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Realism and klokkverk

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Realism and klokkverk

Elsewhere, Dereel wrote:

I want to add a bit about Realism, as it is often lost in english translation and this muddles all discussions about Simulation. Klokwerk for instance, cares about ontological realism : that the fabric is "there", palpable, autonomously existent. Whereas a physics simulator wants to "feel" realistic, and it's totally OK if it's only make believe, if the feeling is right. I suspect that the near hegemony of aesthetic realism in US narrative production (and the near hegemony of US cinema in the world) makes it a "blind spot" to many. And don't start me on "gritty realistic" RPGs..

In philosophy, realism means that something is taken to actually exist. For example, Platon's theory of ideas is a realist theory, since the idea of, for example, a lion, would be taken to really exist. One should take note that a realist theory in this sense does not have to be realistic in any other sense of the word. I am using the word in the philosophical sense, here. It has nothing to do with calculating ballistics or having detailed rules or corresponding to reality or promoting immersion.

Here is my claim: Klokkverk is a realist philosophy of gaming, particularly with respect to the fiction.
On the other hand, no myth is an antirealist philosophy of gaming.

Klokkverk is realist because it takes the fiction as real, in the sense that it is meaningful to claim things about the fiction and they can be right or wrong; much as we can discuss the colour of Donald Duck's car. This does not mean that there has to be a parallel reality with elves and dragons and Donald Ducks (that would be an utter strawman); but still, reality in some sense. It has been a long time since I have read metaphysics or ontology, but at least I can mention that similar different levels of reality are present in Popper's three worlds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popper's_three_worlds
Further than this, the players, and the referee to the extent possible, also treat the fiction as something really existing. It is bad form to do otherwise.

No myth is antirealist in the sense that it explicitly takes the fiction as something that is only there to the extent we see it. The players treat the fiction as something they manipulate and create at their immediate whims.

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exactly this

I can't say otherwise because I agree with that.

Only this :
You can start with "no myth" / unreal and build the myth at the table and then it's really "no info dump" X "élément of mythic play". That's what we do when we have a player chronicling a session : is only real what is said at the table. And what is said is usually true.

Or you keep it no myth / unreal, and only then is the term "whims" really appropriate : events happen, but it's all just water under the bridge, a dream inside a dream. In a way, that's what "pulp" means to me.

I am not making a point of these distinctions. I am using the concept of philosophical realism to demonstrate it's limits and usefulness. I find it clear and easy to use : what do you think ?

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Please offer a definition of "no-myth"

Hi Thanuir,

If you would be so kind, would you please offer a "working" definition of "no-myth" play. Given my strong entanglement with per-literate oral tradition myth I'm having all sorts of reactions to what you are saying. Rather than thrash at straw men a concise, or as concise as possible, definition of "no-myth" role-play would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Jay

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definition of No Myth

Not to speak for Thanuir if he has a different formulation in mind, but via Google I turned the following definitions that seemed fairly clear:

From the second link, the "myth" referred to "is the idea that things in the game world that the players don't know about have some kind of 'place' or 'existence' or 'identity.'" Based on the discussions on Story-Games we might also phrase it as "no hidden game state" or (using everyone's favourite technical term) "no blorb".

I don't think it is referring to myth or mythology in the anthropological or literary sense, except perhaps indirectly.

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Agreement

Or you keep it no myth / unreal, and only then is the term "whims" really appropriate : events happen, but it's all just water under the bridge, a dream inside a dream. In a way, that's what "pulp" means to me.

Certainly, in a longer game, the fictional reality starts accumulating and solidifying. The process is faster if the game takes place in a limited space (with respect to character, physical space, etc.) and slower if there is lots of travelling or a shifting caste of characters.

With respect to "no myth": As Bill wrote. Not really connected to Jay's mythic play or mythology.

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Setting or world

Can "philosophical realism" apply to game rules, and genre rules, too ? What would it mean to say that game rules exist in the fiction ? Some players like to have "associated rules", rules that "exist" in the fiction as they do at the table. I wonder if that's not philosophically unsound. I mean : a planet exists, but the law of gravity is true. It doesn't "exist". That's for a distinction I need between world (with objects and relations between objects) and setting (the objects only).

There are some other ways of being thought without being, like : the colour blue is seen, but does it exist ? Anyone knows of a clear concept that would cut through these ambiguities ? as a complement to philosophical realism, useful via analogy. That could be used to progress in the "associated rules" fog, for instance.

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Thank you!

Hello,

I just wanted to say, "Thank you," to both Billy for taking the time to research and Thanuir for confirming his intentions.

Best,

Jay

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I'm not sure the thesis buys us anything...

Hello Thanuir,

Though it may not appear so, I have been spending the last couple of days reading up on Fang's writings and just a tiny bit on Plato. I sucked at philosophy in college and apparently nothing has improved since then. I apologize in advance if I miss your point about "Realism" and Plato. I'm trying but I suspect I will fail in a truly spectacular fashion (Cue train wreck sounds).

On the most fundamental level we are engaged in a highly ritualized creative conversation of shared imaginings known as "role-playing" thus the whole hobby, by its very nature, is anti-realism. Whether one is playing Klockwerk or No-Myth or somewhere in between the whole process is fictional. Made up. It only exists as a process while players are engaged in the act. At the end of the ritual of role-play there may be memories but the evanescent action of role-play is no more. That being said I'm not seeing any difference between Klockwerk run games vs No-myth run games as both are members of the general imaginative activity called "role-play" (as described above). Point in fact for enjoyable play all modes of play require to the players to treat the fiction as if it were "real".

Even allowing that there is a difference between the two of many styles of play on a continuum (just for the sake of argument) I'm not sure it buys the hobby, play, theory or game design anything. That doesn't mean I'm closed to the idea, but that as it stands I'm just not seeing the difference as far as role-play and Realism is concerned. (To be sure, you are using the Platonic school, yes?)

Certainly, in a longer game, the fictional reality starts accumulating and solidifying. The process is faster if the game takes place in a limited space (with respect to character, physical space, etc.) and slower if there is lots of travelling or a shifting caste of characters.

The huge problem with this argument is that, at least according the Fang's writings, genre conventions are critical and have powerful implicit rules as to what is and is not physically in the world and what behaviors are allowed or not allowed. So while there are no printed rules there are huge amounts of implicit rules contained within the genre or the fictional universe (Star Wars FREX). In fact Fang drove home the point that the more developed the source "universe" the better. Thus the very title "No-myth" can be misleading as there are plenty of implicit rules and "objects of reality" contained within the world.

Actually given a conversation between Vincent Baker (lumpley) and Fang Langford (Le Joueur) (here is the other) it seems the point of "No-Myth" play was to play on the lumpley principle's primary statement that mechanics primary role is to determine who gets to say what. The consensus issue was a (very) distant second. Vincent explicitly stated that if mechanics absolutely had to be invoked to determine who got to say what then there was something wrong at the table. IOW a solid gaming group would only lightly, or maybe not at all, require recourse to mechanics to determine who got to say what. Vincent and Lang both felt that mechanics were best employed as a means to inspire players to creative actions. Fang's "No-myth" game style was an experiment on the role of mechanics and ultimately the lumpley principle which Vincent thought was pretty cool. Nowhere was the discussion of mechanics tied to "reality".

Best,

Jay

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That's a good point : using

That's a good point : using metaphysics AND analogies is a very un-pragmatic start. Maybe it doesn't "buy" anything. Thats why I have stated a possible pragmatic purpose for the tool, something we can validate with a test.

(I find Baker's original intent or Le Joueur's other writings interesting but irrelevant.)

I agree that "for enjoyable play all modes of play require to the players to treat the fiction as if it were "real"." I also think there's no scale of realism, and that Klokverk doesn't apply Realism to everything in the fiction. Only the usual : NPC, magic items, landscapes milieu. The question I have is : can we make meaningful differences based on what is the object of Realism : NPCs, geography, events, genre conventions, drowning rules, etc.
Like : " I think PbtA is really Realism applied to genre conventions" for instance. Maybe there is a simpler obvious way to say that.

This is my question but there are others as valid. ..

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Hi DeReel,

Hi DeReel,

As I have said I'm supremely awful philosopher and have a terrible time navigating ideas in this milieu. Basically I'm apologizing if I'm missing your point entirely at the beginning of my effort. If I understand what I've read about Platonic "Realism" is even somewhat near the mark Plato broke reality into 3 realms. The sensible world, for lack of a better term. The internal world of human consciousness and the Platonic ideals which can include what we now call abstractions such as "properties, types, propositions, meanings, numbers, sets, truth values, and so on". The highest and most perfect realm was that of the Ideals which is where "reality" truly dwelt - objective Truths. From these ideals the instantiations of the sensible are drawn but which are flawed and incomplete. In a way it could be argued that the more rules and mechanics a game has the more it functions in the lowest and most flawed realm. While a game that functions primarily in the mind (the SIS) with decisions based on concepts that are drawn directly from the same realm of the mind (the SIS) is closer to the ideal of Platonic Realism (functioning primarily at the higher level of the conscious mind) than the highly physical Klockwerk with all its physically printed mechanics and bookkeeping.

