RPG XRAY

008 Authorities

March 23, 2024 The RPG XRAY Team Season 2 Episode 8
RPG XRAY
008 Authorities
Show Notes Transcript

This episode’s topic is Authorities. Who can say what, and when can they say it, in an RPG? Authorities determine this, and have, since the foundation of tabletop role playing.

Small changes to the authorities in your game can have huge, sometimes unexpected impact on the gameplay experience.

HOSTS:


APPENDIX X:


GAMES MENTIONED:


SUMMARY:

Episode 8 of the “RPG XRAY” podcast, titled ""Authorities,"" dives into the concept of authorities in role-playing games (RPGs), a topic discussed by hosts Jason Beaumont, Ethan Schoonover, and Eric Saltwell, along with their experiences and insights on how authority distribution affects gameplay. 
The episode begins with the hosts sharing their recent media consumption and its relevance to gaming. Ethan discusses the book ""City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City,"" reflecting on its implications for world-building in RPGs, particularly in creating dense, lawless environments. Eric shares his exploration of World War II training videos and SCP (Secure, Contain, Protect) Foundation content, highlighting their potential for storytelling in games. Jason talks about playing ""Alan Wake 2,"" emphasizing the game's use of sensory experiences and subjective reality to enhance horror elements.
The main discussion centers on the concept of authorities in RPGs, referring to the rules that dictate who can say what within a game's narrative and mechanics. The hosts outline three primary roles with potential authority in RPGs: the player, the game master (GM), and the rule system. Traditional games typically grant players authority over their characters, the GM authority over the game world and narrative, and the rule system authority over the outcomes of actions.
The conversation explores various distributions of authority and their impact on gameplay. Examples include traditional games, where the GM has significant control, and non-traditional or story games, where players may have more narrative authority. The hosts discuss how shifting authority can create different play experiences, from collaborative world-building to games where players have significant control over the story's direction.
The episode concludes with the hosts reflecting on their personal preferences and the potential for experimenting with authority distribution in their games. They express interest in exploring how changing who has authority in specific situations can lead to innovative and engaging gameplay experiences.

Erik:

Joining the x-ray team today are Jason Beaumont, Ethan Schoonover, and

Jason:

So in appendix X,

Erik:

myself, Eric Saltwell. As always, before jumping into the main course, we like to start things off with an amuse-bouche we call Appendix X.

Ethan:

This week, one of the things that I've been reading is a book that I've had

Jason:

we do a little summary of all the media we're consuming currently, with a particular eye towards how it could be applied to gaming. Ethan, I think you're up first.

Ethan:

since I lived in Hong Kong, which is the City of Darkness, Life in Kowloon World City by Greg Gerard and Yuen Lambo. And this book is, I was gifted this when I lived there and unfortunately I moved to Hong Kong after the world city was torn down. So I never got to actually visit it. But that being said, the experience in Asia and my experience living in Southeast Asia and sort of like experience of rabbit warren like back alleys and organic growth of gigantic cities, built in concrete and waterways and things like that. That's very much central to my experience of my life in Asia and Southeast Asia. And so going back through this book, just it first of all brings back a lot of memories of my life there, but also makes me think a lot about, it's world building, it's like literal world building in, first of all, very small geographical location. And for those listeners who are not familiar with it, the common world city was property of China that existed like an island inside of the British controlled Hong Kong. And because of that, it was kind of a lawless area that grew up in a very small space, constrained space to be sort of this metastasized city, dense urban environment, which actually has a lot of impact on things like Ghost in the Shell and other kind of anime aesthetic later on. So. Well, and the thing is they weren't run by China.

Erik:

Wow, I didn't realize that they had that relationship where they were run by China even though they were inside of the British.

Ethan:

They were just they were officially land owned by China or it's,

Jason:

They were ignored.

Ethan:

you know, there's some ambiguity there. But because of that, the British government just didn't, you know, they didn't manage it or set foot in it. The Hong Kong government, I should say now, obviously.

Erik:

Holy cow, that sounds like a blast of a setting.

