Sin Aesthetics

In which Mo explores the social pathology of roleplaying and begins to experiment with game design.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


You might notice that SA looks a little different. In the transition to new software, WordPress decided that it was hungry, so it's eaten my Blogger templates. Rather than rebuild, I'm moving, so please adjust your links and RSS feeds to the new site:

I had hoped to get the new site looking more like home before I moved there, but instead, y'all will just have to bear with me through the renovations.

Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Some Notes on Being Human

Now of course, the place you find yourself on either the Cognitive / Impassioned scale and the I / Other scale is not a static thing. If you gamed 10 years ago and you're gaming now, chances are that there are a handful of things about game back then that you'd just as happily not import into the present. Likewise, in next 10 years there are things you're doing now that you probably won't be doing then and vice versa. Like my Wargamer cum LARPer friend of a couple of posts ago, the things we do, both in life and in game change us (at least if we're doing it right) and changing as a person often means a shift in goals and priorities. What makes us happy now may not make us happy tomorrow or next year; what made us happy last year may never make us happy again.

Also, just because you put a dot on the scale that is meant to represent you doesn't mean that you are not capable of shifting to accommodate the situation at hand, or that you never act outside of the placement of that dot. When playing with strangers, I tend to play down the emotional scale to ensure that I don't make anyone at the table uncomfortable. I also tend to play closer to the "I" than usual to ensure that I am making directive decisions that will foster the fledgling social situation at the table.

Why does my dot wander? Well, because in that situation, my payoff and my goal are different than they usually are. My payoff might be "advance the social milieu of the group at hand, and have a fun, un-awkward night in the process". In that case, my goal isn't a cathartic one, it's entirely socially based goal that has little to do with the game. In that case I may not even be character socketed; I might adopt a social or story socket for the night, because the payoff is powerful enough to make it worth it.

Likewise, under constraints imposed by other players or by system, my dot might have to wander in specific situations. About six months ago, Brand and I introduced a group of our friends to My Life with Master. The point of the night wasn't even really to game, it was just to hang out. The point of playing MLWM was not to get impassioned or cathartic, it was to introduce some of our traditional RPG friends to some of what the Indie scene had to offer. It was a one shot, with a lot of players, so there wouldn't be a lot of time to create catharsis anyway. So my goal, my socket and my payoff weren't what they normally are, so my dot was in an entirely different place.

This is all to say that there is a difference between what you have occasionally done, what you did all the time a long time ago, what you are capable of doing, and what you do on a regular basis. When you're examining your goals, sockets and payoffs, it's important to identify if the situation you are analyzing is atypical, and therefore not representative of what you normally do to get your RPG rocks off.

When you are looking to place yourself on the scale what you're looking to do is to identify: when you are playing for the payoff you most often play for or the payoff you want most (note that these might not be the same thing), how do you want to experience the game and through what method will you interact with it? It may be very useful to you in the moment you are playing an atypical game to understand how your payoff is different than normal and how you respond to that shift, but to start with, it's most useful to trend yourself over the course of the payoff that you are trying to achieve most of the time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Get thee to a Yud'sDicery!

Go read Brand's GNS and Genre Theory right now. All my stuff will still be here when you get back.

Getting in the Cockpit

So, the second axis I wanted to have a look at is the place that you position yourself to drive your actions in the game. I'm going to talk about this a lot more in future posts, especially about the wording I've chosen to describe it: I and Other. For the sake of understanding this introductory post, remember that I am currently working on trying to map the body of play that I once (unsuccessfully) tried to shoehorn into the word immersion; Other could at some point have further application, and will definitely have a more detailed meaning than this, but for the sake of this one post, think of Other as your object in the fiction: your PC, a communal character that you inhabit in the moment, an NPC with which you drive the game as a GM. The I, of course is you as you (though even that will become a little more complicated later on).

You all (except maybe my Great Aunt Vera) will be utterly unsurprised to hear me say at this point that the first indicator of where you sit to drive your play is your socket. A person with a primary character socket and no secondary socket is likely going to sit right up at the top of this scale, especially if their goal is Kenotic, and their payoff has an escapist bent.

Likewise, a person who has, say, a primary system socket, a secondary social socket, and a tertiary story socket might never actually make their contributions to the game through a game object, but will instead, contribute directly to the game. I've heard some actual play recordings where the players involved never actually inhabited a character object all. Characters, PC or NPCs were never referred to in the first person, and never had an actual voice in play. Even if the character spoke and was not just paraphrased, the player narrated the speech as if it were dialogue in a novel, rather than a character to inhabit.

On the runway from the I to the Other, there are lots of ways to funnel participation through the character as a game object. I'm going to run some of them down for you using the best analogies I have at my disposal. I am peripherally aware that they are similar to some terms already in use in immersion theory. I want to be clear that I'm not at all trying to adopt those terms and their associated meanings (or baggage). Remember that I don't read or the Forge and I'm not a big forum girl. As such, please do your best when you read on to disassociate what you have been taught I might mean and to concentrate on reading them as simple analogies:

As a marionette, where the player does not inhabit the object, but dances it through the fiction with a directed will, there is a distinct emotional and sensory distance between the player and the character. The two share nothing; the marionette is nothing more than a tool with good aesthetic value.

As a puppet, the player inhabits the object only partially, all decisions are unmitigated by the puppet and are made for the direct, unencumbered benefit of the player or the story or something external to the character object (even if that benefit is the player's sense of the character's continuity in the story). The player has some amount of emotional investment in the character object and may have a very detailed blueprint of the puppet but is not influenced by the character object directly. Influence on the game is equally (qualitatively and quantitatively) made via the character object and directly without it.

As a mask, the player maintains a distinct identity within the character object, but has established an emotional, often empathic connection with the object and uses it as the primary vehicle to influence the game. The player is influenced and informed by the character object, and the character object is willfully given a measure of transformative power over the player as a goal of play. The player can take intentional action in the game that is uninfluenced by the character object, but optimally will do so only through the funnel of the character.

As a possessing force, the player abandons a personal identity and surrenders to the character object as a goal of play in order to directly, experience the full subjective reality of the character. The more intensely this is done, the less able the player is take any self-directed action as it does not originate from the (the player's matrix) of the character's subjective reality. This is all the way up the Other scale.

Once again, the purple dot is me (my trended behaviour, mind not an absolute that doesn't exist). The empathic connection to character object is critical to my goal and my payoff, because it is in the ability to feel the emotionality of my character object's response to the story that my impassioned engagement is fueled and the cathartic response is won. However, it is just as important to me to not then extend to allow the character to be a possessing force because to create really effective cathartic situations and get my Epicaric Virago on, I must have the freedom to manipulate the character and drive her towards badness and strife.

Brand is the red dot again. He doesn't need to be up close and personal with any particular character object in order to get his groove on. In fact, having to live within the confines of a character can sometimes hold him back from getting at his payoff. The character is a very rich source of story bits and momentum tools that make the story hot, but they are not usually gratifying to him in and of themselves.

Also it's worth noting that as a GM, Brand interacts with the Other as if it were a marionette, while as a player, he leans closer to being a puppeteer. I have a similar shift, though not as pronounced: As a player I solidly mask the Other, while as a GM I interact with the Other as both mask and puppet.

So, you can affect the game directly as your self, or you can affect the game funneled through an interaction with a character object. These modes of play are determined by the kind of payoff you are looking for, the kind of goal you set to achieve it and most importantly, by the socket that you use to engage with the game. Now that only two of you (of the original three) are still reading, I'd also like leave you hanging by noting, that while I've talked about the Other as character object, I do think it might be possible that other kinds of sockets can also become the Other. Setting is a particularly intriguing one when you think about how no-mythers might marionette the setting while deep setting socket folks (Elliot, I'm looking at you here) may well be considered to be possessed by the setting. If you have ideas on this, post them. Somewhere down the line I'll likely be coming back to this.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cognitive vs. Impassioned Play

I've thought for some time that one of the reasons we get so bollixed up when we talk about play styles is because although we often assume that we approach game the same way, we really, very much do not. I think there are a couple of things that we've neglected in discussion that merit more focus: the manner of our engagement with the game and the method of influence we choose to affect the game. Right now, I'm going to be talking about the first one and will cover the other in later posts.

Earlier this year when Brand I were talking Myer's Briggs and gaming, we talked about whether a person, a player, or a character was a Thinking or a Feeling type. Since then, I've spent a lot of time, both online and IRL watching the trouble that pops up when strong T's and strong F's try to do, well… anything together, but especially when they are working on theory and design, or in game creating stories together. More than ever I am convinced that a further understanding of this area would help us build better play groups, create more compatible play, deliberately design games that could choose to foster a particular kind of play, or accommodate different kinds of play in the design.

That said, I've consciously ditched the words Thinking & Feeling because I think they misleadingly point towards quantifying intellectual or emotional capability, which is decidedly NOT what I'm looking to do. Instead, I'm looking for a way to measure to what extent we consciously construct our games, and whether our goals in game trend towards being visceral or cerebral.

Some things to note before I go any father:

  • This isn't an either/or proposition; I suspect most people will have at least a little of each, even if they have a very strong preference for one.