It would seem to me that an RPG that prioritizes functioning mostly in the mind is closer to the Platonic ideal of "Realism" than one that is runs so deeply in the sensible realm of physical instantiations like Klockwerk. Consider Klockwerk fundamental notion that if something doesn't exist in the physical realm then it cannot exist in the fictional realm which is precisely the opposite of Platonic "Realism". Also note the focus on the physical (pre-written notes on the world no improv creativity, volumes of resolution mechanics) as the true reality is in direct contradiction of Platonic "Realism" which places the realm of the Ideal as the highest level of Reality. Not just the highest form of "Reality" but the very realm from which the sensible world is instantiated from.

No-Myth which functions much more in the realm of concepts that exist at the level of the Ideals is actually closer to Platonic "Realism" than Klockwerk.

As far as using a school of philosophy as a guide to game design...why not?

As far as using a school of philosophy as a tool to approach role-play theory...why not? Again I'm not sure how the hobby benefits but then we won't know until someone makes the effort. There is nothing wrong theorizing for its own sake. Looking into how something works or just musing about it is perfectly valid. However, I am leery of declaring which classes of games as exemplars of school of philosophy (with subtle suggestions that a game style is better for matching said philosophy) in a few sentences ripe for abuse.

Best,

Jay

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This is one version

In Plato's version, Ideas are things that truly exist. I didn't think of associating SIS and platonic Ideas. What is the use of SIS ?

In Klokverk, magic mirrors are (some of the) things that truly exist. In many games, mechanics and random tables model laws of the world, so it seems that relations between objects also can be treated as Real. That's way ahead of Plato, so I propose we dump the old man.

I agree with you : Plato thinks ideas are better than matter, but that's just him. We don't need to rank games or play styles : I only want to see what they treat as Real, and see if that concept makes communication easier.

Many trad games insisted on having real Physics (among which, Magic), real Geography, real Characters, real Situations. Written material made sure they could not be changed. Klokverk is like making that, lasting in time.

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Fair enough, but its not Platonic "Realism"

Hi DeReel,

I only want to see what they treat as Real, and see if that concept makes communication easier.

Many trad games insisted on having real Physics (among which, Magic), real Geography, real Characters, real Situations. Written material made sure they could not be changed. Klokverk is like making that, lasting in time.

I think all the above is a fascinating topic but much more suited to psychology than philosophy, especially Platonic "Realism". Again, according to Platonic Realism written things are mere mutable shadows of the unchanging permanence of the "eidos." So if one were looking to apply the process or philosophy of Platonic Realism then we would be looking to move away from instantiations and move strongly to the realm of the ideals. IOW in such a game there would a strong push away from making anything physical precisely because the physical is changeable and incomplete. Lots of Rules, mechanic, maps, miniatures and notes are, according to the philosophy of Platonic "Realism", NOT permanent, NOT reality. The closest we can come would be a game that functions at the level of thought which brings us a level closer to real permanence, the ultimate unchanging reality of eidos.

I understand that in practice these aids are helpful to a certain style of players but matching that style, Klockwerk, to the Philosophy of "Realism" is a category error. Their actions stand in complete and utter contradiction with one another. I'm not banging on Klockwerk in anyway. What I am saying that Platonic "Realism" is the exact wrong model for such play. Where you say there is no role or place for the SIS in Platonic "Realism" role-play doesn't hold any water because it is precisely the realm of human ideas that is closer to the permanence of eidos than the sensible mutable physical world. It might be interesting to see if someone could create an RPG based on Platonic "Realism" ideas but Klockwerk" is just about as antithetical to Platonic "Realism" as one could get. I am certain there is a school of philosophy that more closely matches the ideals of Klockwerk but Platonic "Realism" is not even close.

Best,

Jay

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I don't see

@Silmemune "What I am saying that Platonic "Realism" is the exact wrong model for such play."
I re-read OP to understand why you're insisting on referring to Plato. As for me, I interpret the mention of his name in OP as just a famous example to help distinguish Real from Concrete (or Physical). The proposed concept in OP is clearly Philosophical Realism, not Ideal vs Physical. OP proposes to confront it with Klokverk. Adding Plato in the discussion makes it 2 concepts to handle and that's a lot of shifting for me.
Of course, I agree with what you say about whether Game State is physical or ideal, and how certain theories of the Game State (by which I mean a couple of posts on a forum) can be inconsistent, but I can't see what it says about what's taken for Real in the Klokverk playstyle. I'll give it a try : Klokverk is supposed to be the most Realist playstyle when it doesn't know what it takes for Real. Some say it's the ideal Game State, some say, it's the material (written) Game State, but it's dubious anyway. If that's what you mean, I agree with you 100%. But you yourself, what would you say is taken for Real in Klokverk ?

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Hi DeReel,

Hi DeReel,

@Silmemune "What I am saying that Platonic "Realism" is the exact wrong model for such play."
I re-read OP to understand why you're insisting on referring to Plato.

I keep referring to Plato because the OP specifically refers to his philosophy of Platonic "Realism". I could have misread the OP's original intent but I didn't read words in the OP that stated he was using Plato's philosophy as merely an example of a much more general idea.

The proposed concept in OP is clearly Philosophical Realism, not Ideal vs Physical.

The problem is, that according my limited understanding and reading, Philosophical Realism is specifically about the Ideal (perfection and permanence) vs Physical (sensate and mutable). True unchangeable knowledge, whether a person is aware of it or not, exists only in the Ideal (eidos). It seemed to me that the big conflict explicit in Klockwerk was the existenc of knowledge that no player knew including the DM. The problem was that the instantiation of physical things such as tables, notes, maps, etc., are by "Realism" arguments pale, incomplete and mutable shadows of the "pre-existing" knowledge of Ideals/eidos. IOW the argument being proposed that Klockwerk play with writing all its information down to establish an immutable reality is in direct and irreconcilable conflict with the philosophy of "Realism". Physical things cannot be used to create an immutable reality in Philosophical Realism. The arrow of causality is wrong. At best we can instantiate weak representations of Reality but our representations are definitionally changeable and impermanent. Klockwerk (as I understand it) propounds the idea that the written or printed word is not only permanent but carries the qualities of the eidos. IOW even events not known (random tables) or printed information unread by any person at the table is "Real". This stands in direct contraction to the philosophy of "Realism". To be honest philosophies that might be more fruitful for Klockwerk might be Ontology or Epistemology.

Klokverk is supposed to be the most Realist playstyle when it doesn't know what it takes for Real. Some say it's the ideal Game State, some say, it's the material (written) Game State, but it's dubious anyway. If that's what you mean, I agree with you 100%.

Originally I was responding to the proposition Platonic "Realism" effectively explains why Klockwerk works. However what I quoted of you are some of the issues I have with the claims being put forward about the Klockwerk game style. There are many others but on these two we are in 100% agreement. One addition problem I had with Klockwerk was the "One True Way" near fanaticism that kept floating up in the mix of the debates. Ugh...

Of course, I agree with what you say about whether Game State is physical or ideal, and how certain theories of the Game State (by which I mean a couple of posts on a forum) can be inconsistent, but I can't see what it says about what's taken for Real in the Klokverk playstyle.

I can't either. I don't the theory got fully hashed out to be fair, but there were a number of fundamental problems that looked insurmountable. There were other serious problems and fiat claims that fell squarely in the realm of Epistemology that were violently avoided when brought up at problematic.

I'll give it a try : Klokverk is supposed to be the most Realist playstyle when it doesn't know what it takes for Real. Some say it's the ideal Game State, some say, it's the material (written) Game State, but it's dubious anyway. If that's what you mean, I agree with you 100%. But you yourself, what would you say is taken for Real in Klokverk ?

To be brutally honest, I haven't a clue. There was so much spackling over contradictions and just plain vanilla logic holes going on that I found it impossible to generate a general theory of what was being said. I have no real way of making proposition about what is taken for Real in Klockwerk because of enormous logic problems present that were not being addressed. FREX - Klockwerk as I recall refused any notion of GM agency during play but as long as a human being is involved there will be agency no matter how restricted. There were claims made that information that was known to no one at the table, including the GM, had an effect on the game and was real. Even if this knowledge never made it into anyone's mind. Klockwerk, as I read it, even rejects the idea that Role-playing Games do function in the realm of human minds. Which to me is a doozy. I must apologize in that I have no solid answer to provide. I think I understand Klockwerk is big on lack of GM agency in play and the general idea of if the rule doesn't exist on paper then then mechanic doesn't exist. Yes I remember the three tiers but that was avowedly a stop gap and a real problem for Klockwerk. So you run into a situation where a written mechanic doesn't exist so this is a sign of failure of the entire system. So the GM makes a call which is anathema to the theory of Klockwerk but it stands. Then between games the DM writes down a rule to fit the problematic situation and now the mechanic is right and good even though the GM made the same call on the fly in game. It just doesn't make sense to me...