Ethan:

Yeah, yeah, and, you know, it's obviously good and bad, and there was, I think, is probably for the best that it was torn down because, you know, you would have things like whole sections of it were supplied water by a single hose that somebody had run off of some other water main somewhere. But there was every service imaginable, legal and illegal available inside of that. And there are some very famous cross sections that have been done of the city that are really worth looking up if you just look up Calvin and Walt City. But it's, of course, both kind of reminds you of a dungeon crawl.

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

I mean, you look at it, you see these pictures of dungeons from like early D&D where the cross section of the dungeon is like a guy standing on a stone floor and then like immediately below him, there's like some other room and then immediately below that, there's another room. And, you know, I used to draw dungeons like that. And then at some point I realized, like, the dungeons don't exist like this.

Erik:

Right.

Ethan:

Right, they would be like caverns carved out of rock or something like that. And this dungeon would collapse. But actually, no, the Calvin Walt City looks exactly like that.

Jason:

>> I think the other part of that book that really goes to the old kind of dungeon school design is it's not like there was like zones. You see a mix of commercial and residential in really unfamiliar ways.

Ethan:

Yes!

Jason:

If I remember correctly, there's a section of the book where it's showing a residential hallway and then one of the rooms, the door is open and it's like, that's a butcher shop.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

And that's to me very much also old school dungeon design, where you're like, why would this thing be here? And it's like, well, that's somehow how emergent communities like this are formed. And they don't have as much of an orderly shape as the ones that we're used to.

Ethan:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And you would find things like, you know, little shops like way up high on the upper levels. They would have like little satellite shops where they would have, you know, like, sort of like a corner shop, right, like a bodega kind of thing. But like super small just because it was so hard to go up and down sometimes in the structure and it was just such a literal rabbit horn of stairways and things like that.

Erik:

Yeah. Okay, now you're gonna have to run a session of Cyrun for us in Kowloon.

Ethan:

All right, I'll begin my six months of research now.

Jason:

>> Yeah.

Erik:

There you go.

Jason:

Eric, how about you?

Erik:

Yeah, so last episode I talked a little bit about how I had fallen down a gun YouTube hole in my attempt to learn about modern firearms. And I am continuing to do that, but I have found this collection of amazing, I don't know, World War II, Korean War era movies, training videos that were made by the US government that are like black and white and they are clearly designed for new troops to learn how guns work. And they have just been amazing to watch. First of all, they have that like black and white army training video aesthetic, but they have like models and go really in depth and I've been really enjoying that. Also, my son is, he just ran his Halloween dread game for his school's D&D club and he decided to base it off of SPC. So I've also been spelunking in SPC land, which has been very cool.

Ethan:

Could you just tell the reader or listeners what SBC is?

Erik:

Oh, yeah, sorry. Yeah, so SCP is this kind of cultural phenomenon and I think it stands for

Ethan:

SCP, yeah.

Erik:

Secure, Contain, Protect. And I have no idea how it started, but it was, it kind of has a men in black thing where it's about horrible, nightmarish stuff and the government, I don't even know if it's the government, some foundation is protecting and they make sure that the rest of us don't know about it. And people just write in with their like monstrosities and horrors and talk about it. And for being that type of a bottoms up community, I think it's been impressive at how consistently good the quality is and how they stay on tone. It's been pretty great.

Jason:

>> For myself, I think last week I talked, and it's actually of a theme with what Eric just mentioned, was I talked a little bit about how I was playing Control, which is obviously influenced by, I believe, a lot of the SCP stuff we discussed.

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

Well, now Alan Wake 2 is out, and it is a phenomenal video game, probably the best horror video game ever made. And I will say what I really appreciate about it is that it starts as just a really kind of spooky procedural with a couple kind of, well, I mean, it really kicks off with a pretty grim beginning, but then it turns into a spooky procedural, but very quickly goes absolutely haywire with tons of interesting subjective reality, multidimensional, playing with light and shadow. And for me, it reinforces a lot of what we talked about towards the end of a previous episode, which is just bringing multiple senses into play, into the game. There's a kind of a monster in the game that kind of comes from the mist, and that's something you're used to, like that's a very horror video gamey thing. But nine out of ten mists are just mist. And so a lot of times when you're looking around, something is forming into a shape where you're like, I think that's a thing, and then it's not, right?