  • This isn't a question of capability. Just because a player has a habitual place on the scale doesn't mean in the right situation she couldn't act another way and do it well.

  • There is no value attached to either end of the scale; there is no better, just better for you or better for the situation at hand.

So, instead, I've gone with Cognitive and Impassioned as the two ends of the scale. The Cognitive side speaks to a certain amount of, well, cognition in game. Decisions in the game are made consciously, deliberately, sometimes strategically and are usually based on a specific set of data points. The cognitive manner of play hopes to cerebrally engage the player in the process of playing the game or creating the story. Conversely, the Impassioned manner of play hopes to viscerally engage the player in the moment of play or the context of the story. Decisions in the game are made holistically, intuitively, in reaction to the emotional context of the story and its game objects (characters, setting, plot, etc).

When you interact with the game, do you want it to make you think or do you want it to make you feel, or both and in what proportion? When you are playing a suspense thriller kind of plot, will you feel the story churning viscerally in the pit of your stomach, or will you be endlessly, cerebrally trying to figure out whodunnit? Through the course of the game, do you forecast ahead to optimize the effect of the story/moment/action or do you intuit it, letting the passion of the moment guide you? Of course, you can be in the middle, too, but how far in the middle, where do you fall? What kind of gratification are you looking for as a result of the game, and what techniques, methods, talents, and skills do you use to achieve it?

Hint: In determining where you sit on the scale between Cognitive and Impassioned play, it is helpful to understand your payoff, your goal and, to a lesser extent, your socket.

So, in the last post, I stated my payoff as: "to experientially feel a sense of emotional euphoria as a result of a powerfully engaging story". My goal in game is to experience as intense a catharsis as possible; the stories that churn my ovaries are full of deep visceral complications: tragedies, love, sex, betrayal, revenge and brutality. And in a character socket, I want to be down in the muck and the mire of the emotional messiness, and to live in and react to the moment of the game.

That's a pretty clear emotional agenda in the context of cognitive vs. impassioned play. It can be paraphrased as: "I want to create an emotionally charged story, experience it viscerally, and let it be transformative to me." On the scale between cognitive play and impassioned play, I'm closer to the impassioned edge than, well, most anyone I've ever played with (though I'm sure there are people with an even stronger tendency than I have). The purple dot is me:

Brand, the red dot, is an impassioned player too, but in his case, visceral intensity is not the whole end game: it's an important facet to payoff, but not the payoff itself. As a strong story socket player (with a massive and talented wealth of GM experience), Brand requires that the story that he's working on carries strong visceral resonance and impact because to Brand, that's what gives stories lasting value. He's intensely intuitive and non-constructed about the way he shepherds stories into existence, but he draws on an extremely impressive mental anthology of mythology, literary history and rhetoric which can't help but temper his impassioned participation with a cognitive influence.

So, I'll end this post quickly before Brand gets a big(ger) head. The point is that there is more than one way to skin, cook and eat your delicious payoff. You can deliberately construct it, which makes it a cognitive exercise, you can intuit your way by reacting to the emotionality of the moment in an impassioned pursuit of your goal, or you can fall somewhere in between.

Note: If you're reading along with this and you're nodding your head thinking "I'm a really smart and thinky kind of person, and I feel really good when/after roleplaying, I must be both!" Then you've missed the point. Scroll up and read the post again with this in mind: Mo's a competitively intelligent Process and Systems Analyst who's prone to deconstructive analysis, and she's all way over on the impassioned side of the scale.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Covering the Bases

I'm pretty sure that the three of you that read Sin Aesthetics understand me when I use words like sockets, goals or payoff, but just in case my Great Aunt Gertrude decides to check in on me and is having trouble understanding what the heck I'm talking about, this post is a quick run down. For the sake of my lazy ass, I'm going to quasi cut and paste some from a couple of public conversations I had with Thomas Robertson, who asks too many damn questions for his own good, but as such is useful in getting me to explain my damn self.


The socket is the place in the RPG which serves as the participant's locus of enjoyment. It's the place where people plug themselves into game and give and take their focus and energy to and from. Obviously character can be a primary socket, because immersion wouldn't be such a problematic word without the character being an extremely invested locus.

It's also easy to identify what some other kinds of sockets are. Setting is obviously a socket for a lot of people. System is an obvious one too. We can be pretty damn sure in our community that there are Story socket players. There are other kinds, too: Social socket people, Choice socket people, probably a lot of others too.

I think that many/most people have more than one socket, that is, more than one place that they can plug into the experience of the game, but I suspect that there is always a primary socket, one that is preferred above others. I would say of myself that character is my primary socket, but that I also have a distant story socket as well. Farther still, I could have a social socket and a setting socket, even a choice socket… but the farther down the road a game pushes me to go to find a socket, the less like an RPG it will feel like to me, the less it will fulfill the body of what I come to games to for, and if always pushed to a different socket, the less likely I will be to continue playing the game.


This one's simple, though figuring it out often is like pulling teeth. We all have one reason that we play RPG's. Regardless of the kind of player we are, or the kind of play we do, our reason is one in the same: We come to the game to get out of game what we want out of game. People talk about the concepts of "art" or "game" or "play" as lofty ideals but in reality, gaming has a payoff for everyone who engages in it, which is why we play RPG's rather than golfing, stamp collecting, worm breeding, singing in a choir or whatever else might have had an appealing payoff if RPG's didn't exist, or more importantly, didn't give us what we want.

That payoff will differ vastly from person to person. For some, the payoff is simply "completely forgetting I am me for a couple of hours", for others "engaging in an actively creative co-operative endeavor with people I like" might be the payoff. "Feeling fully, really challenged in a social engagement while making something that feels lasting to me" or "proving that I have the biggest dick at the table" might be the thing you want. "Being validated by other people recognizing my talents as a really good GM", or "participation in creating an epic that was worth telling" might also be what keeps you coming back.

If some of those sound more important than others, if some of them sound right and some wrong, then you're missing the point of why I am talking about payoff. There's no right/wrong/better/worse/worthy/not worthy/valuable/not valuable when it comes to you and what keeps you coming back to the game. You want what you want. It's whether or not you are being honest about what you want, both to yourself and to other people where things can get to being wrong. If my payoff is: "working hard, winning big, and lauding my victory" and your payoff is "non-conflict co-operation towards an emotionally engaging experience" we're not going to play well together unless we really, consciously work at it. That doesn't mean that either of our payoffs are better or worse, it just means we like different things out of the hobby.

You'll notice too, that many of those payoffs in the list up top sound like they would align really well with the kinds of sockets I was talking about earlier. Is that surprising? It really shouldn't be… we do most what works to get us the payoffs we desire, after all. In my case, with a primary character socket, a secondary story socket and a penchant for highly emotional cathartic play it shouldn't be at all surprising that my payoff is something like: "to experientially feel a sense of emotional euphoria as a result of a powerfully engaging story".


Back in this post, I talked about some possible goals of play, though they were certainly not meant as an exhaustive list.

Goals in this context define what the end experience of the game is that you work towards, and may imply or suggest a method you use to move towards achieving it. Ideally, your goal should closely align with your payoff. I've seen lots of situations in reality where that wasn't the case, but each and every one described a very unhappy player.

I had a friend who came from a heavy competition war gaming background who stumbled upon and came to really like the social dynamic of the LARP scene. Playing in it drastically changed the kind of payoff he expected from RPGs. He went from a payoff of "validation of my intelligence and cunning through hard won challenge" to something like "escapist enjoyment of being someone else in a highly theatrical mode". The problem was that when he came back to table top, he employed his old high challenge, high competition skills and techniques towards his old goal, but could never, unsurprisingly, achieve his new payoff. He doesn't play anymore, and most of the people he used to play with (post LARP) aren't really sad about that.

So there you are. That there's the basics: sockets, goals and payoffs. There will probably be more as I ramble on, but that's where I'm starting from.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Abandoning Immersion

So I've been out of the country for four months, and there's nothing like being thrown into the unfamiliar for a prolonged time to clear the head. While I was away I had very little time to keep up with the sundry blogs and forums that I normally follow. When I could find some precious time to look around, I found that with distance, my brain was becoming more and more frustrated with the discourse of gaming in general, and in particular, with immersion. It's a word I've been using for a long time now, and a word I really was rather fond of once, but I think it's long lost any semblance of meaning.

So I'm letting it go.

Since last fall when I started shifting my focus towards specifics and away from some nebulous idea of the body immersive, I've found it more and more helpful in actually establishing some kind of communal understanding and explorative progress with the people who I'm talking to. So from here on in, (on SA and wherever possible) I will be using words like goal and socket and payoff as a kind of matrix to point to specific things rather than try and situate things that are clearly different in a catch all word like immersion. Rather than saying You are immersive or I am not immersive, which really tells you nothing because too many people assert too many conflicting qualities to immersion, I will talk about the means of play, the motivations of play, and the path of play, which hopefully can allow me to talk to the three of you quite clearly, at least for the next ten minutes.