Best,

Jay

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Hm. I've found the Klockwerk

Hm. I've found the Klockwerk ideas very useful, but I'm not sure if I can respond very well to the questions in this thread. I suppose I see the "klockwerk" approach more as a body of techniques and rules that are especially effective together, rather than a philosophical position on reality. I don't know if I can say what is "taken for real." Empirically, the method does work to create the subjective impression of verisimilitude (i.e., when I use the techniques, my players say things like, "Your world feels like it's really out there waiting for us to explore"). I don't see it as the "one true way", but in my own experience it has proven more effective than certain other ways.

I can offer my own opinions though my own view may not in all respects be the same as the other people in the previous discussion.

> Klockwerk as I recall refused any notion of GM agency during play

From my perspective, that would be too extreme of a statement. I would say rather that it is about accepting voluntary restrictions on your own agency as the GM. In other words, committing to follow certain rules in all the cases where they do apply, and to follow certain principles in the cases where the rules don't apply.

> There were claims made that information that was known to no one at the table, including the GM, had an effect on the game and was real.

On the surface this doesn't make much sense to me either. It might make more sense to say there could be information that is known to no one at the table, which could in the near future have a pre-defined effect on the game. For example, I might never have read the description of a particular spell, but the effects of the spell are clearly defined in the rulebook. So as soon as the spell is cast, we turn to page 257 and follow whatever it says. I guess one could argue that within the imaginary world (or the game state), the spell had already had that effect before we looked up the rules for it. In practical terms it is more important that we have a clear principle that we will follow what the rulebook says the spell does. That is, we have principles about when to defer to certain sources as authoritative.

> Even if this knowledge never made it into anyone's mind.

Again, that sounds impossible to me. The closest I can think would be if it never entered someone's mind at the table, but was in someone's mind at some point somewhere else, and then entered from there into the game material that we use. For example, if we were playing through a pre-written module, we might never visit the Temple of the Cat described on page 223, yet we find some clues on page 145 that were (unbeknownst to anyone at the table) referring to the Temple of the Cat. Did that Temple of the Cat affect our game? Someone who had read the whole module might say from their outside perspective that we had found the stolen items from the Temple of the Cat. Likewise, that person could make good predictions about our game using information we don't possess - for example, they could predict that if we travel northwest for ten miles, we will find a large cat-shaped temple. This is possible because they know we have a clear principle that when we go to a certain place on the map, we will turn to a certain page on the scenario book and read what is there, and they know what is in the book. Nothing magical is happening, and the Temple of the Cat won't appear in our game until someone at the table actually knows about it. But from a certain point of view (for the outside observer making predictions about the game) it would be effective to reason about the game *as if* the Temple of the Cat were already there.

> Klockwerk, as I read it, even rejects the idea that Role-playing Games do function in the realm of human minds. Which to me is a doozy.

Certainly they do function in human minds (and with paper and pencils and conversation and all). Still sometimes it is more useful to reason about the game state *as if* it were a real place with a separate existence. I think basically it is like doing math. Probably nobody would deny that when we are thinking about math, it happens in human minds (and on paper and blackboards and in conversation, with calculators, etc). But when doing math, it's usually much more useful to talk about the numbers and sets as if they were real things, than to talk about the shapes of the lines on paper, or about the limits of how many numbers we can remember at once. We define the rules in terms of the relationships between imaginary or abstract things, and then do the best to reason about those rules with our limited human minds.

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Let me clarify if I can...

Hi Billy!

Don't get the chance to see you much here on the boards. Its good to see you again! As to your post I can't say I've played Klockwerk as a matter of conscious choice but a game I played in about 30 years ago was run as RAW. Whether the two are the same I don't know but I suspect that RAW might be a subset of Klockwerk but I don't truly understand the philosophical precepts of Klockwerk. I think I understand the process of Klockwerk but on the threads on Story-Games there was a great of how play ought to be run beyond just RAW. There was a great deal of effort put into how one should approach situations which were not RAW but more importantly, to me on a theoretical and social level, was the emphasis on the rankings of value or truthfulness of the various methods of resolving non RAW events. Then there was this whole long philosophical argument that basic proposed that a purchased but unread by and player at the table be they the GM or a player DID have a real impact on the Game State (whatever that turned out to be - many unfinished and conflicting arguments were put forth on that particular topic as well), though no one, not one person at the table had any knowledge of said content. That one really left me shaking my head. Finally the constant use of superlatives with regard to this process and the use of pejorative adjectives to refer to non Klockwerk play (Hippy play?) along with the near manic drive to teach everyone that this was THE BEST WAY TO PLAY was a worrying breech of game theory and practice but also, I believe, social etiquette. Does this mean I'm saying that Klockwerk is not a viable way to play? No. But I found the inconsistencies of its theory of play confusing and the subtle but real arrogance surrounding its proposed virtues extremely off putting. In the end there were two separate but profound problems with Klockwerk that I saw. First it could never hold to its theoretical goals of condensing the whole of reality to a mechanical representation. This particluar shortcoming was articulated by the strongest proponent of Klockwerk. Second the sociological air surrounding the movement was deeply troublesome and I believe the greater problem of the two.

> Klockwerk as I recall refused any notion of GM agency during play<

From my perspective, that would be too extreme of a statement. I would say rather that it is about accepting voluntary restrictions on your own agency as the GM. In other words, committing to follow certain rules in all the cases where they do apply, and to follow certain principles in the cases where the rules don't apply.

I proposed my exact take of this to the main proponent of Klockwerk and I was neither rebuffed nor corrected in my assessment. The GM was to exercise agency during prep but to every extent possible not at all during play. When the game got to a point where a GM had to follow the principles where the rules didn't apply was, to quote the same proponent, a failure of the functioning of Klockwerk. Those guiding principles for when the rules didn't apply weren't stated as methods to facilitate smooth play but were means of mitigating failure and brokenness of system. Again, not my words. There was sense of an absoluteness in the diktats of this theory of play that I found unsettling. The principles you spoke of were presented in a wrapping of theory of usage that was far more absolute than just helpful principles. In practice I imagine that the helpful principle were just that, helpful principles. But Klockwerk was being presented and championed as the one way to real role-play enjoyment, but only if they were absolutely followed to the letter. In effect the ideal would have been a computer running the game with the DM inputting data between gaming sessions. The ideal was a Deism type of functioning gaming "reality" which is where I drew the inspiration for the moniker "Klockwerk" from.

> There were claims made that information that was known to no one at the table, including the GM, had an effect on the game and was real.

On the surface this doesn't make much sense to me either. It might make more sense to say there could be information that is known to no one at the table, which could in the near future have a pre-defined effect on the game...

I fully agree with your take on the matter. But there was a huge thread (in Story-Games) on Game State and Klockwerk where it was strongly and vociferously argued that even if the information never was made known to anyone, ever, it still had an effect on the Game State. Yet another term that was never well defined as it relied on a lot of metaphysical premises. Repeatedly it was argued that that which was not known to anyone at the table had a real effect on the Game State, whatever that meant. The proponents did not argue that the information might come to light 6 weeks, months or years down the road and then affected the game but rather that even if it was never known to anyone it still had an effect. Buy the module. Put it on the shelf for 10 years. Throw it away unopened. It altered the Game State, so it was argued, and Game State was a Big Thing in Klockwerk theory as championed. It made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever...

> Even if this knowledge never made it into anyone's mind.

Again, that sounds impossible to me. The closest I can think would be if it never entered someone's mind at the table...

...and that is what I should have typed as I assumed that it was understood (my mistake) that was my meaning. Let me rephrase to clarify, if you will allow : Even if this knowledge never made it into anyone's mind at the table including the DM. It is impossible but this was what was being argued. I'd offer links but I'm not sure if Story-Games was archived in a manner that is easily accessible. The idea became so dogmatic that it became impossible to discuss it.

> Klockwerk, as I read it, even rejects the idea that Role-playing Games do function in the realm of human minds. Which to me is a doozy.

Certainly they do function in human minds (and with paper and pencils and conversation and all). Still sometimes it is more useful to reason about the game state *as if* it were a real place with a separate existence.

Emphasis added.