Erik:

Right.

Jason:

So you're kind of experiencing these little micro anxieties, and then all of a sudden, wham, one hits you by the side of the head, and you're at full terror, panic, fleeing kind of mode. And so I really appreciate the way the game goes as bonkers as it does. So really cool, really cool title.

Ethan:

Jason, can you just remind the listeners why you saying that this is the best horror game?

Jason:

Yeah. I guess we have.

Ethan:

They should take this seriously. Like what do you do when you're not, you know, talking about role-playing games with us? We've mentioned it only once on this series.

Jason:

So yeah, so I work at Xbox, and I run the team that's in charge of the user experience and the platform that people use when they play Xbox. And a lot of that involves Game Pass. And so I end up seeing dozens and dozens and dozens of games. And so I think what Ethan's getting at here is that I tend to see a lot. And so if something really jumps out at me as high quality, that you could rest assured that I've actually seen a lot of the comparatives, and that this one really stands out. So highly recommend it. Probably going to be easily one of my top five of the year for sure. So yeah, you'll love it.

Ethan:

Wow. Oh, I'm excited. This is, uh, yeah, goodbye 60 hours of my life.

Jason:

You'll love it. Way up your alley. Yeah, way up your alley.

Ethan:

Cool.

Jason:

So yeah.

Ethan:

Just a quick question. Have you seen the Night House, the movie, the Night House? I think it's from 2020.

Jason:

No.

Ethan:

I would just, uh, if you have, you know, a spare hour, it's not, it's not the greatest horror film that I've ever seen.

Jason:

No. Yeah.

Ethan:

And it reminds me a little bit of, I think the Hollow Man film that came out recently as well. Hey, this is Ethan. Just a quick post recording note. I keep saying the Hollow Man. I meant the Empty Man from 2020. Okay, back to the podcast. Um, which I would strongly recommend people watch. It's a, it's long, it's a slow movie in some ways, but the Hollow Man, if I have that title correct, um, was kind of, it kind of fell through the cracks and nobody saw it, but the, the Night House also plays with light and shadow and, and perspective visually in very interesting ways that I've seen few films do. Um, and I think it was written, it was done, directed by the guy who did the Signal and the Ritual, two other like kind of indie-ish horror films, which I'm not sure if you folks have seen.

Erik:

All right. Well, let's move forward to today's topic. Today's topic is authorities. Authorities is a term that I've heard in two places. The first is Ron Edwards often talks about it. He's a very distinguished and old school game designer. And also the folks at Story Brewers, which is a game publisher. They make Good Society. And you can find a YouTube video by the two main designers, V. Hendro and Haley Gordon. And they talk about it in talking about who can say what when. And authorities are effectively just that. It's when a game's rule systems tell people,"Hey, within the game, you have the ability to say what. What can you talk about and what becomes reality when you talk about it?" And there are effectively two types of this. There are narrative authorities, which is the ability to say,"Okay, what things can I say happen and then they really happen in the fiction?" And then in addition, there's a directorial authority, which is the ability to say, "As I'm playing the game, we're going to have this scene now." Or, "Oh, this scene is now veiling out or is finished." And that's like another type of authority. I find most people, when they talk about authorities, they're talking about the narrative one. And today we're going to talk about how those authorities get spread in various role-playing games, because one point that Ron Edwards always makes is that this is such a fundamental feature of any game, who can say what when. And we'll get into some details really shortly. If you change those authorities, you have a very different game experience. And most of us are familiar with what we call trad games, traditional games, where there is a specific set of authorities. And non-trad games are often defined by the fact they have different authorities. So just to give a set of background, I think of there as being three different types of people who can have authorities, players, in a game. So the first is what we often call the player, or people who run a player character. This is somebody who represents the protagonist in a game. Then you often have what we call a game master, dungeon master, various names exist. And this is the person who has authority over everything other than-- narrative authority over everything other than what the protagonists do. And they also usually are a facilitator, meaning they have directorial authority about, like, now we're going to do this scene, and now the scene ends. And then there is a third player that I think is really important to think about as a player with authorities, and that's the rule system. So in a traditional game, the players have authority over the player characters. The GM has authority over everything else. And there is a rule system that has authority over whether or not any of the actions by any of those players are successful, and what degree are they successful. And that is, to me, actually the definition of trad gaming. I don't know if the industry agrees with that. I don't know if you guys agree with that. But that's, I think, what we want to talk about today. And I think a great way to start that off would be to talk a little bit about what are some distributions of authorities across those three players that we see clusters of in gaming that are interesting. So I already talked about trad gaming. You guys want to talk a little bit about what are some other types of games that you can think of? And they don't need to have a name or anything. You can just say, oh, a game like this.