This also means that if I get general questions about "what this means to immersion" in the comments, I'll likely be ignoring them.

While I'm on the topic of comments, I'd like to note that going forward I may or may not respond to any or all who comment. I'm doing this on my blog rather than on a forum for a reason which has little to do with you and a lot to do with me. If I wasn't doing it here, I wouldn't likely be doing it anywhere, and I've found over the last year or so since I started Sin Aesthetics that engaging in response is very powerful to me. It historically has the power to fuel or destroy my enthusiasm or my momentum and that I've given it the unmitigated power to do that pisses me off.

So, from here on in I will be attempting to engage with it selectively to feed my energy and momentum when it can and to let it go when it can't. When I will and when I won't probably has little correlation to the value of your response, so don't take it personally. Please ask questions and comment where you see fit. Even if I don't respond immediately, it doesn't mean I won't read it and let it influence me or that I won't get back to you as a later date.

Monday, July 31, 2006

GameChef '06 Volume I in print!

Technomancer Press, LLC will have the first print edition of the 2006 "Game Chef" challenge winners available by GenCon. Technomancer is happy to see 4 of the top 8 indie RPG design winners into this first print volume, including grand prize winner Moyra Turkington's 2-hour procedural drama/cop show RPG "Crime and Punishment".

Further, all profits from the GameChef series will be devoted to the Child's Play Charity, bringing games to sick kids in children's hospitals. As Game Chef lead Andy Kitkowski notes, "If it sells, yay, more cancer kids get Gameboys." Game Chef is also a nominee for the prestigous 2006 Diana Jones Award, to be awarded at GenCon.

"Game Chef 2006 Vol I" appears in stores and at the PAX convention on November 23, and a limited number of copies will be on sale at the Studio2Publishing booth at GenCon August 10th to celebrate the Diana Jones Award nomination. Distributors and retailers can order via their accounts. Information on Technomancer Press is available at, Game Chef details are at, and Child's Play at

Sunday, July 30, 2006


PUSH is available for purchase, and having read an commented on all of it, there's some damn interesting stuff in there! Go buy it!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Get voting, you.

Our very own Sister Abigail, Jess Hammer has received an Ennie nomination by way of the book Everyday Heroes!

Go vote for her now.

Now why are you reading this line? I said now, didn't I? ;)

And don't vote for White Wolf, or I'll have to get a rolled-up newspaper.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Immersion Goals Borrowed from Literary Theory

Borrowed from the literary tradition, I'd like to put forward some new words for your perusal that might help explore the differences of goals that exist under the catch-all word immersion. There may be others that would help too, but I think these three are important.

Catharis: Yes, I know you know this word, but do you know what means in the context of literary theory? Catharsis (which was introduced by Aristotle in The Poetics and means either "purgation" or "purification" in Greek) is the emotional effect a tragic drama has on its audience. The audience of a tragic drama would experience an overwhelming feeling of exaltation or relief following the drama because either they formed a vicarious identification with the hero which cleansed the emotions as if they have themselves had undergone the trauma of the story, or because the audience becomes so engrossed in the emotions for the hero that they are removed from the context of their own lives and return refreshed and renewed back to themselves following the drama.

Kairosis: is associated with the epic novel (association with the Greek meaning "the right time", and represents the feeling of integration experienced by the audience with the protagonist. It is associated specifically with the moments of moral and psychologicical transitioning of the character in important, dramatically impacting moments. It is interesting to note that Kairosis is often achieved by challenging unique dynamic characters with typical, everyman dilemmas and emotionally engaging in the moments of change.

Kenosis: is associated with lyric poetry, and represents the audience's abandonment of the ego manifestation in favour of the immediate emotional body and sensory manipulation of the poetic. It comes from the Greek word for "emptiness" and is used to achieve a feeling of timelessness or transcendence.

(If you don't care about the words in their application in literary theory, you can skip this indented part.

***ETA: There's more discussion after the indented part. Pick up the post again in the paragraph starting with: "So, what the heck am I talking about?"**

When I look at these terms, I make some adjustments on them to compensate for the differences in the method and process of the act of roleplaying:

Where we in a widely literate, educated and media saturated environment have specified, culturally driven, inherited understandings of drama, and in a world where the lines between the novel the drama and lyric poetry have been distorted, deconstructed and blurred, it seems to me that goals may not cleanly align by the form but can still maintain similar extant resonance to the emotional outreach of the audience.

Where we, as roleplayers, serve as both the authors and audiences of our own characters, inside a dynamic, living drama rather than a static text, we can elect to chase the fulfillment of multiple goals at once.)

So, what the heck am I talking about? Well, I know for a long time I have been describing my particular brand of character immersion as an intense, cathartic connection with the character in which I feel the character's emotional state acutely, understand the mental process of the character acutely and objectively (rather than the character understands it: subjectively) and feel a vicarious emotional response of my own towards the character.

When I look at this in relation to the terms, I know Catharsis to be my primary goal: It is the place that the intense connection to the character is formed, in which I feel, simultaneously, the character's emotional state, my own emotional state, my character's inner workings, my own inner workings and my empathy for the character. Catharsis will make me physically weep when my character's lover dies in her arms even if she does not shed a tear, because while I feel her emotional state as acutely as she does, I am feeling it vicariously. I am immersed in who she is, but I am not her. The feeling of exaltation or relief is something I can validate. An intense, cathartic immersion experience can leave me feeling a little high in an emotionally-induced endorphin way. This goal, IMHO, is all about feeling (For you following the MBTI stuff, it is an immersive F gamer's playground).

I also know, although it is not part of my description above, that Kairosis is a frequent goal for me. It here that I go to for the moments of resounding transition; the moments that feel as if the soundtrack on the drama has picked up and the character's life and the story will never again be the same. The "right moment" of Kairosis is the one where the character and the story interact and change each other, powerfully and irreversibly. This one is both about thinking and about feeling. In order to do this reliably and intentionally it requires a thinking setup, but transitions to feeling mode in the actualization of the moment's resonance. I suppose it is possible to be setup and actualized both in T mode, but I'm not sure if it would lead to the immersive integration that the goal is looking for. This kind of immersion could serve story socket players as or even more effectively than character socket players. It is also, I believe functionally incompatible with Kenosis.

Kenosis is not a goal of mine, but one that is associated with the term immersion quite frequently in discussion, especially in association with larpers over the pond. Also called "Deep IC" or "altered state flow" or that I have been calling "submersion", the goal here is to feel completely like the character and to feel as little like yourself as possible. The feeling of timelessness or transcendence is something that a lot of these folks talk about, even sometimes going so far as to compare it to a religious experience. Again, this is also about Feeling, I think (MBTI note: and I would think that it is commonly a goal of "SF" immersive gamer types, who would require strong myth to make a full transition from self to character). Note: This kind of immersion goal would also work as well for a setting socket player as a character socket player: the goal would be to get out of the player's world and into the world of the player's character.

I also think it's interesting to note that when looked at this way, it's unsurprising that there is so much debate about the compatibility of the goals of nar games and the goals of immersion. A goal like Kairosis requires intentional dramatic framing and intention to achieve the synthesis of character transitioning in the right moment and as such would be perfectly compatible, whereas a goal like Kenosis may repel such deliberate constraint, or force the player back into his own head, making the styles incompatible.

Also, it gives some good groundwork for why immersive players are at odds as to what kinds of game processes or mechanics are counterintuitive to their immersion activity. A Kairotic Immersives might not have trouble discussing stakes or out of game strategy to optimize the “right moment”, Cathartic Immersives might have no trouble authoring to intensify drama but could have real trouble any time the game required transition from a Feeling to Thinking mode, such as crunchy calculation or resource management. Kenotic Immersives might find any out of game negotiation that draws them out of character unappealing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

[BitV] Session 4

Logs! Get your new logs here! Now complete with headpunching!

Session 4 - Whole Log
Session 4 - Fiction Only (No OOC)


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Getting around to (one of) the point(s).

So, 10 or so months ago I started Sin Aesthetics.

I did this post on immersionand this post on authorial intent and this post on push and pull.

None of them were supposed to be very groundbreaking, they were just setup posts to get everybody onto the page of a few things I wanted to talk about. The next one was supposed to combine some of these elements to having a discussion about how one could use pull techniques to help immersion-heavy players cope functionally and productively in push-heavy nar games. This seems like it's kind of anti-climactic now after all the discussion that's gone on about p/p. At least the post can be much shorter now, because we won't have to sort through examples.

Basically, the point is that if the goal of nar games is to create drama by addressing premise, and if differential techniques (p/p) can equally be used to do this in a valid way then those techniques can be (and are) used intentionally to create a personal fit to a shared game, even if the game fosters a playstyle that is less friendly to the player using the technique. I'm an immersive player and find that many nar games with explicit push systems (read: mechanically supported) often interrupt my ability to immerse because the system requires me to toggle between IC-head and OOC-head too long or too frequently, or because they break (personal) character continuity over issues of ownership (e.g. winning narration rights).