The theory being offered was that if it didn't or couldn't happen via the mechanical system then whatever was happening in the SIS didn't or couldn't happen. The arrow of action was from paper to SIS which was this atrophied after thought because nothing could happen if it didn't happen via a mechanic. IOW the SIS was the equivalent of a computer screen which reported the results of the program but was not itself a relevant or significant input to the program. However we run into the problem once again that Game State was never nailed down as SG shut down in the middle of that discussion. I don't know what you mean by the phrase "the game state *as if* it were a real place with a separate existence." What is the Game State? The mechanical part of the game separate from the shared imaginings of the SIS? Any meaning derived from play can only existing in the living experience of a person's mind. Is the Game State the name applied to the effort to put quantized values to abstractions? I have no clue. I'm fully willing to accept that I may be too dumb to understand the sublime meanings of Game State so if you do have a good definition of it I would be very grateful to read it. For me it became another one of those meta-physical arguments that kept shifting around so much that it never came to mean anything useful. I'd deeply appreciate any enlightenment on this topic you might have to share. Please.

Best,

Jay

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Towards definition of Game State

I'll refrain from digging too deeply into the old discussions on Story-Games, since I don't want to speak for or criticize people who aren't here to explain themselves. (I also don't have time to read through the extremely long and theoretical conversations again right now...) I will stick to laying out my own ideas; I can't promise it will help unravel what other people have said in the past.

Precisely defining the game state is tricky. It is relatively easy to define for non-role-playing games. E.g., if we were playing Clue, the game state includes what cards everyone has, where the pieces are, and which three cards are the secret solution. Nobody currently knows what the solution is, but it's defined by which cards were randomly placed in the envelope. The game state doesn't include where the dice are lying on the board, or which order I am holding my cards in, or what the art for Professor Plum looks like, because these details have no impact on the outcome of the game. Hopefully in this case the meaning of the game state is very clear. It is all the information that interacts with the rules. It is the parts of the game we would include if writing a computerized version of the game.

For a role-playing game, the meaning is the same by analogy. Clearly the analogy is not perfect, since there are a lot of differences between (say) Clue and D&D. Still, I would try to define the game state the same way: it's all the information that will interact with the rules, all the "facts" about the fictional world that will have an impact on the outcome of the game. All the input that goes into the "simulation" to produce the next piece of output.

To try to be more practical, if I were to enumerate the game state for my current D&D game I was just running, it would include all this information:
- Shared imaginary space (~ all our memories about the previously defined fiction of the game, including stuff we remember but didn't write down)
- Everyone's character sheets
- Various drawings and diagrams I have made to explain things about the game world
- Worksheets I use during play to track the date, time, monster hit points, number of gnolls still living in the area, etc.
- My own secret notes on the setting, NPC backstories, maps and keys, monster stats, weather tables, random encounter tables, etc
- The spreadsheet that tracks everyone's XP totals

It seems like we should also include the rules and procedures of the game in the game state, which would include:
- The rules text on the game website that I and the players all refer to
- Answers I have given in the past to questions about the rules
- Precedents defined by how we interpreted the rules in previous play
- A number of secret rules that I follow as the DM, but the players don't have access to
- Various rules and procedures I have never gotten around to writing down, but that I nonetheless follow consistently when running the game

Theoretically, I think it is better to say that the game state is made up of the information in all the above, rather than the various documents themselves (i.e., the fact that ghouls have 2 hit dice, rather than paper that says "Ghouls, 2 HD each"). But I don't think it makes much difference either way. And, reiterating the statement from my previous post, usually it's more convenient to talk about the game state *as if* it were an imaginary world rather than a big database of information and rules for accessing it ("In the game state, there is a dragon in the cave" vs "In the DM's notes, it says there is a dragon in the cave, and we have a rule that the DM always follows what it says in his notes, so if we say to go into the cave, he will say there is a dragon").

I feel pretty comfortable saying all of the above is in the game state because all of these things are drawn on when we are playing the game. They all feed into "what happens next." I actively use all those things above (some more than others) when I am determining how to adjudicate actions or more broadly "what to say next" as the GM.

It's worth noting there are also various game actions that the players can take without consulting me--for example, if they have 1,000 XP on the spreadsheet, they can advance their character to level 2. This will then directly affect the game the next time we play with that character, so I am happy to say that is part of the game state.

That said, there are also some things that are NOT part of the game state. For example, often the players draw their own maps when we are playing. But their maps are usually wrong in smaller or larger ways. As the GM, I ignore the player maps and use only the true (secret) map to describe what they see. If the players start pointing at their map and asking me things about it, I ignore what they are saying and reiterate the true facts according to the authoritative map I have in front of me. So the definition of the game state needs to include some notion of authority - if there is a conflict between two sources, we need to know what to believe.

Implicitly this whole example I'm describing is predicated on a game with very traditional GM/player roles.
- Players say actions (agency not very constrained - only by SIS - but can only control only character's attempted actions)
- GM determines what happens next (agency highly constrained - must decide result based on Game State, which includes rules and principles about which parts of the Game State to use in which ways to determine the result)

But there are probably interesting things that could be done by varying those concepts.

I am still very unhappy with this definition I have just given. The big problem for me is that psychological factors of play (e.g., what the players are planning to do tonight) absolutely do factor into the outcome of what happens, yet I don't want to say those are part of the game state. Possibly I should say that the game state should only encompasses what will feed into the mechanical resolution process. But I don't want to give the impression that it is purely about printed black-and-white rules. In my own game, the rules are deliberately written to allow the fictional situation (including parts not covered by specific rules) to feed back into the mechanical resolution.

I'm totally fine with this because I want to play a game of infinite possibility, not a board game with closed finite rules. But these subjective cases mean that there is a ragged edge of the game state where the GM's psychology / agency / subjective judgment is feeding into the resolution. Does that mean everything I have ever read or thought is part of the game state? Sometimes we look things up on Wikipedia during play ("How much does a horse weigh?"). Does this mean Wikipedia is part of the game state? I can't really answer these questions.

The interesting area to explore in game design here is defining more clearly the rules and procedures for when certain sources are treated as authoritative, and when they take precedence over others, or when they don't. When does the SIS take precedence over the DM's notes? (Certainly it does if we all know the dragon is dead, but the notes still say he is alive... but not if we all thought the room was 50 feet long but the notes say it was actually 100.) The "no myth" philosophy takes the answer that nothing has any precedence or authority except the SIS and whatever the GM decides in the moment. That's one way to run a game, but not the only way.

There is also the whole issue that the game state may decay over time, losing information that theoretically (according to the rules) should have continued to feed into the outcome. Most obviously this happens because we forget things from last week and didn't write them down, but could also happen because I lost my notes, or whatever. This leads off into endless possible discussion about the perfect ideal game state vs the actual observed game state. I don't care much about the theoretical questions here because the practical answer is obvious -- write down important information and keep a backup copy.

Didn't mean to stay up this late typing this... was just planning to write three or four lines, but it's tricky stuff . . .

2
Computer programmer hat

Oh, here's maybe a slightly clearer answer... (Putting my computer programmer hat on)

We can define the game state is in terms of the interface, the implementation, and the data structure.

Interface: You ask, "Is there a dragon in the cave?"

Implementation: Say yes if there is a dragon on the map key or a dragon on the random encounter table. Otherwise, say no.

Data structure: The implementation requires us to keep a map key and a random encounter table for each cave.

-----------------------------
Edit to add (A LOT):

I went to bed thinking about this computer science metaphor, and woke up this morning more convinced it is a good one. I think this model will give us a better way to think about the game state than my somewhat confused and uncertain definition in the previous post. Let me elaborate on the model further, to make it more understandable.

In computer science, we have the concept of an abstract data type. This means an object that has a certain behaviour from an outside user's perspective, regardless of how it works on the inside. For example, consider a video player. A video player is a thing that renders frames at a certain rate to a certain area of the screen. From the point of view of the end user, it doesn't matter if it is caching the video in memory, or reading it from a disk, or streaming it from a server in Brazil. What's important is that the video displays on the screen. We don't care what type of compression is being used, as long as the video plays correctly.

I would propose we should probably think about the game state in a similar way. Rather than thinking of the game state as a collection of information, we should think of it as the structured model we use to answer questions about the fictional world.

Hopefully the "fictional world" is clear. If we're playing a game set in Middle-earth, then the fictional world is "our table's version of Middle-earth, where our player characters live and the action takes place." During play, we pose dozens or hundreds of questions about this fictional world. What do I see when I look to the west? How high is the hill? How many orcs are there? How long can my horse keep going before it dies of exhaustion? We turn to the game state to answer these questions.

Hypothetically, the perfect game state model would be a total simulation of the fantasy world. But this is completely impractical [citation needed]. Instead, what we want is some other model that shares the same abstract data type as the total simulation. In other words, the game state should be a thing such that we can pose questions and receive answers *as if* it were a world simulation.

