental to natural languages. Computer games are usually do have sufficient scope to be played; MMORPGs may not.

Translation

Translation happens when one is given a (grammatically correct) list of symbols and should retain the meaning while changing the symbols, the grammar, or the relations.

Translations are problematic. There are several reason for this. First and most obvious is the difference in scopes languages can have. The canonical (but wrong) example is the number of words that inuits have for snow of different kinds. If it were true, it would certainly either be impossible or require an exceedingly long list of symbols to make a difference between them. Correct example are not hard to come up with: Propositional logic is an obvious example. It can’t make a difference between, say, “all humans are mortal” and “one human is immortal”, while natural languages and more advanced logical systems (such as predicate logic) can.

Another, though less obvious, problem occurs when symbols are changed. IIRC, Japanese have problems with “l” or “j” or some other letter that is common enough in where I live. If I asked, say, Nakano to write this blog in katakana or hiragana, he would have problems, even if only the symbols were changing. This problem gets really bad in languages where a given symbol means a given word (there is a fancy term for such languages).

I prefer to read books that have been translated through as few languages as possible. Also, reading a book in two languages or changing the language in the middle of a series can be surreal (I did exactly that with the Song of Ice and Fire).

Implications to roleplaying

Some people prefer to create characters in play, others at start, and this is not a true dichotomy. DIP and DAS the styles were called in the r.g.f.a. days, according to what I have heard. Assuming a player who is of the DAS type, that player first builds a character in her head and then tries to translate it to whatever system is being played. Conversions of whatever between games are similar. Some games make this very hard (Burning Wheel is notorios at this with the lifepaths; anything with random chargen likewise). Even the games that try allowing all options, like JAGS or Silvervine, make certain options difficult to impossible. They usually break when trying to create extremely powerful, small, large, or weak beings. Wushu and the like may be an exception in that they don’t make things impossible; rather, Wushu doesn’t tell enough about a character. (There are games that don’t have this “problem”, at least theoretically.)

An exercise for the reader. Two, actually.

Take two game systems that have sufficient detail and are sufficiently different. Try to convert a character from one to the other and see what happens. Try to recreate a fictional character in both and see what happens. Both exercises are pretty illuminating when it comes to what the game rules are about.

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Fudging, cheating, and so forth

22 January, 2008 at 9:11 pm (definition, rpg theory) (, , )

Definition time. I’ll go for normative ones, even if they can be argued against.

I assume that rules are used, where rules are the perceived and accepted procedures of play. This includes such sentiments as “follow GM plot hooks”, “roll d20 and add skill, higher is better”, “all players can create facts about their own character’s homeland as long as GM okays the facts, which usually happens”. (For those who know system in Forge theory: This definition of rules has significant overlap with system in the Forge sense, but is not equivalent, and neither is a subset of the other.)

Resolution is using rules to determine diegetic (fictional) facts. This particularly means that there exists at least two different outcomes of the resolution such that they must have different implications as far as the fiction is considered. For example: Rolling attributes in D&D. Different results lead to different diegetic outcomes. A trivial example is GM narration, but it is also not very relevant to this blog post. I’ll talk about the non-trivial cases, in which some other factor is used to restrict narration or the fiction in general. Random encounters are a good example.

Fudging

Disclaimer: I don’t like fudging.

A participant (player or GM) fudges when resolution rules are used and their effect wrt the diegesis is ignored. Note: Player fudging is usually cheating, which I define a bit later.

For example: Player rolls a lousy set of attributes and rolls a new one and displaces the worst with it. It is worth noting that this is only fudging if it is not assumed in the group. GM rolls a random encounter, which is zombies, again, and uses skeletons instead. This, again, is fudging only if GM usually uses the encounter tables as is, with no need to alter the results afterwards. By this definition, it is not fudging to alter the mechanical statistics of entities mid-game, which might mean this is a bad definition. I’m not sure.

Cheating

Participant is cheating when some rules are used or are not used and the group does not approve of this, or would not approve if it knew.

Particularly: Game masters who fudge or alter statistics of NPCs or spontaneously swap the place of cities are cheating if and only if the players do not or would not accept it. If, on the other hand, the players assume or would accept such activity, it is not cheating (but may still be fudging). Almost all player fudging is cheating. In some games, GM fudging is also cheating. In others, not so much, but this still is a matter of the group.

Direct conclusions

Fudging is not inherently bad. Cheating often is. Not all fudging is cheating. Not all cheating is fudging (player reducing too few hit points is, but adding them during a calm moment is not).

Also, my definition of fudging doesn’t seem to work properly. It needs a bit more refinement, I think.

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Defining railroading

2 December, 2007 at 11:31 am (definition, rpg theory) (, , )

Disclaimer: I think railroading is distasteful. My definition portrays it as negative.

Game master’s decisions are railroading when

  1. Players assume they can have an effect on a particular aspect of the game.
  2. There is no credible diegetic (fictional, in-game) reason for players to not be able to affect that aspect.
  3. GM’s decision negates or marginalises player input with regards to that aspect.

I think the first part makes railroading inherently bad and feel railroady to the players.

Example time.

  • A band of merry PCs must decide to go either south or west because they are at crossroads. Wherever they go, they shall encounter the same group of bandits. They have no reason to assume that there would or would not be bandits at either direction. Not railroading.
  • As above, but reliable sources tell that there is only one group of bandits and they prey on the south road. The group of PCs take pains to make it seem like they are going south, but actually go west. They spread rumours, check out that they are not bieng spied, etc. Still they face the bandits. This I would call a minor instance of railroading, unless the bandits had a good reason to go west and it is revealed to the players.

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Defining omnipotence

27 November, 2007 at 6:49 pm (definition, philosophy) (, , )

This is a sufficient definition and from human POV; that is, if something like what is described existed, we would call it omnipotent.

Let U be a closed universe, or something very near closed. Closed means that the things inside it can’t get to or sense the outside, and hence are unlikely to know anything about it. Let G be an undefined entity (you can read it as God if you really want to).

G is omnipotent with regards to U if G can shape U into whatever native form it could encompass. So, for example, in our universe an omnipotent G could create and remove physical objects at will, but it would not be necessary for G to be able to create things fundamentally beyond our understanding (I have a few problems with trying to create examples for certain reasons), because they are not part of our universe as is.

From this basis, a theorem: G must be outside the conception of time (or entropy or another measure of change, with apologies to everyone who knows physics for probably misusing “time” and “entropy”) that exists in U.

If this was not the case, G could first (within the dominant measure of change) create the indestructable wall and then create a cannonball that destroys everything it touches, third make them touch, which results in impossible outcome, and hence is not true. This does not happen when G is outside the conception of change as it applies in U, because then G would both create something and cancel it at the same time, which amounts to not creating the thing to start with, which leads to no paradox, because G didn’t actually create one of the conflicting absolutes after all.

The definition also assumes G is omniscient, but when talking about omnipotence, that is kinda trivial.

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