The design intent over many of these explicit structures exist to create what matters. What matters might be drama through conflict, or to highlight the address of premise, or to reward giving over to the story. It might be simply to pre-negotiate the social system of the game so that there is less work or negotiation required to produce functional and enjoyable play. In any case, they are designed to produce.

In some cases, where the explicit structures prevent or deter a player from fully socketing to their locus of enjoyment in a game (so for me, to character, emotionally) the player can premptively produce what the explicit structure has been built to require in order to eliminate or minimize the negative impact of interacting with that structure, while still remaining functional and socially responsible to the game and the play group.

For example, say one explicit structure in the game is: once you have played to a point where crisis is coming, the players roll dice and the winner is given sole authority to narrate the outcome of the crisis. The point of this structure is to provide a means of resolving conflict and a clear direction of social authority. A player that sockets emotionally via character might find this structure impedes or prevents personal enjoyment in the game because when they lose conflicts the winning player is free to narrate what the loser's character can do, and this creates static in the player's personal sense of continuity with the character, knocking the plug out of the socket.

(Some of you might want to tell me that if this is the case, the player shouldn't play this game. Sure, optimally we'd all be playing games with groups and in systems that fit us perfectly 100% of the time, but the reality is that we don't. Sometimes we play games that fit other people's preferences more than our own, because playing with the person is more important to us than the system we play in. Sometimes, everything else in the system makes it worth running into the occasional hump.)

So in this case, what can the player do to premptively produce what the system is looking for so as to lessen the impact of or eliminate the hump? Well, since it's fresh, Brand's moment of crisis post offers us one way. Since the structure is very FatE, a skilled player could pull to resolve the conflict and determine authority using social DitM. In order to succeed in the pull, the player must win the buy in of the other player, and in giving buy in (especially in a context in which going to the FatE is his mechanical right in the game) the other player is exhibiting an acceptance to what the pulling player has done (any of this could be an OOC explicit negotiation or an IC negotiation). Both players are happy, the premise has been addressed to the satisfaction of both players, and the drama rolls on. The transaction is functional and productive, and the pulling player has not had to experience the static produced by the FatE structure.

This kind of thing isn't always going to be possible, of course, and could take considerable skill and finesse to make work, but it's something worth thinking about.

It's also an interesting consideration to take when designing. As the designer, if you want people to be able to use their personal skills to compensate for areas of your system they might have problems with, does your explicit system make room for them to do so? If you do not want this, how do you constrain this ability in your design? Is there other things we can do to expand the support for multiple playtypes, or multiple sockets or whatever? Do we even want to?

Anyway, it's something I'm still musing on, so I thought I'd put it out there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

[BitV] Session 3

And here are the logs for Session 3:

Session 3 - Whole Log
Session 3 - No OOC (fiction only)


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

[BitV] Session 2

The logs from the second Bitches in the Vinyard game, for your perusal:

Session 2 - Whole Log
Session 2 No OOC (fiction only)


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

[C+P] Playtest Shilling + P/P

[xposted on SG]

Now that I've let it slip that my design for Crime and Punishment was partially an experiment in mechanically supported pull/push, and there are folks out there revving to see push/pull in action or to talk about the application of the model as it applies to design....

Can I get any takers to do playtesting? Huh? Huh? Pretty please? Crime and Punishment will restore receeding hairlines! Help you lose 10 pounds! Liven up your sex lives! Enlarge your.... well you get the idea. ;P

Easier than anything, you only need three players and 2 hours to play!

I'm going to go with playtesting for the moment based on the Game Chef version of the game which can be found here. So if the answer is yes, let me know and just snag a copy from the link!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Push and Pull - One Last Time

(This was posted over on StoryGames, I thought since I put so much work into it, I should paste it in here, too. It helps me, continuity-wise, too.)

Chris and I have been knocking Push and Pull out very fruitfully over on Deep in the Game. Thanks Chris!

Here are your no-nonsense definitions:

Push is an assertion of individual authority.

Pull is a directed solicitation for collaborative buy-in and input.

Both Push and Pull are a part of fundamental human communication patterns. They are tools used in social interactions that provide movement to the interaction and provoke response and action within it.

In a RPG context, Push and Pull happen both as they do in a non game context (socially and incidentally because we are still people engaging in interaction), and as techniques used to affect the game, the social environment and the drama. Both Push and Pull can be mechanically or non-mechanically supported, functional or dysfunctional, effective or non-effective. Neither is inherently better or worse than the other, though people can have preferences for one or the other.

A player, using a Push technique, uses his own authority to put something out there. This something could be an assertion of an element or action into the fiction, it could be something in the social contract that causes or prevents something from happening (E.g. identifying that an NGH or TTP line has reached a hard stop) or in other ways (I’m not going to categorically list them here, that could be a discussion for a future time, suffice to say that although a push can be used as a technique to address the fiction, it’s not tied to it).

Push Example #1:

Game: Truth & Justice

Situation: The heroine has just found out that she has a long lost brother, and that her brother idolizes her secret identity for her work in the same science area that he is studying in. She, a precog, has a vision in which her estranged father and long lost brother are in a mall when a group of assassins break in and try to kill them. She could go save them, but if she does a whole busload of schoolgirls who have been captured by an evil cult will die terrible horrible sacrificial deaths. She chooses to go save the schoolgirls, because the ritual that they are being killed in may prove very, very bad for the world. In the vision where her brother and father are, the guns ring out, the bullets fly, and the father and brother are gunned down, their blood splattering.

The player (me) takes 4 hero points and hands them to the GM (Brand), declaring “Major Detect & Discover. Josh [the brother] is a mutant. He doesn’t die.” Brand cackles and gives time powers to Josh, so that when the reality of the precog vision comes true, he rewinds time in the second before he dies and uses his power to take out the villain, saving himself and their father.

I didn’t want the brother to die without having my character have a chance to interact with him, so I used a mechanic available to me to make it not happen.

Push Example #2:

Game: Unbreakable (A home-styled nar game) that’s loosely styled on the themes of M Night’s movie Unbreakable.

Situation: Our hero has been putting his ass on the line to make his Alphabet City neighborhood a safer place. In doing so, he’s pissed off a number of gangs in the area. In a previous bang, he had seen a member of the gang that has been hunting him down being shaken down by three guys of a rival gang over mule-ing drugs through their territory. Arjuna had interceded, scared the rival gangs off and saved the kid’s life. He even gave him back the drugs, as a show of good faith/bribe to leave his block alone.

The kid, afraid of what would happen if the leader found out about getting his ass saved by an enemy hadn’t passed the message on, so in another scene, when Arjuna’d come face to face with the sociopathic leader of the main gang, and had pointed out his show of good faith, the fit hit the shan. The gang leader thanked him for the interaction, and declared the feud between them over. He told Arjuna he would take care of the discrepancies.

Coming home that night, the GM (me) declares that in the vacant lot behind his house, the kid is dead – gutted – and has been left on display for him. The area has been police taped, and cops are on the scene. Alongside the body: the knapsack, likely still carrying his prints.

I put something down in front of him that said: Here, deal with that shit.

A player, using a Pull technique, solicits another player’s buy-in or input. This can happen by catering input to the other player’s tastes, by enticement, by reward, by negotiation, by collaborative mutual decision (and I’m sure there are other ways) Again, the Pull can be used to influence the fiction, but Pull techniques are not limited to the fiction.

Pull Example #1:

Game: The same Truth & Justice game as Push #1

Situation: Heroine encounters a villain for the first time. The game has a very graphic novel feel, and the social contract of the game has it established that there is (like many comic books) usually a pattern wherein at the first meeting, the villain will gets away, eluding the heroine.

The scene is set in a bank with a robbery underway, the mooks present are human goons for hire with lots of bad ass weaponry, the main villainess is a sexy succubus-y she-devil that is enrapturing the Bank Manager. The character comes in with great pith and daring do, and faithfully begins to kick the asses of the mooks en route to the main villainess. The mooks prove to be too numerous and too underhanded and threaten the innocents in the bank, but if she doesn’t do something about it, the villainess will get away with the booty!
The heroine takes the only action she has to spare to do a single attack on the villain, knocking her away from the bank manager, and into the vault and as part of her description says:

“Paper bank notes and bills flutter away from the hefty vault door as it slams shut with a satisfying THUD and a long series of clicks that lock the Hell Queen in its deep heart, keeping the bank’s patrons safely clear of her terrible, evil tactics!” The player (me), turns to the GM (Brand), raises an eyebrow and says in overly accentuated, sarcastic way:

“And Déjà Vu turns back and focuses her FULL attention on the members of Terror Inc, FULLY CONFIDENT that her “safe deposit” will be waiting for her once she has taken care of the gunboys!” Wink wink, nudge, nudge.

Brand, grins and says “Revolting Development?” and I agree, roll my dice and cash in on hero points which I then use to lay a righteous smackdown on the Terror Inc boys. When I get back to the vault to collect the villain, there is a hole melted in the floor, and the villainess and the booty are, of course, long, long gone.

If the villain got away, I wanted her to get away because something completely unexpected (to the character) had happened while my character continued to do the righteous smackdown. I was also low on Hero Points and knew that the Revolting Development would pay off. So, because I wanted these things, I created a situation where both requirements could be fulfilled, and one that I knew would be appealing enough for Brand to pick up on.