Back to computer science for a moment. In a computer program, there is some data that is computed in advance and stored. Other data is computed "just in time" when it is needed. For example, a video is normally stored in advance, whereas the graphics for a video game are rendered on the fly as the game is running. From the point of view of the user, it doesn't make much difference, and (in a well designed program) it is often impossible to tell the difference. What's important is that the data you need is there when you need it.

On the other hand, if I'm the programmer writing a (part of a) program, it matters a lot where the data comes from. The abstract data type (the description of what the object is supposed to do from the outside) is like a contract I need to fulfil. I need to come up with some method to provide everything that the outside user expects to see, at the time when they expect to see it. This data needs to be correct and it needs to be readily available when required.

Commonly we refer to the part of the program that the user interacts with as the interface, and the behind-the-scenes method that the user doesn't care about as the implementation. We want to expose the interface to the user, while hiding the implementation details. (The terms properly apply to the subcomponents of a program and the way they interact with one another, but we don't need to get into those details.)

So, back to the RPG game state. What's important isn't that we have a total simulation of the fictional world, or a database of all the pertinent facts. What's important is that we have a good method to obtain answers as soon as we need them. We want to be able to pose a question about the fictional world ("Can Sir Boris lift the box?"), and quickly obtain an answer. We need a good implementation to back up our interface.

In a computer program, the method would run automatically, but obviously for a tabletop RPG, it must be carried out by the people at the table. So in practical terms, what happens is this. The player of Sir Boris asks, "Can I lift the box?" Then the GM says, "What's your Strength score?" The player looks back at his character sheet and says "17". Then the GM checks his notes and finds out how many coins are in the box, and flips through the Player's Handbook to find the chart for carrying capacity, and then compares the values, and says, "Yes, but just barely. You'll be encumbered."

But in abstract terms (ignorning the method used to find the answer) what happened was this: The player queried the game state with the question, "Can I lift the box?" And the game state provided the answer, "Yes, but just barely. You'll be encumbered."

This is pretty interesting! On the abstract level, we can interact with the game state *as if* it were an interface to a fictional world. That's really the whole effect we want to create here. Of course, if the method is slow and cumbersome, or if it produces inconsistent or ridiculous results, it tends to spoil the illusion, so having a good method is very important.

I think that if we are clear on the distinction between the abstract level (the interface) and the concrete level (the implementation), then some of the paradoxes and questions about the game state can be dissolved. Does the game state contain information nobody at the table knows (e.g., "How many walruses can an adult red dragon carry")? On the abstract interface level, yes: we can query the game state and get an answer to the question. On the implementation level, no: all we really have is a method to answer the question as soon as it becomes important (and that method probably involves the GM googling "average walrus weight wikipedia").

It's like asking if your calculator "knows" that 124 * 353 = 43772. It doesn't actually have the answer stored, but it can compute the answer as soon as you need it, so for practical purposes it seems to know the answer.

To me, the point of thinking about game state in RPG design is to come up with methods (techniques, rules, principles, procedures) that help provide good (consistent, believable, interesting) answers to game state queries quickly. The game state interface is quite similar between many games, but the implementation varies a lot.

The "No Myth" game state implementation is a very minimalist one. If the answer isn't in the SIS (or perhaps on character sheets or in the rulebook), the method is always "The GM makes up whatever feels dramatically appropriate." Of course there is some hidden depth and complexity behind this method, because the GM needs strong storytelling skills to know what is dramatically appropriate.

A "Klockwerk" game state implementation is one that is far more complex and rigorous. It involves a lot more rules and principles for obtaining answers. Generally it involves a large "data structure" of notes, maps, etc., hopefully organized so they can be accessed quickly during play. The GM again needs strong skills to pull this off, in this case more like level design skills rather than storytelling skills. The goal of all this extra work is to make the world seem (and be) more consistant and detailed than it would be if I were making stuff up on the fly. When it is all working correctly, then it produces the effect where the methods seems to disappear and the world feels like it is "really there". It isn't metaphysically real, but feels "as if" it is real because of how convincingly it responds to interaction.

Does that make any sense?

3
Brilliant. This means that

Brilliant. This means that Klokverk is no different philosophically from No myth. Only procedurally.
GMs in both styles can take their material "as if" it were real. No myth GMs need to poker-face much more. Klokverk clearly goes with a different ethic.

1
You're a genius, DeReel!

Hi DeReel,

I've been reading and rereading Billy's posts in preparation of encompassing an in depth response...and your boiled all down to a few sentences! LOL!

Role-play is role-play no matter how you dress that sow up, it's still a pig.

I will allow that how a specific game is instantiated is what gives it its individual flavor but like you said we're still all, by necessity, treating the material (the fiction) "as if" it were real. We have to if we're going to engage in role-play...we're human beings. It is how we work.

Best,

Jay

1
I am not

But thank you for the kind words.
There is at least one discussion in the StoryGames archives that is close to this one :
Fiction of objectivity

0
A lively discussion

Maybe I should come here more often. I will not get into the game of clarifying what I mean or did not mean when I wrote this or that. I would also suggest that fighting the ghosts of conversations past might not be productive.

  • Klokkverk is not related to Platon's theories, as far as I can see.
  • Idealism about A means that we take A, or some aspect thereof, to be real in some sense. Mathematical realism means taking for example numbers, sets etc. as real. Platon's idealism indeed takes ideas as real. In roleplaying, Klokkverktreats the fictional word as real as it can, to as large an extent as it can. This is not a deep observation, I think, and I doubt it has much in the way of useful insight to offer. It just draws a parallel between two known concepts.
  • For how Sandra runs her game, see this quite recent blog post of hers: https://idiomdrottning.org/blorb-principles/. Quite a decent summary for someone with my background, at least.
  • For game state, see my blog post https://ropeblogi.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/pelitila-ja-matemaattinen-ludologia/ (in Finnish, but maybe machine translation works). It includes some of the painful points that appear when applying the (very standard) concept to roleplaying games. The concept can be specified in multiple ways, depending on what one wants to think about. The article linked at the very beginning gives a quite formal description of game state in a more restricted and simpler setting of some particular typical games. The links in the comments are to Eero's blog and there are relevant discussions in the comments (in English, I think).
  • I think Billy has a good grasp of the relevant concepts here and interesting ideas about them, even if our takes on the game state differ.
3
Maybe I should come here more

Maybe I should come here more often.

Or maybe you shouldn't... I'm glad you do anyway. For instance, your pointer to @2097 was like a treasure map to me.

It's like "realness" in Klokverk lies in the neutrality of the referee. Prep sets the clock pieces (player desire rewinds it) and then the GM personality fades in the background. That whatever the party found in a chest and made their day, "was written there all along" ("realness" = persistance) is like a cherry on top of the cake, a beneficial side-effect. Anyway,this notion of realness is so different from one instance to the other that I'll stick to Gamefeel now, as something that I understand more clearly.

0
Sandra's rpg writing

https://idiomdrottning.org/rpg/

If you remove the "/rpg", you get art.

1
That is

not exact for those who see RPG as art ;P
But Oh did explore of Sandra's work with that treasure map in hand.

0
Sandra's response
1
I remember reading and

I remember reading and participating in those old Story Games threads.

I also remember coming to the conclusion that, while I undertsood where Sandra was coming from, that ultimately I didn't feel that the effort to achieve the level of completeness (and fidelity to same) that Sandra was talking about was worth the effort in a hobby, at home game.

I have a buiddy who loves his computer RPGs ( console or PC), and he was showing me this new Cyberpunk 207? game that came out, talkng about that version of what a sandbox environment was. I was very impressed.

The thing also has funding and team numbers on par with a movie.

So yeah, in practical terms, as a GM and world/scenario designer...I ain't doing all that. Certainly not all at once.

A central assumption that players can have that kind of broad freedom for their characters, and that the world will be porepped solidly to that degree is, IMO, absurd ( ignoring for now the visual aspect, although presumably a player would want the verbal versiopn of that prepped and ready to go, and the GM able to deploy that and stay true to it).

So, all that said, if you want prep that the GM stays true to, that exists in advance, what practical level of work do you expect GMs to do?

What, if any restrictions, do you expect players to accept on their characters' abbility to interact wiht the fictional stuff of the setting

Until someone can give me a realistic measuring stick for the level of detail required for GM prep and exactly how sandboxy the fictional world and play style is expected to be, I have a hard time taking this whole concept too seriously.

But then, maybe I am misunderstanding, and thinking the folks advocating for this style expect much, much more than they really do in terms of pre-game prep and documentation.

In my experience, as a GM regularly in different systems, players don't have to go very far in asking for setting details or take particularly bizarre actions with their character, before they've outstripped documented planned content, and don't have to go much beyond that to have outstripped documented, setting/scenario appropriate randomly generated content, and then the GM is back to the realm of personal improvisation.

