Thursday, November 20, 2014

Plan for Doing

Yesterday, I outlined some of the issues with digging deeper into world mechanics, and received this comment from Timothy Vaughn.  In an effort to be helpful and save work, he suggested doing part of the work in order to cut down the amount of work:

". . . instead of detailing every job, you'd only need to provide reasonable guidelines for a DM to break down a job into these characteristics on the fly."

I am not writing this post to spank Timothy for this suggestion - it is perfectly understandable.  We have only so much time, we can't waste all of it describing what job the exchequer does in the kingdom, so do the job at 50% of the quality and have done with it.

I'm anxious to explain the ills and failings of this sort of approach where making a game for other people is concerned.  Whereas yes, it does help make my life easier, what exactly does it do for the players?  How has it changed their perception of both opportunities and fun to be had?

My first efforts at the sage tables, made about seven years ago (older than this blog), were limited in a number of ways - partly from how I expected them to be useful (merely as an informational conduit to support players), but also because I had yet to make certain connections about the potential for this game.  Through thousands of comments and hundreds of posts - and a few flame wars - I have changed my position on a number of things.  The research leading to the writing of How to Run was a complete overhaul and re-evaluation of role-playing for me.  And now I am finding myself astounded at the depth and potential for these sage tables.

Not only do they offer 'skills' for the players, but choices for role-play, things for the players to DO, routes to take in order to invent their characters and develop their imaginations.  I don't just want the sage abilities (and the additional rules associated with them) to fill in gaps like so much wet plaster and rags used to plug a drafty hole.

Timothy's suggestion works if what we expect to happen is the player to get the idea on their own and then approach the DM.  It is a 'just-in-case' solution, the sort of thing we set up ahead of time so that we're ready if the player takes it into their head to do something weird.  That's not my proposition at all.

I want the rules to INSPIRE the players, to blow their minds and produce the response, "Shit, that is kewl!  I'd like to try that!"  This is the whole purpose for making the rules openly and posting them on the wiki - to encourage players to recognize there's more to the game than what their peculiar DM lets them do.  Nothing would make me happier than to hear of a player that approached a DM with my wiki and the argument, "I'd like to try this.  Here are rules to cover it."

At this point, I'd like to side-step here and talk about something related.  Please bear with me.

There are two categories of fame.  Both have nuances, manifestations and degrees, but fundamentally the division between the two is clear cut and undeniable.

The first category of fame is that which other people give you.  Usually, because it's recognized you have some sort of talent, but not always.  Often, all you need is a quality that can be sold.  The benefits to you, aside from the money you're given, is a chance to experience a world that most never will, to see things and meet extraordinary people, while receiving gratuitous, unconditional love from thousands or perhaps millions of people.  The downside is that you're more or less owned by other people, who will insist that you perform as desired with respect to their ideas about promotion, their ideas about performance and their ideas about moral responsibility.  This is supported by the danger that these other people will one day drop you, so that the people who once cared about you will later think, "I wonder what ever happened to . . .?"  Worse, you'll find yourself sliding down into normal life, where a few people will recognize you for something that you've now come to realize was never deserved - except that you won some weird sort of lotto.

The other category of fame is quite different.  This is fame that no one can take away, because the person that gave it to you was you.

At the beginning of Richard Dawkins re-release of the Selfish Gene in the early 1990s, he speaks about the strange way that everything else he had written since the original publication in 1976 was curiously overlooked by fans.  These would appear at his readings, say a few nice things about his new book, then produce the Selfish Gene for signing.  At the time, of course, he had no idea that he would later write a book that would make his original 'fame' pale in comparison, The God Delusion.

We can safely include Dawkins in the second category of fame.  Whatever happens, Dawkins will remain famous until his death and for a long time after.  It does not matter if he ever gives a lecture again or goes on tour, or takes part in any promotional activity whatsoever regarding his own notariety.

The same can be said for many people who were once under someone's thumb, but who in the long run proved to be too talented or effective or meritorious to remain that way forever.  Eventually, it doesn't matter if they make a bad film, get caught having sex on film or scream about Jews in a parking lot . . . famously or infamously, there's forever the possibility that they will simply pull themselves together, approach a few people with money on the basis of their ability and produce another film or project.  Whereupon people will pay to see them.

Look at Sylvester Stallone's recent reappearance on the scene after a long absence.  Sure, he's a muscle-bound mass of sinew with a dopey grin, but he holds an interest for enough people based on his previous record.  People will pay to see him.

What is the difference between one category of fame and the other?  I promise you, it isn't talent. Talent will convince others you have something to sell, but in the long run if you have personality problems and a poor work-ethic, you'll get dropped - and hard.  It's worse if you're looking to establish the sort of fame that you own yourself, since that's a situation where no one else will do the work for you.  The onus for setting up the date and getting there and delivering, time and again, is on you - else it doesn't happen.

It's work that gives you a chance at succeeding, not talent.  But it has to be the sort of work that serves to make you useful - as entertainment, as insight, as a rainmaker or what have you.

The grand halls of fame aside, this is true for you as a person, too.  A DM is 'famous' in a very small venue - just a few participants, who are there to show up for every running based upon how useful you are to them.  Your usefulness is based upon how much work you're willing to do - not work for yourself, but work for them.  If, when you sit down to work, you don't have that clear in your mind - that you're working for the approval of other people - then you might just as well not work at all.

This is the reason why many readers read yesterday's post and did not even imagine doing as much work as Timothy suggested.  They don't feel that the game deserves any work - because as DMs, they think the game is about them and their control issues.  Timothy, at least, is prepared to make concessions to support the fanbase . . . but so far, those concessions only amount to contingency plans.

I ask you, Timothy - and others as well, reading this - to go more than half way.  Don't just plan for your players in case they do something.  Plan for your players so that they WILL do something.  Make every facet of your game follow that principle.  Work to achieve it.


Anonymous said...

Following from Timothy Vaughan's comment and my own to the previous post, we must recognize that this ruleset (as you develop it) is particular only to your setting, it cannot be useful to us except as a template for writing the rules to define our own settings.

I have recently read an article on Elon Musk's dread of Killer AI. The algorithm you're proposing seems like a good stepping stone toward a Protocol Droid.

Timothy Vaughan said...

Interesting, I hadn't thought of rules-as-inspiration before.

It might be insufficient to just provide a system for describing jobs and just walk away, but it wouldn't be hard to extend from there.

Breaking down what base aspects of political office are most important to the players can serve as a handy outline, and help with some of the combinatorial explosiveness of the problem. Once you've got a base set of characteristics, you can go through each job, assigning them to create brief outlines of each. Then flesh them out, perhaps preserving the keywords as useful information tags for players and other DMs.

A generalized way of describing jobs could be useful to other DMs, or to you, in the future, making other tables.