I wanted to go in a direction and so I made it a direction that Brand would like so that we could go that way together.

Pull Example #2:

Game: Breaking the Ice

Situation: It’s getting on to the end of the third date, and the fates of the lovers are being decided. They’ve racked up a pretty high attraction score, but their compatibility rating is low. This is reflected in the game’s fiction. The characters have never been ambivalent about each other; they’ve never fully managed to make it to a place where they click romantically, but they end up in bed despite that. Afterwards, one of the characters (mine) shows a bit of the desperation of the act by drawing a parallel between watching the woman he just lay with as she slept and the love of his life that died in a car accident (in which he was driving in heavy rain) a year ago. The other player (Brand) finding the earlier silly-ish game ending on too dour a note, wanting a chance at a bonus die, and knowing that I have a penchant for elegiac romance, wakes his character up and has her comfort him, saying in character:

“I can't promise that I'll be here forever, or even that I'll love you forever, but I’m here now, and I love you now, and that's enough. It’s a mistake to think you were driving then, or that you are driving now. Life is hydroplaning, and there isn't any control to be had.”

And he earned the bonus die, and in their mutual comfort earned the one last compatibility (#3) that gave them at least a slim shot of making it.

Brand wanted something with more hope, and he wanted the characters to have a chance, so he found a way to appeal to my tastes in game to use a mechanically supported tool that allowed me to reward his pull.

Why is any of this important?

Well, if you’re designing, analysis of these kinds of social transactions and how they differ from each other helps you understand what kind of game you are creating, and who will be happy with it.

Now, I’ve never used the Power 19, because my brain naturally does this sort of thing without needing the tool, but it seems to me that if it represents a list of the things that are important to consider in game design and theory (which it seems to be, considering how many talk about it/use it), that discussion of social transactions such as Push and Pull are intrinsically connected to the following questions:

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
19.) Who is your target audience?

If the idea is to intentionally build games that cater to the target audience to maximize the potential fun that could be had by them, then it would be extremely helpful to consider whether the game coexists peacefully with the skills of your target audience and provide extra, explicit support to the skills that are not inherent to the group.

Conversely, if your target audience is “As many people as goddamn possible.”? Well, then, understanding the kinds of different play out there helps you to identify where support will be needed to get different players to peacefully co-exist in the same game while achieving the maximum potential for fun.

Example in Action:

I put my observations of Push and Pull into direct application in Crime and Punishment. In life, I like Pull. It’s energizing, it builds. I am less comfortable with Push, it feels confrontational and space invading. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t find Push useful… obviously I do, because I employ Push techniques in my games.

Crime and Punishment is designed to build collaborative environments that build investment between members of the player group to provide a basis and support for applying hardcore Push.


Read the game. The entire first half is all built on Pull techniques, contributing ideas, soliciting investment, earning the approval and buy in of the other players to create a communal endeavor. The second half of the game is all Push. In this environment of investment and reinforced by the framework we have built together, players can now Push hard against each other to maximize the potential of the storyboard. To make the drama come to life. The mechanics support it here, too. You use the investment of other players that you have earned, to bid and buy and win how you want things to happen in the game.

Please go read C+P with all of this in mind.

While you’re at it, if all of this has finally made some semblance of coherent sense, you might want to go read a bunch of stuff again:

I think that’s all I have for now.



Thursday, May 04, 2006

[BitV] Logs - Setup and Session 1

Hey all,

There were demands on Storygames for us to share the logs of the sessions of our All-Female Dogs game, affectionately called "Bitches in the Vinyard".

Here are the logs, edited for clarity:

In case it isn't clear from the context:

  • Lines preceeded by "OOC" are out of character.

  • Lines preceeded by "Dogs: " are the dice and resolution effects.

  • "Sister Abigail" is "KJ" Jessica - kleenestar.

  • "Sister Clemintine" is "PJ" Jesica - peaseblossom

  • "Sister Hannah" is Nancy

  • "Sister Chase" is Mo

Also, we experienced some technical problems with our first conflict resolution tool, so if the numbers seem screwy, don't worry about it.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006



Brand and I have had our hotel booked since February, and although the reasons that we were planning on going have changed (Suryamaya will not be released but Crime and Punishment came into being and will) we were both totally hyped about going. Since Jonathan asked what my plans were around boothing it, I've been a flurry of emails with what seemed like the whole world about the ins, outs and upside downs about Gencon distributing.

I'd like to thank Jonathan Walton, Ben Lehman, Emily Care Boss, Ron Edwards, Luke Crane and Brennan Taylor for all of their help, advice and encouragement over the last week. It's made me very excited about the release of Crime & Punishment, and very happy about the coming of Gencon.

Which is why this is so dissappointing. :(

I regret to say that Brand and I will not be able to go to Gencon this year. Life has taken a strange and wonderful turn and we will likely not even be in the country at that time. I can't really discuss the details of what's going on as of yet, but suffice to say, our plans for Gencon have been well, and truely scratched.

That said, I still plan to release Crime and Punishment in time for Gencon, and hope to have it distributed in my absence, though I haven't figured that one out quite yet.

And for all those folks that Brand and I promised games and drinks and strange times to? Well, you'll have to go back next year to collect, because we will be there with bells on.

Monday, May 01, 2006


I am thrilled to announce that I have claimed the title of Iron Game Chef for my new game Crime & Punishment. I am also pleased as punch to announce that a much expanded version has been scheduled for release at Gencon this summer.

Anybody interested in playtesting for me?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Syncronicity Moment - Push/Pull Communication Modes

Okay, so there's this very excellent post by Paul Tevis over on RPG Talk that talks about Push/Pull in regards to Setting. This is interesting all on it's own, and I'll be thinking about it more in future days when my brain has more room to think, but what made me pick up the link and put it here is his later comments about Push and Pull modes of communication:

"Writing for Presentation and Setting are essentially Push techniques. They're both ways of saying, "Here's my position. I'm done. Here you go." Writing for Discussion and Situation are essentially Pull techniques. They're both about giving the other person room to tell their side, to make what you've started into something different and bigger than what you would have done on your own."

This is one of the things I was trying to get to in my blathery way back when, but put together much more coherently and eloquently, especially once married to Brand's excellent discussion with him in the comments. It's something I'm struggling with over on Storygames, as I try, for the first time in a while to not give up on a forum. I generally don't do so well on forums, (especially RPG ones) because of the exact thing Paul is talking about.

There's a discussion happening over there, and it's about gender, and I've been cautious to get too far into it because it's a tarbaby in that context, because, I think that it has everything to do with gender while simultaneously have nothing to do with gender (I also didn't want to co-opt the very real concern of the person starting the thread with my own issues). I like that Paul has put it back into the Push Pull context, because while Push/Pull were labeled Male/Female (partially my own fault) that's not the way that I meant them, and I think that though you can make analogies, that they are essentially divorced from a any concept of sex or gender.

Push and Pull communication modes are not gender connected in any essentialist way at all. I know tons of Pull boys and Push girls. Throw a boy in a bubble over here and a girl in a bubble over there and pull them out as adults and neither will push or pull effectively at all. Neither will socialize effectively at all. Gender only has to do with Push and Pull as much as there is a very big difference (historically more so but still very real) between the way that most boys and most girls are socialized, and the way that girls are socialized have more to do with Pull than they do with Push (though exclusively neither) and vice versa with boys and Push.

So: nothing to do with gender, yet everything to do with gender. Boys by nature are no more capable of pushing than girls, or girls more capable of pulling, but many socialization experiences for each actively encourage one and discourage the other.

So gender aside: it is true for me. I was actively sociallized to Pull and actively (strongly) socialized not to Push. So it's fun and comfortable and energizing for me to engage in activities relying primarily on Pull but difficult and uncomfortable and draining to engage in activities that rely on Push. I find forums maddening because the mode of most discussions are "Here's my position. I'm done. Here you go." followed by a series of challenges and defenses: all Push.

Worse than that, many of them masquerade (or honestly start out) as Pulls: "Here's where I am, where are you, what does that mean?" and this is inviting to me, but once I'm part of them, they quickly move to Push: declaration, challenge, defense. When it happens I can get frustrated, angry, or hurt because I've been promised something that feels collaborative and have been given something that feels competetive, and I am there to share and explore, not to debate.

Now that I have words for it, I can identify that that's why I started Sin Aesthetics, because I wanted to take part in the body of work that's being built, but it allows me (for the most part, though less successfully in the past than it will be in the future) to pull the topics I am interested in, as well as moderate to control the amount of push in the discussion.

Now, to touch the tarbaby (hopefully with some latex gloves) for one second: If I'm right, and boys are socialized to push more often than pull, and there are disproportionately greater numbers of boys in RPG than girls, that means that there is a disproportionate amount of push in forums and games than pull, and that because of that, Pull mode people (be they boys or girls) will always feel less welcomed, less comfortable and less accepted than Push mode people.