1
How much prep?

Funny, the gist of the message I've always gotten from Sandra's writing was, "Come follow Blorb, for the yoke is easy and the burden is light.”

Let me see, what do you need to prep?

1. Rules prep. You should carefully read the rules of the system you are running, so you can follow them. Sandra uses D&D 5e, a pretty easy system to learn in my opinion; but in any event she recommends to start with the D&D starter set (about 15 pages of rules) and then graduate to the essentials kit (something like 60 pages) when you find yourself wanting more, and only then to the full system.

Note that you don't have to memorize the whole rulebook, if you just remember where stuff is and how it's organized. It's fine procedure during the game to flip to a page and read the rules aloud. That way, the entire group's knowledge of the rules improves.

2. World prep. This is what you're thinking of, I guess. In those Story-Games threads, Sandra was talking about running The Tomb of Annihilation, a commercial product with a hex map and various keyed sites. So you would buy that book and skim through it, then be prepared to turn to pages as indicated on the map, and follow the text as written during the game.

In practice, these published adventures are usually kinda flawed, so you will probably need to at least skim through the whole thing and make some notes on things that need to be changed (to remove absurdities or unfair railroading or whatever). It's best practice to write your changes down - e.g., put a stick note in the book that says, "Remove encounter 74." Then you won't have to make hard decisions at runtime about whether to commit to the change you were thinking about, or follow what it says in the book.

3. Gradual improvements to procedures as required. So let's suppose your rulebook says that to cast a light spell requires "a firefly or phosphorescent moss." So now a player asks you, "Can I find those things in the forest where we are?" In the moment, you might just say, "We don't have a rule about that, so I'll just say you can do it if you pass a DC 15 Survival check. Sound fair?" and away you go. But you make a mental note to yourself to revisit that.

Then after the session, you think about it, and check the rules to see if you missed something. You notice in the Dungeon Master's Guide that there's some rules for foraging for food, so you decide in the future, you'll use the same rules for foraging for moss and fireflies. So you write up a clear rule to this effect, and maybe E-mail it to your players for good measure, or just mention it at the start of the next session.

Then again, maybe you think that it's not worth having a special rule for every little thing. So you just write yourself some general rules for coming up with difficulty ratings. Like maybe you have a procedure like this (quoting from Sandra again):

  1. Is it listed in the prep ("this lock is DC 22") or rules ("monsters use DC 10 for their morale saves ")? Use it!
  2. Is it derivable from the opposition? For example the DC for untying a knot is derivable from the int of the monster that tied the knot.
  3. Could this go three ways? (Good, bad and mediocre?) Use a "twelve twenty"; DC 12–19 for the mediocre result, DC 20 for the good result
  4. Is it fucking bullshit? Use DC 20 or even 30. Also, ban the player that attempted this.
  5. Otherwise, use DC 15.

Over time you'll always run into edge cases, so you just talk about it with the players and see what you can all agree on. So you'll naturally develop a bit of an interpretive tradition around it, like Talmudic studies or common law. If you're diligent, you write all the rulings and interpretations down. If you are a little lazy (like me), you rely on oral tradition for things that don't come up very often ("OK, do you guys remember how we did this last time? Oh yeah, that's right."). I'm trying to get better at writing this stuff down, since (it turns out) this reduces DM stress at runtime.

---

For me, one goal of all this prep is to reduce stress and mental load at runtime. If you have a clear written rule, you can just follow it, easy as falling off a log. You don't have to constantly wonder, "Is this fair? Is this realistic? Is this fun for the players? Is this encounter too boring? Should I be adding more monsters?" I'm just following the rules, the players are making the decisions about where to go and whom to fight.

---

OK, but suppose you don't want to run a published adventure. Fair enough; most of them are not very good! So how much prep do you need to have a good game?

The two main weapons here are the random generator and the map/key. The map/key is more labour intensive, but it's better, since you can design coherent and thematically cohesive stuff. Random generators are less effort, but they don't give such inspiring and memorable.

It would be totally unreasonable to try to map out every single firefly and patch of phosphorescent moss in the forest. Once you start doing that, you really will need a team in the hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions, like a AAA computer RPG. Computer game designers have to place every individual tree and stop sign. But we eliminate all that by making simple general rules as these things come up.

For my own campaign that I'm running these days, I'm making up all my own stuff. So I guess I can try to give some more specific information about what level of prep I'm using. I don't know exactly how long I spend on the prep, but I can go by pages, I suppose. I do have data about what sessions we've played and where we went in each one. So we can compare effort/payoff.

I'll focus on a few sessions from my game when players were exploring a haunted monastery. This is a relatively large dungeon with something like 50 keyed locations. Checking my spreadsheet, we spent a total of 13 sessions on the monastery adventure. Assuming about 4 hours per sessions, that's about 52 hours of play. Let's see how much prep was involved here:

  • Plains that the players travel through to get to the monastery = 3 pages (1 page notes/key, 1 page of random tables, 1 page creature statblocks)
  • Forest where the monastery is located = 3.5 pages (1 page notes/key, 1 page random tables, 1 page statblocks, 1/2 page handout)
  • Monastery grounds, orchard, vineyard, etc. = 4 pages (1 page map, 2 pages notes/key, 1 page tables/statblocks)
  • Abbey interior = 3 pages (1 page map, 2 pages key)
  • Experimental garden = 5 pages (1 page map, 1 page tables/statblocks, 2 pages notes, 1 page handout)
  • Abbey crypts = 2.5 pages (1 page map, 1 page key, 1/2 page statblocks)

Total = 21 pages. Aside from that there's a master map showing the location of the plains, forest, and monastery; let's count that as another 2 pages. In all, that works out to something like 2 hours of play per page of prep. Often the prep is front-loaded in large bursts (i.e., I prepped most of those pages before we played through any of them). I guess you can decide how reasonable that amount of work seems to you.

How much work do those pages represent? I'm not sure, exactly. The statblocks are probably the most labour-intensive part per page area, but quite easy because it is just fooling around with spreadsheets. A more sensible GM could have cut that out almost entirely by using existing statblocks from the Monster Manual and other sources. But I feel the need to reformat them all and recalculate the stats and tweak the abilities before I put them in the world because I'm obsessive about that kind of thing. The map/key stuff requires most of the real creative work, with a lot of thinking/daydreaming/scribbling on rough paper before I write up the actual factsheets.

1
Going outside the sandbox

In my experience, as a GM regularly in different systems, players don't have to go very far in asking for setting details or take particularly bizarre actions with their character, before they've outstripped documented planned content, and don't have to go much beyond that to have outstripped documented, setting/scenario appropriate randomly generated content, and then the GM is back to the realm of personal improvisation.

I'm pretty open to my players about this stuff. Sometimes the players will say, "Let's go explore the savannah to the south," and then I'll say, "I'll need a little more advance warning if you want to go there, since it isn't fully prepped yet." This isn't great if it's happening all the time (metagame considerations are dictating the characters' actions), but it's generally avoided as long as the players let me know in advance what they plan to do for next session.

There's also a clear charter for the campaign: go explore the wilderness to the west of the town. So if the players propose a course of action like, "Let's become merchants and travel east to the capital of the empire," then I'll respond with something like, "OK, so these characters retire and become merchants, and you can all roll up some new characters who want to go adventuring..." and then in the face of this withering sarcasm they relent and get back inside the walls of the sandbox.

2
Hypothetical examople of what

Hypothetical examople of what I mean about easily going beyond prep, from just fairly normal RPG activities:

A rogue PC pickpockets a random townsman.

Players and GMs agree that it's reasonable to roll on a standardized random chart to determine what and how much is snatched, and that this doesn't represent any sort of unreasonable improv on the part of the GM.

The roll comes up esecially higher or lower than expected. Let's say lower for this example.

The rogue's player thinks this is weird, and feels a bit bad about pickpocketting the random townsman, since they had so little. They also wonder why the townsman had so little. There must be a story, right?

Except...there isn't. And there isn't an agreeable chart to roll on for why this townsman has so little money. And nothing in your prep indicates why.

But the rogue player, not entirely unreasonably,. and in character wants to chat up this poor townsman and find out the story.

So what's the right answer here for GM procedure?

From what I can tell, Blorb ( I hate the name) has two major motivations

1) It makes sure the GM is staying neutral as possible by standing by prep and neither favoring nor disfavoring the characters and their choice of actions.
2) It gives the feel of a pre-existing world, not one that only comes into existence as the PCs interact with it.

I mean, the prep Billy just posed abbout is pretty much in line with the kinds of prep I'd do, but it's still really easy with some not-too-deep-or weird questions to go beyond trhe bounds of that prep without even trying, and certainly without meaning to cause some sort of difficulty ( for example, no intention of Adventure Avoidance for malicious reasons).

