The Function of System

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Bret

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The Function of System
« on: November 04, 2010, 03:19:58 PM »
Don't get mad at me for asking this. It's not a trap. I don't have an answer.

What is system for?

This is probably already answered somewhere in diagrams or essays. If I am being uselessly vague let me know and I'll think about what I'm asking. It is kind of abstract though.
Tupacalypse World

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lumpley

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Re: The Function of System
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2010, 04:08:01 PM »
Here's how I've answered this before.

Answer 1, the so-called Lumpley Principle:
How does your group decide what happens in the game? However you do it, that's your system.

Answer 2, about practical game design:
A game's rules coordinate (1) the real-world interactions of the players with (2) the stuff in the game's fiction. What should I contribute, and how should I treat others' contributions?

Answer 3, about the goal of game design:
The only worthwhile use for rules I know of is to sustain in-game conflict of interest, in the face of the overwhelming unity of interest of the players.

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lumpley

  • 1293
Re: The Function of System
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2010, 04:14:04 PM »
Oops, hit submit.

Are you looking for new answers, Bret? These are my answers, but I have no idea how good or general they are, or if there aren't better.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2010, 04:16:10 PM »
This is what I think, but possibly I don't understand your question.

System is the process by which we agree that things happened "in the game".

If you're doing a thing where there's an imaginary world, and more than one person is contributing to that imaginary world, and you can still all agree, more-or-less, on what's going on in that world, then you have a system. That system might be "Everyone says what they like, and we all agree".

So, we have a system because if we don't have a system then we're not doing a thing.

But maybe your question was actually more like:

"Why do we have an explicit system?"

In which case the answer is because then we can spend more time contributing to our imaginary world, and less time arguing about what's in and what's not, or at least, our arguments have some kind of common ground.

Or, your question could be :

"Why do we have this specific system?"

Which is an interesting question. I think it's because:
a) it provokes us to create an imaginary world, with imaginary events, that we find compelling.
b) it lets us focus on the aspects of that imaginary world that we're interested in, and doesn't make us have to care about the parts we're not.
c) the system establishes a power and authority structure that suits the existing hierarchy of our social group.

But all of those are missing what I think is most important about system, which is allowing us to maintain fictional conflicts of interest while sustaining out-of-game shared interests.

Crossposted!

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noofy

  • 777
Re: The Function of System
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2010, 07:00:01 PM »
I've been thinking about this alot too Bret, in lieu of designing my own story game, taking a lot of Vx's designs as very good examples of thoughtful systems that maintain conflicts of interest within the game (fiction) and engender a synergy of thought and pleasure (within the group at the table) on the process of roleplaying itself.

I think system is a lens or structure that focuses disparate creative ideas and postulations on the broad concept of roleplay, places them within a ruleset that atempts to codify these postulations and allows for a written, referenced authority to adhere to (or hack mercilessly!)

To my emergent thinking, in order to answer the question (as Vx & Simon have) to what system is for? I would add that it helps to think what system is capable of providing? Or as thousands of published RPGs testify, what level of authority can any given explicit system give to the process of roleplaying as a fun, social, communicative pastime?

System can:
Provide a construct for a social activity, namely: roleplaying
Determine and outline roles within this construct
Suggest, imply or dictate the Creative Agenda
Infer or determine setting / character / conflict
Encapsulate particular 'roleplaying' design concepts (often commonly held givens)
Explicity detail randomizing elements to the narrative decision making process
Detail specific processes to initiate, escalate and rescolve conflicts either at the table or in the fiction.

Now this is broadly generalised, and you could add further levels of pedantry and rulesmongery... But the need -I think - for system in the roleplaying pastime is that it provides an agreed upon set of guidelines prior to play that (even if you prefer another set of guidelines!) allow the group to - As simon points out - spend time less time arguing over the contributions to the collaborative activity, and more time contributing itself.

Because they are often written down, playtested, and authoritative; system rulesets facilitate a directive stance to play the game as written (rather than talked about or discussed). In this sense, system can give credence to engendering a certain 'style' or 'type' of roleplay, which may or may not resonate with the group attempting to play with that system.

So as I delve deeper into the convoluted and multi-layered phenomenon that is 'roleplaying', I would put forward that the function of the  system is a carefully designed social construct of play 'behaviour' to achieve a particular manifestation of roleplay as envisioned by the designer(s). Does this work for your group? Does any one system give them what they want out of roleplaying? Well, I guess you just have to play it for yourself.