Thanks Paul. :)

P.S. If you don't understand and need to see the difference, go to SG and read two threads: A Very Special Gender and Gaming Conversation and Playing Across Gender Lines. When you read them, pay less attention to what is being said than how it is being said, and how the what changes the engagement level of the people involved. See if you can identify who's uses Push Mode and who Pull and how that affects the discussion.

It may not be true for all push threads and pull threads, but the results of each of those threads also goes a long way in explaining why pull is fufilling to me and why push is not.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Teaser Review: C&P

Mike Sands over at Gamester at Large posted a teaser review of Crime and Punishment. Check it out!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Death and Mourning.

This post has been sitting in my pending file for some time, and Chris over at Deep in the Game reminded me that I never finished or posted it.

I remember a time when ending a game was a thing I never looked forward to. I remember, in fact, dysfunctionally digging my heels in hard and resisting it to the bitter, dissatisfied end. Characters are my emotional sockets to the games I play. They are the conduits that funnel my energy into and out of play, and the catalysts which allows me to play hard, right up to the edge, and not get burned. I didn't much trust my GM's to do my characters (or the story) justice in an ending, and that lack of trust was earned in many (but not all) of the games I played.

With the advent of Nar play, where I can push or pull endings of my own instigating, I find myself far more interested in participating in them. I've had a number of big ones over the last couple of years, one of which I talked about over on Fair Game in "The End of the Game", the other was Kika's end that I rambled about in my my push/pull actual play post.

In reflecting on them in recent weeks, I've been musings about character deaths and the preferences of players around them.

I have a friend (who played Dae, the barbarian warrior woman from the that Exalted game) who is adamant when negotiating her social contracts that the possibility of character death is NIL unless the player declares an authorial intention to die. This doesn't stop other players from choosing to receive the grim stabbies, but it means that regardless of her actions in game, her character will not die by any means but by her own out of game declaration.

Now before anybody asserts that this is a dysfunctional, dickweedy, or assy attempt to play without responsibility or consequence I'll pre-empt with this info: I've been playing with this player for about 12 years, and in that time, I don't ever remember a single situation where she spit in the face of death and then refused to die. Despite the fact that I introduced you to her as the player of a warrior, she usually plays social, non-combative characters.

Why the !death rule? Well now, that's a complicated question. I'm not sure I have the answer. I'm not sure she could even tell you herself. I have some theories, though. I may be talking out my ass, here, these are just based on observation and speculation and are not actually from the player herself. She does read this blog though and she's welcome to clarify or expand on anything I put down.

The concept of possibility is very central to her personality. In life, she's not someone who's comfortable with a lot of restrictions. She likes her options open, and she rarely closes doors behind her. She's so taken with possibility that she often finds herself having trouble finishing things. So on one hand, we could make a fair assumption that she doesn't like her characters to die simply because it means the end of the possibility of the character and shutting the door to possibility is fundamentally (as opposed to tangentally) antithetical to who she is.

RPGs are the playground of wish-fulfillment, and this player likes the heck out of that jungle gym. Every character that I remember her playing in has at least some element that the player would aspire to be or have something that the player would like to have (freedom to be uncensored or unfettered, considerable social power), and I suspect that she engages in immersion because (at least in part) it allows her the ability to feel like either she owns the quality (when she would actually aspire to have it) or the freedom to play in the quality tangibly.

There are definately times I do the same thing with my characters. mostly my big spots are confidence and power. I often borrow from my characters the ability to be hotheaded, spontaneous, thrillseeking. I borrow their bravery and courage, their right to live in the world without being morbidly introspective about it.

Is this the manifestation of our imago? Is there a creation and experimentation of the ideal us in the characters we make - even in those that aren't us, or that we don't like? Do we establish our own potential by being in the playground of someone who can, and is this why giving up characters is so difficult for some of us? Do we feel like what we have proven that we can do becomes unowned when a character dies? Do we mourn the loss of that potential when our characters die?

Now for myself, I've discovered that when it come to the end of a character, I actually prefer death as an ending to a living ending, and I had to look at why...

I think that its because unfulfilled possibility is a tragic thing to me, because knowing that there was a character that I'd invested in, that was the locus for such fun is still alive and still out there means that there is still room for exploration, still more to be played. A death means that everything was played out, it means tangible closure. Resolution and reflection are really important to me. I think that when the character dies, I can strike the set like I used to do in theatre and pack the bits and pieces back into me.

Note: I didn't post this so that somebody could start a debate about what's better or worse, or what's functional or not, so don't bother with those. I'm interested in our psychological and emotional attachment to character and to RPG's in general.

Game Chef Hangover

Man I'm tired.

Of course, work would ramp on up the stress the week of Game Chef. I feel like I've been staring at a computer screen for six days solid (oh wait, between work and designing I have). So the game is called Crime & Punishment and it actually got done and sent in on time. Considering that I didn't even really intend to do Game Chef, I think that's pretty good all on it's own.

It's a game built to create procedural dramas in the tradition of Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order CI and Without A Trace. It can also be, I think, pretty competently used for CSI shows, but I don't watch them so I am less sure. We had a playtest last Wednesday, and it was a pretty high-engagement very thinky kinda game, which is to say I had fun, but it felt like an RPG boardgame. I suspect, considering the main theme was time, and the kinds of intervals allowed, that this was one of the intents of the competition.

The thing I find funniest about game design, is that I never try and design the kinds of RPG's that I really enjoy the best. I don't think that's very unusual from what I've been hearing from some other folks. Despite that, I find it pretty strange. I guess I build "T" games cause I'm a "T" person and when performing a design activity, I draw on all my "T" strengths. When I game, I become an "F" person. I'm not sure I know how to "T" my way into designing for and "F".

I'll have to muse on this one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Killing Sinners for Vincent

Over on Fair Game, Vincent Baker and Clinton R Nixon are interviewing each other and Vincent said something that made me blink:

"Nobody I know of has played Dogs and not killed sinners just for sinning."

Now, John Harper at The Mighty Atom has already done this, but I thought I'd throw Jeremiah Wainwright, my first Dogs character into the fray as an example.

Jeremiah's never killed anything, for sin for fun, or for any reason at all. In fact, Jeremiah's got a trait to prove it: "I ain't killed anything my whole life: 1d8."

What's more, Jeremiah's whole premise is about the killing line: what it takes a person to get there and about how much of a man it takes not to cross it before the time comes and how much it takes to make that step when it does.

Through a series of escalating situations that line has been questioned, but the step over has never come. Brand will, eventually, get his ass into gear and run us some more of that campaign (she says, despite the fact that she currently demands 2 other games from him on a regular basis, so is really out of line with that "get his ass in gear comment"), and I am interested in seeing what's the point that Jeremiah might actually have to kill something, or someone, whether or not he'll be able to step up when we get there, and how it will change or destroy him.

There were two particularly memorable moments:

In the town, basically a man's pride in refusing to give his wife children had escalated to a group of women forming a false priesthood, engaging men not their husbands in adulterous acts for the sake of insemination. One of the characters was a mentally challenged wall of a man in his 20's one of those men beguiled by the women. He was angry, and confused, and Jeremiah, knowing August had sinned by fucking his brother's wife, as well as another woman in town, was confronting him to try and get him to understand the error of his ways. Jeremiah talked, August got physical, Jeremiah talked, August got violent, and Jeremiah talked him down, just before things got really really bad for Jeremiah. As it was, he took a lot of fallout from the challenge.

Later, in the moment the murder was coming on, August's mother, a prideful old convert was trying to kill her daughter in law after shooting the Steward who had started the false doctrine in the first place. Jeremiah tried to talk her down, and failing that, escalated to physical (in the face of her gunfire) and managed to eventually make her back down, getting in between her and the muzzle of his fellow Dog's gun. Once again, much fallout, but he never once escalated to violence, never mind gunplay, nevermind killing.

That's not to say he was easy on anyone. People were exiled, their houses were taken, they were put into public service, cut off at their knees in the public's standing.

Brand said afterwards that one of his only dissappointments in the game was, that no matter what he did, he couldn't force Jeremiah tto shoot anybody in the face.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Saurashtra - Actual Pull Play Examples

So. Actual Play.

For the moment I'm going to stick with one particular game, because it's a Nar game, even if it didn't use a good system to support it's Nar (Brand found it a pain in the ass, but frankly, I think it made us innovate), and because, well it's full of examples, and I'm a lazy ass.

Part the first: Kika

There's the (apparently) infamous one that Brand talked about on The Forge, and that is written up here in more story-like style. In this discussion, I'm going to talk about one critical pull transaction, but it will be important later in the blog to discussions about using pull techniques to create satisfying and functional immersion play in Nar games. So if I've referred you here from the future, this is the example I mean. If you're reading this in the present, the previous sentence has nothing to do with the droids you're looking for.

The critical pull, is, of course, the moment that I had Kika set aside her weapons and charms and put herself at the mercy of Jerzom. Over on 20x20 when we were talking about it today, Brand helped to explain that we were in what Polaris calls "freeplay" when I did these things. Brand was all expecting a war, either physical or manipulation-verbal. I did not need a conflict for Jerzom to come to me, I knew he was coming. Brand wasn't sure what I wanted and so he asked what I was trying to accomplish, and I pulled.