1
Sure, in a case like that, I

Sure, in a case like that, I'm happy to make something up. I've had situations very much like that, where a player starts out with some goal in mind (e.g., gather information about something), but then wind up just trying to make friends with random townsfolk. So it turns out his name's Tom Tubbins, he's about 45, he he has no money in his pocket because he's just spent it all at the tavern. Just make something up that doesn't conflict with what you know to be true.

Generally, the higher the stakes are, the less I want to be improvising. Finding out a random pauper's life story has zero stakes, so I'm not too bothered about improvising it at all. (Though if they persist too long in aimless conversation, I will probably try to zoom out a little and ask what they are trying to accomplish, and then we can do some action resolution at an appropriate level of detail.)

Crudely put, the prep is about the stuff that can kill them or give them XP. Percentage chance that townsfolk had a sad childhood - don't need a table. Percentage chance that the townsfolk is a wererat - do need a table. (I believe Sandra calls this the "wallpaper principle" - i.e., you don't need to write down the colour of the wallpaper; let your creative inspiration go wild if the players ask. It's just wallpaper.)

Now, maybe it does matter. Maybe their goal is to find out if people in the area are generally oppressed, because they're thinking of fomenting rebellion against the governor and taking over the town. So then that's when I'll be back to one of the two tacks I said before:

(a) I think that's a valid goal, but I don't have what I need to run it as a fair scenario. So I'll say, "You guys said you were were going to the monastery this session; if you want to start a rebellion, I'll need a week to prep." And then I'll spend a week deciding on these details about how much of the population hates the governor, what their major complaints are, how many troops he has, etc.

or

(b) I think what they have in mind is outside the context of the campaign, so I'll go meta and say, "This is supposed to be a wilderness adventure campaign. I don't want to start any major conflicts here in the town because we need it as a safe haven where you guys can rest and level up."

One thing I try not to do is get into the mindset where I must be an omniscient god, and my position is threatened if I don't know something about the setting. I'm not trying to hide the man behind the curtain here. The feeling of realism comes from the fact that the procedures are consistent, not from hiding the procedures.

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Now, a less hypothetical example

Ages ago, I ran a Call of CThulhu scenario for some friends. This was a 1st or 2nd edition adventure about a politician's daughter being kidnapped by, as it turns out, sorceror-werewolves.

During play, my players kept asking a bunch about stuff that was reasonable to look for, but wasn't actually in the written scenario. For example- hey, can we talk to the local rligious leader in this village?

Uh, okay, nothing much about that witten down, but an entirely reasonable thing to ask about, so I ad-libbed it. I improv'ed it. I went off script and ran with it.

And stuff like this came up several times before the PCs ran down the end of the scenario. Some people happy, some sad about the outcome.

Now, one of my players was a bit more in hardcore gamer mindset, more D&D thanCall of Cthuhu norms, and, over holiday break ( we were in college), tracked down a copy of the scenario, discovered it was all of about 2.5 pages long, and that a vast amount of stuff I'd played out was improv'ed (based on what the players asked about) or moved to match with what they'd asked about ( okay great, clues now came from the minister they'd been talking to rather than the deputy, as was written in the scenario, who they'd been avoiding) rather than what the scenario designer had written.

And was effing livid about it.

To this day, in practical terms, I'm not sure what I could have done differently that would have been better.

Should I have simply said "No" a whole lot when they went haring off after something that wasn't written down?
Seems kinda pixel-bitchy, but I guess there's a rougher or smoother way to do it.

Should I have constantly made ad hoc info and notes before proceeding with improv'ed info coming into play?
I mean, that's the between-play-session concept, right? If you're going to use info you weren't expecting because players went in an unexpected direction, it's okay to make it up, but it needs to be somewhat in advance, and not in the moment. Or, not entirely in the moment, directly.

And, at the end of the day, the border ( even if merely roughly defined, and not ultra-exact) of what is acceptable GM behavior for Klokblorb is what confuses me.

Mostly because it seemed like advocates for it were rather stricter than I could imagine being practical, given the truly open-ended nature of RPGs, even when you're saying no to the playres going of to the capital to become merchants.

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Billy, we crossposted, but

Billy, we crossposted, but generally speakingh, yeah I woud look at the sitaution and use many of the same procedures.

However, I've been under the impression that Sandra especially demands more things set in stone in advance than you're suggesting in the methods you're talkng about.

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Moving clues around

I'll try not to speak too much on Sandra's behalf. For what it's worth, this is what she wrote on her website about mystery scenarios: https://idiomdrottning.org/clues/

What you describe about your way of running the Cthulhu scenario sounds pretty reasonable to me. Published scenarios are often awful railroads that fall apart the moment the players take initiative. I can't imagine what is going through the player's head to be so upset about you NOT trying to railroad them into doing exactly what the module writer imagined!

Theoretically, if you are trying to be full "Blorb", the line I would draw is the difference between extrapolating to fill in the blanks in the scenario (good) vs adjusting things to bring about a specific outcome (bad). So if it says in the scenario, "When the players talk to the deputy, he tells them that the mayor's daughter was often seen around the library..." then of course they could gain the same information from the minister, since it's common knowledge. On the other hand, if it said in the scenario, "The deputy was the only one in the graveyard the night of the kidnapping, and he hasn't told anyone," then I wouldn't contradict that by saying that actually the minister was in the graveyard instead.

Now, a better scenario wouldn't have put you in this position to begin with, because it would describe the details of the town and the case, rather than trying to predict all the players actions. I imagine there's a much better 2.5 pages that could have been written that would do a better job reducing the need for making these things up on the fly.

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Also note

Also note that different parties or players want different things. Blorb players, they are not going to scratch the paint on the wall. They are in for dungeoneering, and paint is not their basemeal. Now if you tell them glowmoss is a thing, you've made it something they are going to go scratching for in every place. But mostly, they will be content with what you present them - as long as it is prepped.

You can totally run a totally different sort of sandbox, where players are going to scracth people's motivations and all. That's more "human milieu" exploration, and the basic structure under it is not pseudo-ecology or economy, but **factions**. It's not totally different by principle, but it tends to be in practice, because we expect people to be much more diverse, and full of drama. But strangely, the faction structure is often poorer (6 factions is a lot, and GMs can introduce bigger fish at a slow pace) than the ecological one (6 resources is not much, players are probably going to plunder many places).

TL;DR : players in Blorb understand that only certain dimensions of reality matter to the game. They are not "heroic tourists", but dungeon grinders.

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TL;DR : players in Blorb

TL;DR : players in Blorb understand that only certain dimensions of reality matter to the game. They are not "heroic tourists", but dungeon grinders.

Ah, now all of this makes vastly more sense.

If that's the limit of the thing, then sure, I guess I agree after all.

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I think the "dungeon grinder

I think the "dungeon grinder not heroic tourist" thing is somewhat true of my particular game (depending what you mean by those terms), but I'm not sure it's true of the possibilities of these techniques in general.

The point of the play is to engage with the stuff that's prepped. But the point of the prep is to make solid the things we want to engage with. See, the white snake is eating the black snake's tail. That's why I keep talking about setting intentions and expectations.

I wouldn't want to try to sit down at the table to run a Blorb game with this premise: "Welcome to my fantasy world. It has the land area of Asia and a population of 200,000,000. You can do anything you want! Which city would you like to start in?" No one in their right mind could prep for a game like that.

So you need to plan in advance. We're going to be playing in this city, and we're interested in a love story about two young people from warring families, like Romeo and Juliet. So OK, now we have a clear premise, so we can see if we have appropriate rules to simulate that kind of thing. Do we need to add some new moves to the system? And then the GM can go prep something. Here the prep is going to have to look a lot different from the map-and-key stuff. I imagine it would look more like relationship maps or some such. Plus some combat stats for the possibility of altercations and duels. Maybe we still want a map of the palace so we can run more detailed balcony scenes. Try to get down the solid details so we can play out the scenario in a fair way.

Well, I haven't done a scenario like that! So I can't promise it will work, but I don't see why it wouldn't.

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I sure pay attention to wallpapers in dungeons

That's because they can contain information about the history, background or current status of the region. Natural or manufactured? To which historical period are they associated? Luxurious or usual? All of these are quite useful data points. But these are also easy questions for a game master to answer to when they have even a rough feel for the history of the dungeon.

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So, the last couple of posts

So, the last couple of posts bring up an odd thought as I woke up this morning:

If most of this is about dungeongrinding, is following up certain kinds of procedurtally generated info beyond a certain point "illegitimate" play on the part of the character players?

To use my concerned pickpocket example, if the player didn't realize the GM had randomly generated the surprisingly low amount of cash and started reading more into it, should the GM speak out of character to the player, and simply remind them that such results are "prepped" by a chart and randomly generated, and therefore there is nothing worthwhile to explore?