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Bret

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Re: The Function of System
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2010, 09:57:55 PM »
Hey Vincent,

I am looking for those answers, the ones you gave! I like the first two. The third I think needs expanding or deconstructing maybe, but mainly I felt like something was missing from my noodling over games and design and I figured this was territory that had been tread before.

Simon,

My question was more like "What is a system supposed to do?? Which I think is something that I can pull out of the answer to your last question: provoke us to create an imaginary world, let us focus on aspects of that imaginary world, and divide authority.

Noofy,

I am doing this for design reasons too. I've designed a bunch of games, and only one of them worked, and I cannot figure out why it worked and the others didn't. And I realized I was missing a fundamental in that I was designing a system in this weird way without thinking about what a system, any system for any game, is supposed to do. I was designing them randomly and with the goal of being a game about X instead of designing it as a system.
Tupacalypse World

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noofy

  • 777
Re: The Function of System
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2010, 09:50:33 PM »
Awesome Bret!
So I guess you have a handle on what system is for? The next big design choice is what kind of roleplaying game to you feel passionately about to dedicate blood sweat and tears to create? Is the impetus a particular roleplaying agenda, a novel setting or character generation or some cool resolution mechanic?

PM me if you want to (or not) nut out some of the ideas / concepts I'm having and the roadblocks that natuarlly occur!

Good luck with your game!

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2010, 05:21:15 PM »
Bret,

I am following you!

I think "provoke" is a really useful word to use about systems. It's about how the way you introduce stuff to the fiction shapes what you introduce to the fiction. Like, to use a crude example, a system that has really deadly rules for guns is going to have less gunfights than one where guns aren't so deadly (but maybe more than one where gunfights never kill anyone).

When you're designing a system, you're really designing the fiction you want the game to provoke.

Like, for my Conan hack, I made a move for the Slave playbook that is "when someone is touching you (or you're touching them), they roll at +1." The effect of that move is to make it matter where the slave is, to make people describe the slave being handled, touched, carried around.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2010, 02:02:16 PM »
So I like systems that provoke fiction that's not only guided in some way but, more importantly, useful. Or actionable. I haven't really figured out the best word for it.

See, when I'm at the table and it's my turn to say something, Apocalypse World gives me things to say. This requires two things, though: moves and moving pieces. So the moves alone are great but not sufficient, I also need pieces (NPCs, factions, relationships, feelings, details of the fictional environment...) to move. Apocalypse World does a great job in many ways of providing these pieces (I.e., the actionable fiction) through the setup and moves. The Hx questions in the playbooks, more than establishing some number, give players bits and pieces of fiction to work with (again, NPCs, relationships, memories...). Reading a sitch provides reliably actionable fiction. Deep brain scan does. Many of the moves are great at this. Creating Fronts is exactly this. (So are town creation in Dogs and oracles in IAWA; but neither of those games does this as well during actual play, with Dogs' raise and sees requiring it but not providing near as much specific help as AW).

I'm going to point out, too, that I personally could use a little more from AW in the initial setup. "Ask questions like crazy" and "look for where they are vulnerable" are good starts, but more specific questions would, for me, provide more reliably actionable fictional pieces. AW can definitely do this with its default assumption of scarcity, for example, by asking about the various sources of resources, who holds them, and at what price or danger. I mostly point this out because I feel that a more thorough setup could have helped my (greaat) current AW game be even better.

I was thinking about this while reading Monsterhearts, because I think those initial questions will be different for each hack. But also, hacks should make sure that their moves provide good moving pieces/actionable fiction for the game to keep rolling on.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2010, 02:51:45 PM »
I'm going to point out, too, that I personally could use a little more from AW in the initial setup. "Ask questions like crazy" and "look for where they are vulnerable" are good starts, but more specific questions would, for me, provide more reliably actionable fictional pieces. AW can definitely do this with its default assumption of scarcity, for example, by asking about the various sources of resources, who holds them, and at what price or danger. I mostly point this out because I feel that a more thorough setup could have helped my (greaat) current AW game be even better.