In that moment, Kika was the hero I'd always hoped she'd be. I was happy with what she'd become, and nothing that Jerzom did to her was going to change that. I had complete trust in Brand, in the group, and in the story we'd made together. I opened up the space for Brand to fill up. It wasn't a passive move, it wasn't that I didn't care, wasn't engaged or was being passive aggressive. I'd brought it hard in this game for two years. I'd addressed the premise of the game to the fullest extent every step of the way and in the last moment I put her and everything I worked for on the table to be judged, for Brand to come in and tell me what it was that I'd accomplished, to agree with me that this is what the story was all about, and fill up the space I'd given him with everything he wanted Kika and Jerzom and their story, and the story at large to say.

Part the second: Taree

This one is not my character, its one of other players in the game, who played the flawed hero striving to live past his flaw to become a truly noble scion. By this point he had faced off against his family, against the Realm, against himself a lot. Throughout the game, Taree's player pushed and pushed and pushed. He pushed exceedingly well from within the system - he killed everything that came in his way. He told a great story, and this was the end of it:

In his last scene, he faced off against his cousin, possessed by Malefeus, the biggest Yozi of them all. He pushed and pushed, speaking with the Yozi inside his cousin, and it was all really heartbreaking. Finally, he used knives that could suck the souls of their victims driving one into her gut and one into his own. Doing so, he trapped both himself and the Yozi within his body, and at last, he spoke the Rune of Unconquerable Self which, when invoked, kills the user instantly, ending both his life and the Yozi's with him.

Sound like push play? It is. What came next wasn't. Brand pulled Taree's player. He asked him to roll his virtues and gave him the opportunity, for each success he earned, to describe the legacy that his life had brought to the world. Taree's player accepted this, and described several, but what Brand offered him was a wealth of opportunity and a little overwhelming. Rather than just laming off the extras he couldn't think up, or putting anything less than the game deserved, he turned to me and the other player and said: "You tell me. What kind of person has he been? What good or ill has he brought to the world?" and invited us to make strong, lasting statements about what he'd given to the story. He pulled his fellow players to have the last word on who his character had been.

There's a couple.

I'm sure I'll do more as I think of them, but I wanted to get something out.

One more note: I can't say if this has anything to do with the pull examples above, but I think it has a lot to do with the pullish kind of social dynamics that we'd encouraged around the table over the entire duration of the game. Even if it's irrelevant, it's a cool success story about a former Sim junkie in her first Nar game, so I think you'll like it:

The third player played Dae, a barbarian warrior woman who becomes the protector of the civilization she once despised. Her player had real trouble initially in the game with some of the concepts of Nar. She had problems authoring directly to the fiction, thinking of the story in terms of premise, and she had real trouble asserting desires or demands to the GM. At one point in the beginning, she even had brought some notes in on a piece of paper that she gave to Brand with some things she wanted because it made her so uncomfortable to tell him about it, and Taree's player, (her husband) had told her that she must ask for it when they were discussing the previous episode. She even at one point pretended to lose the sheet to stall in giving it to him (though this may have been done comically). She's definitely never been a particularly push player.

In her last scene, she realized in a fight with the Ebon Dragon, that she couldn't kill him, and he couldn't kill her, and that they couldn't exhaust each other. The fight would be endless, her life filled with nothing but the endless, un-winnable war. In the entire two years of the campaign, the character had never walked away from a fight. She had only ever lost two fights, and those were when she was beaten so badly she really had no choice. She had to choose between letting him go free or giving up any chance at happiness, or a life. She chose life.

At the end of the game, all of our final scenes had ended, it had been brutal and beautiful and brilliant. Brand said "I think that's it, unless there's something else you need?" and (which, come to think of it, can be seen as a pull, considering where we were and how open it was, and what came of it.) Dae's player, who had had such a problem asserting narrative desire, nevermind narrative control didn't tell Brand what she wanted, she just started to narrate, giving the story the denouement that she needed it to have, that frankly, we all needed it to have and that none of us, Taree's player, Brand or I could have given at that time.

Neat huh?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pull Clarification and Promises! Promises!

Brand said something in the post over on anyway that I'm really rather thankful for:

For now, let me say that one of the things I think is going on is that everyone in the discussion is talking about pull/push on different levels. Mo was talking about it at the social level, as a rhetorical stance that people take towards the power dynamic of game. It then quickly moved into discussion of techniques and ephemera that enable such a stance, and from there into the underlying logic of game theory.

This is absolutely true. I see now where I might have contributed to the confusion between the elements up there. You see, I'm not used to talking to y'all. When something pours out of my head at Brand, where they always invariably go, he gets it, and I don't have to make strict delineations. I see why the bigger forum needs them. I might not always use your lingo, cause quite frankly it's hard to get a hold of. From what I've seen there's a lot of internal debate about the naming of things too, you can just imagine what it's like when you're just looking in the window. I hope that doesn't make you walk away - after all, just because somebody speaks a different language doesn't mean they don't have good ideas.

For the record, I am interested in a lot of things about pull:

1.) I am interested in it at the social level as a viable alternative to, or married partner of push.
2.) I am interested in (some, not all) pull techniques as viable immersionist methods -- both mechanical and social level -- that may create better harmony, by providing more active, less immersion-destructive forms of authoring characters to meet the needs of the story, game or social contract.
3.) I am interested in examining current games to identify mechanics that support pull or push play, and see how using those mechanics feel different from each other.
4.) I would like to see more mechanics that support pull play in games in general to create a better balance, support those who prefer it over, or like it along with their push play. I am interested in talking about ways to accomplish this.
5.) I'm curious about the concept of seeing if an all-pull game is possible, and finding out if I'd like it or not (I suspect it would probably be not, but not as much as I would an all-push) Note: I'm not at all claiming to have the foggiest idea what an all-pull game would look like or contain, so don't rag me on it until I give some indication that I think I do.

In the previous post, I was introducing #1 in the hopes of moving toward #2 in my next post and hopefully #3-5, down the line if people were interested. - well, I think I got my answer there.

So, to that end, I'm going to start fresh tomorrow after work, and see if I can get down my next intended post that will discuss some Actual Play examples that I think are indicative of the potential of pull and talk about their effects on the games they were in.

In the meantime, go check out Brand's post: Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down. That should keep the discussion rolling along.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Push vs. Pull

I think it's called Indian Wrestling, at least I'm pretty sure that's what we called it as kids. You face your opponent, right leg forward, left leg back, your inside right foot touching your opponent's inside right foot. You clasp your right hands together like you are about to arm wrestle, and count off. At go, you try your damnedest to throw the other person off balance. The player still standing at the end is the winner.

That game, minus the winning or losing bit, summarizes my internal picture of the process of playing an RPG. Mostly I am referring to the process between the player and the GM. Instead of the winning, the point of the game is to throw or tug each other as off balance as possible without making anybody fall down. The up and down and side-to-side, near fall and save is the story. The harder we both work to drive each other off balance but still keep each other safe and on our feet, the better the story will be. So. That movement, dynamic, fluid, always connected, in endless struggle, rife with moments of certain failure and gasps of almost victory, is how I feel about RPGs when they are at their very best.

Are you with me? Good.

Now, some people are better at the game than others. My cousin who introduced me to the game seemed like the King of Indian Wrestling. He was three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than I was. For two or three consecutive years he whupped my ass at it. Because we lived nowhere near each other but have cottages on the same street, we only ever got to play it in the summer. Every year he was still three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than me. Every game ran through the same process: he gloated his advantage, let me have a full swing at trying to push him off kilter, him neatly resisting my charge, him rubbing it in verbally, and then slowly, exerting his superior strength to force me backwards, out of my field of gravity, and on to the floor.

I was a stubborn and optimistic kid. I never gave up. Eventually I figured out the knack. It's easy to look at that game and think that strength and power is the road to victory, but as I got older and my body coordination and lateral thinking skills improved, I realized that if I couldn't out-force my opponent, I could try and outbalance him. Over the course of the next summer, I probably didn't take his King's crown away from him, but I enjoyed the game hell of a lot more once the playing field evened out. He would wait, I would wait, he would nudge, I would nudge, he would push I would push, he would push, I would drop my centre of gravity and pull, taking him to the floor. It was a lesson years later that I would be re-taught in Judo.

It's a lesson that over the years I applied to a lot of things. Push never has been my thing. When Brand first started "going on" about Narrativism, I was very worried. I had finally managed to import my very own GM from California, and had just gotten him to a place where I could command he do my bidding, when he started talking about something that really didn't sound like fun. The GM's whole job is to push, he said, and players push back, and as a result of all that pushing, conflict, choices and stories come to be! To me, it sounded a whole lot like schoolyard bullies and football field chest thumping - frankly, it sounded stressful. So I went to the Forge, and I read a lot, and could understand why the Narrativism Brand was talking about had grown out of it. Even when just talking about the ideas of Narrativism, people on the Forge love to push each other around.