Whether the GM does that or not, is the player "wrong" to pursue the matter further, for example, by interviewing the NPC they robbed, as it forces the GM to either verbally dead-end them with some kind of blocking summary or to improv a bunch of undocumened info?

Also how does this all interact with the way players want the GM to provide info?

What I mean is, in this style, how important is the immersion feel for the players? Is it more of or less of a priority than more gamist concerns?

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Gamism? Immersion?

If most of this is about dungeongrinding, is following up certain kinds of procedurtally generated info beyond a certain point "illegitimate" play on the part of the character players?

That's an interesting question. My own opinion is that it is not illegitimate play. I would say on the contrary that if the random table is spitting out results that do not have any reason or explanation, then the table is not very good. Now, on the other hand, the explanation may not be very interesting, so pursuing it may not be very worthwhile.

To give a different example, suppose I have a random encounter table for a cave, and the table includes a red ooze. He feeds on organic material (such as bat guano or player characters). Now suppose the player characters clear out the entire cave, searching it carefully. If I then roll up another red ooze, they are definitely going to be a little surprised--where did it come from? Maybe it looped around behind them while they were exploring? Did it come into the cave from outside? But then why have they never met one in the surrounding countryside? Is there a secret room about?

I definitely would not want to say, "It's just a random encounter; it came from nowhere to provide you with an interesting challenge." That's disrespectful towards the believability and self-consistency of the world. If there's no explanation for how the ooze could have gotten there, it shouldn't be there at all. So for my random encounter tables, often I have some annotation like "max 2 encountered per month" (for big predators who would need a large territory) or "unless nest has been destroyed in room 15".

For the pickpocket, if I just generated a low amount of cash (on a 3d6 roll or something), then I don't have much explanation in mind other than the idea that wealth in this society seems to be distributed in a bell curve (3d6). So while I wouldn't want to say, "Ignore it, he's randomly generated", I would proceed in improvising the details of this character on the assumption that he wasn't an aberration who needed explanation, merely relatively much poorer than the rest of the town. Maybe the players would decide to adopt this NPC and start donating their treasure to boost him up the social ladder. That's valid play to me, though I don't imagine it would have long-reaching effects other than gaining the players a new friend.

On the other hand, if they started a whole philanthropic foundation and started trying to lift everyone in the town out of poverty, maybe I would change that 3d6 roll to something higher to represent the greater wealth of the town as a whole.

should the GM speak out of character to the player, and simply remind them that such results are "prepped" by a chart and randomly generated, and therefore there is nothing worthwhile to explore?

I guess in summary, my answer is that the random tables are also intended to represent part of the game world and therefore are valid to explore.

Where I would speak out of character to discourage your action is about what we agreed the game is about. If I told everyone that this is a wilderness adventure scenario, and you're getting caught up spending a whole session exploring the demographics of the town, then that's where I might speak to you out of character. It isn't a question of whether it's randomly generated, but whether it's the focus of what we intended to explore in the game.

Whether the GM does that or not, is the player "wrong" to pursue the matter further, for example, by interviewing the NPC they robbed, as it forces the GM to either verbally dead-end them with some kind of blocking summary or to improv a bunch of undocumened info?

I don't think it's wrong to pursue it just because it's undocumented, or to make the GM do some improv. However, for my main campaign, there's a point where I would be uncomfortable doing further improv, because it will have too much of an impact and I don't think I can come up with something good right now. I guess I'm just repeating myself, but I really will say at this point, "If you'd like to pursue this further, we'll need to follow up on it next week, so I have time to prepare." When I'm saying that, it doesn't mean that the players were wrong; it means they are doing something that's interesting and good, but that I didn't expect. So I want to treat the subject with the full prep it deserves.

So we accept that in the fictional world there is already a castle there, or an interesting backstory, or whatever; but for meta-game reasons, we can't explore it right now. This isn't ideal--actually, I love the kind of gameplay that emerges when they wander into somewhere they weren't planning to go, simply due to curiosity. So I try my best to predict their future interests and prep accordingly. But it happens sometimes (I think about five or six times across about 50 sessions). It's definitely a little immersion breaking, and the players make jokes about loading screens or the terrain looking really blurry in that direction.

Now, I hear you ask, what if it's a one-shot and we aren't coming back to it next week? It's improv or bust! My truthful answer is that I'll probably improv more in that situation. I don't care quite as much about the fidelity to the world, since we're going to throw it away when we're done. (Letting the momentary immersion take precedence.) Or, if it's an AD&D tournament module with points scoring and all that, then probably I would say out-of-character that there's nothing further to pursue here; now you've got three hours left, let's go kill the vampire. (Letting the gamism considerations take precedence.)

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Again, all that sounds like a

Again, all that sounds like a reasonable enough Starndard Operating Procedure to me, but in discussion, Sandra seemed way more intense about the whole thing, and a whole lot more demanding of acceptable minimum prep, than what you're describing.

I mean, it was important enough that she coined a new nonsense word to describe it and differentiate it from other approaches to play.

That led me to believe that I was missing somethig important.

Am I still missing something important?

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Good answers, but...

One of the things that often gets lost in a conversation like this is the creative focus of play.

When we talk about a technical concern - and that is what "blorb" is, it's basically a GM technique (or, perhaps, a group technique, in some cases) - it is easy to get into strange arguments or debates when we lose track of the *object of play*.

This happens all the time with discussions about "immersion", and there is a danger of it happening here, with "blorb", as well.

The key to resolving such conundrums is to return to the "object of play", or Creative Agenda: "what is the point of what we're doing here, ultimately, creatively, and socially?"

That's where you get your answer.

Now, I hear you ask, what if it's a one-shot and we aren't coming back to it next week? It's improv or bust! My truthful answer is that I'll probably improv more in that situation. I don't care quite as much about the fidelity to the world, since we're going to throw it away when we're done. (Letting the momentary immersion take precedence.) Or, if it's an AD&D tournament module with points scoring and all that, then probably I would say out-of-character that there's nothing further to pursue here; now you've got three hours left, let's go kill the vampire. (Letting the gamism considerations take precedence.)

You can see Billy doing it nicely here.

I think that transparency can be really helpful here. Nothing wrong with saying, "the guy you're pickpocketing is a regular civilian, and the rule for that is they carry around 3d6 gold. Go ahead and roll that once you've made your pickpocketing check." (Or whatever else determines the particulars of your game - whether that is, indeed, the focus, or something else.)

You can see how much trouble that will save you in a game!

You can't have everything all at the same time in an RPG. Perfect immersion, perfect "blorb", challenging the players, a mystery that gets solved every time, well-timed drama... you need to set your parameters, be clear about them, and apply them consistently. That might mean that the challenge or drama gets sacrificed because we want to really experience this side conversation with an 'irrelevant' character, or it might mean we are entirely upfront about the nature of the encounter ("I just rolled him from a 'villager' table, so he doesn't have anything else to say. Shall we get back to the investigation now?"), or it might mean sacrificing your prep and making up something interesting and dramatic, or whatever your particular game requires.

I don't think that blorb techniques require excessive prep. They can, but they can also be applied at "low resolution".

For example, I once played a "space exploration" game. We traveled around a map, and each time we stopped at a planet, the GM would "roll it up" on a chart, to see what it was like. Quite blorby but involved no prep (aside from the map). You can imagine a similar hexploration game: "you start HERE and you can go wherever you want. When you enter an unexplored hex, we roll to see what's there using these tables."

Exploring randomly-generated dungeons is another example.

But, of course, each of these sacrifices some other element of the game; there's always a compromise :)

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I'm just a lurker trying to

I'm just a lurker trying to follow your discussion about these weird terms but I think Paul nailed a problem.

I often get into trouble when mistaking a tool with a goal.
Tool as 'good for something else'. And goal as 'good in itself'.

But tools can become goals and goals can become tools, right?

In the last few days you seem to mostly talk about it as tools.

Maybe, just maybe what komradebob is asking about is that some people (Sandra?) seem to treat it as a goal!

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Exactly right

Blorb is a compound of techniques (gloracle, etc.) that make a body of rules (D&D X edition) fit for a specific goal (GM accountability / players open problem solving). No wonder there is some tension there.

If it were only about problem solving, you could use rules better fit for this, says Into the Odd.
It's not short for a Realistic Sandbox either. If it were only about that the first time I say, as a GM, "this is true" instead of "this is what you see", I put the whole thing in danger. Whereas Sandra short circuits this question with characters being vaguely conscious of the rules (HD, XP) of the fiction world. She clearly prioritizes accountability over transparency. Because a game without folds does not exist : it's always a perspective on a bunch of questions, with some clearly antithetic and equally possible answers, and you just establish priorities and try to tuck the folds as neatly as possible.

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