That's a really good point that matches my experience. I'd definitely do things differently the next time around. My game is very good, but I think a few things done different at the start could have made it even better. Specifically, focusing more on resource sources, establishing more links between the characters and NPCs, and reducing the number of NPCs in the game. That advice is all in the book, but I think I didn't have the knowledge required to really make that happen at the time.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2010, 01:37:40 PM »
Well, my experience also matches up with feeling like there was something lacking from my first session(s). Thinking about, I realized that when things went 'well' was when opening of session moves provided trouble to work with. I know that you want to get to know the characters and their situation before really diving into the conflicts, but the first session advice even says not to have any stable status quos. Perhaps it was my weak MC-fu, but I found it *much* harder to follow that advice without some mechanical help (like having a want or shortage or something from a convenient start of session move). In other words, the situation was not untenable enough, and without that, it was hard to figure out what the characters were passionate about, and that made it hard to generate the proper sort of untenable situations, and so on in a loop. With really invested players used to pushing for their own character's desires and agendas, I think the first session advice/rules are plenty, but for a group newer to this sort of thing, some further procedural help might be useful.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2010, 04:49:14 PM »
I know that you want to get to know the characters and their situation before really diving into the conflicts, but the first session advice even says not to have any stable status quos. Perhaps it was my weak MC-fu, but I found it *much* harder to follow that advice without some mechanical help (like having a want or shortage or something from a convenient start of session move).

I find most of the good stuff comes from "Ask questions like crazy" - which is true even in subsequent sessions. Springboarding off character creation is a start. But, then the real setup is asking questions imo.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2010, 10:20:44 PM »
I find most of the good stuff comes from "Ask questions like crazy" - which is true even in subsequent sessions. Springboarding off character creation is a start. But, then the real setup is asking questions imo.

I agree! Most of my most useful stuff came from that technique. On the other hand, when I started a game with some other players, even my best attempts at being as provocative as possible, at getting to the nitty gritty of what makes a character go, what makes him or her vulnerable, et cetera, I'd be answered with more generic world building answers or responses like "Well, I don't really know, that depends what the world is like". I'd respond "that's what we're figuring out! I just gave you permission to decide!" but it went against some trad game instincts and was of somewhat limited success.

On the other hand, in the second session of that particular game, some MC love letters got the players into the spirit a little more, and we had some juicy inter-PC conflicts of interest and genuine motivations to play with. I essentially said "I want to make sure I have the mechanical effects of a mixed success or failed beginning of session move" since the only beginning of session move I had to play with was the operator's, and my operator's player is extremely conservative (he'll only ever take 1 gig so that he minimizes the possibility of any gigs becoming catastrophes).

To bring this back around to more general system-theory discussion and not just talk about some AP, I agree with what was said earlier in the thread about the role of system in provoking interesting conflicts and situations and reconciling character conflict of interest with player unity of interest. I think since AW's tools for this are so flexible and "toolkit" like, they work better once you have specific material to work with. By way of contrast, IAWA gives some very specific situation material with implied conflicts built in via system, and so it's quite easy to jump right into the face stabbing and sexing and so forth. The broader, "use it the way you need it" MC rules of AW are probably more widely useful for rich, meaningful conflict and play, but take either a) highly motivated players willing to provide lots of the "moving pieces" (to use Christian's term from earlier) or b) more time to flesh out and generate those "moving pieces".

To support that, I'd point to my recent experience with creating "formal" threats and fronts. I had only MCed first sessions/one offs up until recently, and actually sitting down and cooking up threats and fronts did *a lot* to help me figure out how to push the interesting situations, so that's a great system tool. But for me at least, I needed the raw material (the NPCs, some things that had happened in the first session, revealed ares of inter-PC tension to push on) to go with them. To be fair, AW tells you that it works best as a campaign game, so I can't gripe too much about the lower amount of hand holding for game-start initial situation generation.

Re: The Function of System
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2010, 10:53:50 PM »
I agree! Most of my most useful stuff came from that technique. On the other hand, when I started a game with some other players, even my best attempts at being as provocative as possible, at getting to the nitty gritty of what makes a character go, what makes him or her vulnerable, et cetera, I'd be answered with more generic world building answers or responses like "Well, I don't really know, that depends what the world is like". I'd respond "that's what we're figuring out! I just gave you permission to decide!" but it went against some trad game instincts and was of somewhat limited success.

On the other hand, in the second session of that particular game, some MC love letters got the players into the spirit a little more, and we had some juicy inter-PC conflicts of interest and genuine motivations to play with.

Just wanted to comment on this, because I've seen it too with what we might call "traditional" players or players not comfortable with narrative authority as players and not GM.

The best advice I've seen is to give them a choice once they've turned down the first option to say whatever they want.

"Hey Keeler, what's your gang like?"
"Fuck if I know. They're NPCs right?"
“Well, would you say that your gang is more a gang of enforcers, more a hunting
pack, or more a bunch of sybarites?”