Now, I'm not saying the Forge is a bad, terrible place that no one should bother with. If you're a pusher, you'll probably find your niche there. I'm not a pusher, I 'm a puller, and that means that the style of discourse on the Forge, and the style of discourse in many Nar games is really not for me. I'm not Forge diaspora adrift in the blogsphere, I'm just a girl that thought she could open the discussion a little wider, and couldn't find her place at the Forge.

So what is pull? It's the act of creating space that something can fall into. It's the act of pulling yourself back to allow another to step in. It's collaborative play rather than competitive play.

Lets take a look at both:

Dust Devils and Nine Worlds (not to pick on Matt Snyder here, it's just that I have been thinking about Nine Worlds since our not-so-successful experiment this past weekend) are very much Push games. A mechanic in them that illustrates this very neatly is that when you win a conflict you win narration rights, which give you the authority to push anything in the game.

GM: You're going to the Saturn Palace to retrieve the Oracle of Poseidon, but you know the chimera is in the area and hunting for you.
Player: I can deal with the chimera, I want a conflict to overcome it.
GM: OK, Let's go.
(Cards are pulled, Player wins the conflict.)
Player: The chimera does spot us, and attacks, but I use the magical words that Hecate taught me to bind the chimera to my will, so that when we get to the palace, it fights with us.

That's a push conflict. The player has taken it from the GM's conceived scene of a Han Solo on the Death Star variety and pushed it by enforcing his will on the game. Lots of people, such as Brand, love push conflicts, which is why so many games have these kind of mechanics. There's nothing wrong with push conflicts… unless you're a puller and not comfortable with them.

In contrast, Breaking the Ice has many pull elements:

In Breaking the Ice, you must please the other player, rather than beat the other character to get bonus dice to make attraction happen. You must be willing and open to step back and let another player please you so you can grant the dice because your granting dice allows the other player to try to and attract you. It's collaborative. An especially good example of a pull is the mechanic for Complication:

Player 1: OK, my dice hate me.
Player 2: I guess I do too.
Player 1: No, lets see here, it's the end of the night, things have been going only fairly and Mark has walked you to your door. He tries to tell you he had a good time, but the words just stammer out. He flushes deeply red in a hot embarrassment and turns to go, but at the last moment, screws his courage to the sticking place and kisses you.
Player 2: That's sweet! You get a re-roll.

Rather by making yourself more aggressive, you make yourself more fallible to win. You don't get to push on the rule. You can't make the other player give you the re-roll, you can only please them enough to make them want to give it to you. Similarly, the other player can tempt you to let them contribute to your story by making suggestions and offering bonus dice, but they can't force it to happen. They have to pull you to pull them to put your ideas in play.

The first is like a boxing match, the second like a ballroom dance.

I think it's important to notice that the first game is created by a male designer and the second by a female designer. I'm not saying that one game is male domain and one is female. That'd be a stupid thing to say. I can't help but think though that this fact has some relevance based on the different ways that boys and girls are socialized. What we are talking about here is the ways in which we are skilled in dealing with conflict resolution. I'm a very strong woman who was raised by a very strong woman who taught me to stand up and represent myself when the situation called for it, and as Brand can attest, when aggression is called for (heh, when push comes to shove), I can call it on in spades. But my preferred method of approaching conflict resolution is by negotiation, approach and collaborative effort. I was taught that, most girls I know were too.

This doesn't mean that there aren't women out there who love to get their push on. Of course there are, and perhaps that too is a reaction against - a pushing past - socialization. Conversely, there are guys out there that would land in the middle of a primary pull game and relax for the first time ever because pushing is not really their thing. Neither is weak or strong, neither is good or bad, neither is only for men or only for women, they are just preferences, or skills, or safe space in playing a game.

Maybe, just maybe (positing not declaring here) push vs. pull is (one of) the answer(s) to the age old question: why don't more girls game? I do think that it is one of the primary reasons most girls don't come to the Forge.

Anyway, enough for tonight.

Next up: Pull in Practical Application.
p.s. Read this to Brand and he reminded me: Please don't mistake Pulling for passive or aimless play. It is a conscious, deliberate act on my part to encourage the story to become more dynamic and create more drama. I'll get into the hows of it later.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Stance Crap and Authorial Intent.

I'm going to say something very unpopular. Ready?

Actor stance and Author Stance are different names for what are two streams of the same authorial act and only really exist to explain and define each other. They are NOT different things.

OK. Disclaimer time. I am talking the only way that anybody can with any degree of certainty: out the framework of my own experience. While my experience is varied and diverse, it is decidedly west of the pond. I know that there are freeform LARPers and experimental gamers that will fight me tooth and nail on this - and perhaps rightly so. I'm willing to admit that I don't know what that is like and so can not really test the idea. I let y'all fight it out among yourselves.

With that in mind, I think this is the way, and the only way that Actor stance exists: In an old 7th Sea campaign. I had a character Livia who had fallen in love with two different men. She was extremely conflicted about it, and when it came down to having to make a decision, had a terrible time choosing between them. All the while, I as a player, knew that she was going to end up with Fortuno, because damn it, he's one mofo sexy rogue, and me? I'm a complete sucker for a mofo sexy rogue. The latter is, of course my author stance and the former my actor stance.

That statement up there about Livia feeling conflicted is something that I have made up, because the character is fictional. I've come to the statement through a very different process than the statement about the mofo sexy rogue, but it's still something that I have constructed, made decisions about and chosen. Giving it the name Actor Stance only helps delineate it as a parallel thought process that is occurring in my head beside the one about the sexy mofo rogue. The terms "Actor Stance" and "Author Stance" is a tool that helps me clarify to the listener that I feel or think two divisive things about one situation.

Now, say in the same situation, I did not think or feel two divisive things. Say, Livia, my character was just as clear about choosing of Fortuno at the time as I, Mo, was about what she should do. Then the terms "Actor Stance" and Author Stance" is used, again, as a tool to illustrate something: of course being that there is no disparity between the thought processes

The problem arises when we talk about Actor Stance and Author Stance as if they are not related, or as not products of one single source (my brain). Actor Stance does not exist separately from me, it is a product of me, just like Author Stance is. If I talk about what Livia thinks as if it is divorced from my self, then I am creating a fallacy. I created the character, I have made choices about the way she has pushed and pulled on the world and about how these events have changed her. I own her, and her process is a part of me.

Still with me, even if you do or don't like it? Good… I'm going somewhere.

There's an old argument that's been going on between Nar GM's and Players that have come to Nar games (particularly Immersionists), that says that the Players don't Author, and that is destructive to the story. The converse is often thrown back that Nar games destroy the immersion process (or socket character enjoyment ) by either demanding authorship and bring the immersionist out of the immersive seat or meddling with the "integrity" of the character. Neither of these statements is necessarily true.

Here's the situation:

It's a super heroes game. The Player has expressed a strong, Author Stance desire to meet Superman, but has never expressed such a desire in Actor Stance. The GM is putting the opportunity on the table.

GM: OK, So you hear that Superman is in Metropolis.
Player: OK.
GM: Are you going to go?
Player: No.
GM: But you want to see him meet Superman, right?
Player: Yeah, but John has no reason to go to Metropolis.
GM: Come on, just make him go. You never author your character!!

Everybody's frustrated.

Here's what's happening. There are three Author Stance statements that the Player is saying. Only one is articulated in a way the GM is understanding.

1.) I think it would be cool for the character to meet Superman, (for whatever reason) and I would like that to happen. The GM has obviously heard this quite clearly.
2.) It is important to me for the character to feel "organic", or play naturally. This may have been an articulated statement at one time, but it's not clear to the GM at the moment, or is not valued by the GM at all.
3.) Because of 2, I need you to give me reason in game to go and fulfill my desire.

There are also a few things the player is misunderstanding:

1.) "Authoring your character" in this case has relatively little to do with authoring or with author stance. The player has authored, and employed author stance by declaring a desire to meet Superman. What the GM is actually saying is: "It's not my job to change your Actor Stance to meet your Author Stance. This is a Narrativist Game. Employ your Director Stance to insert a reason to go to Metropolis.
2.) In many games, the "organic" declaration is stated frequently by the Player, but is not heard by the GM as an Authoring Statement. Instead it's heard best as a statement of enjoyment of the game, at worst, an episode of MyGuyism. All too frequently it's just ignored, which makes the player feel like the statement has been made and accepted, and therefore should be respected.

How do you fix it? Social Contract of course. If there is a strong, crystal clear directive at the beginning of the game, everyone has expectations down: "There may be times for you in the game to change the way your character thinks or feels or acts for the good of the story. If that situation arises you are responsible to change those things in a direction more friendly to the game, and to find your own means of accomplishing this, either by simply changing your character's mind or by employing your Director Stance in a way that is acceptable to the GM." Players with any experience in trad games at all have been enculturated to:

1.) Express all desires in Actor Stance,
2.) Abandon any hope of control over the setting,
3.) Just enjoy the ride via the character and
4.) STFU Newb, I'm the GM.

Therefore, if the social contract does not expressly re-negotiate it, this will end up as the unexamined default, and everything will run amok..

Up next: Push vs. Pull