Jason:

>> Yeah, I can start with one. I think there's a set of trad gaming that is aware of non-traditional gaming. And so while, and this is kind of how I play typically, I would say. Which is, I think my players and myself kind of expect the traditional gaming construct most of the time when we're sitting down at the table.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

Unless we're explicitly saying, hey, here's a new system we're trying out,

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

we're gonna play this thing. But I really like in a lot of the non-traditional gaming setups, the authority given to players. And so I've seen all three of us do this when we're in kind of that game master

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

role, where at certain moments we cede authority over to the players. And so that could go from very minor, describe what just happened, right? To a little bit more major, and I think I've talked about this in the past, how even in a campaign as deadly as Massive Nihilith O'Tepp, I have in our session zero document, the players are still in control of when their characters die or not. You could say, that's a cool death, that's exactly how I wanna die. Or like, it's not quite how I wanted my character to go out. I think that comes directly from what I've learned from experiencing and playing non-traditional gaming. So I'd almost call this like pseudo-traditional gaming,

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

where it has kind of that trinity construct that you just described. But it passes authority more often than I think maybe you would see in a purely traditional gaming setup.

Erik:

And I think that there's some systems like the pool or inspectors where they make that actually a part of the rule system, right? Where in inspectors, if you are successful, if the system says that you're successful,

Jason:

That's right.

Erik:

the reward isn't that you're successful at what you do, it is actually you gain the authority to say, "What clue did I find?" And it specifies the rules. I think also in the pool they do this too, like if you fail, then the GM gets to say what happens, they get authority. But if you succeed, then the PC gets authority really broadly over like what happens right

Jason:

I think that's a really good point, which is, in a sense,

Erik:

now in the narrative. Not just that you succeed, but yeah, in like kind of a fundamental way.

Jason:

the description I just described was still a traditional game setup. It was the GM was passing authority for a moment. You just described another kind of tweak on that, which is that the system itself determines when authority passes between that GM and the player. But it's still the traditional three authority setup, right?

Erik:

And what do you think? That type of system, either this type of system you described or I described, what effect do you think implementing that in play has on the play experience?

Jason:

To me, it creates some certainty on when authority happens or not. You know, we've been discussing the 2D20 systems here, I think, quite a bit as well. Each one of those has a little bit of variation on this too, on when the game master describes the outcome or when the player describes the outcome. So I like when the system embraces meeting out authority changes,

Erik:

So, Ethan, I think you played inspectors and I think we've all played the pool.

Jason:

because I think as a player and as GM, it kind of gives you a sense of certainty on when that moment happens versus the method I just described. I'm always in charge. It's just sometimes I choose to cede authority when I think it's a good moment for table play, as opposed to codifying it in a rule set.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

So what do you think that type of either like just the GM handing that off or the rules explicitly saying, "Hey, as a result of a resolution mechanism, you get authority." How does that affect your play experience when you're playing in a game like that?

Ethan:

Well, let me see if I can answer that by sort of contrasting some examples from Call of Cthulhu and Inspectors.

Jason:

I forgot about that.

Ethan:

So in the masks campaign that Jason's running, there was a moment where he ceded authority in a different way to us, and that was in the creation of an NPC. And it's funny, I still like, "Boy, he, this guy is so, he's so present in my mind." I think we had a scene of two minutes with him ultimately, and who knows.

Jason:

Yeah.

Ethan:

But, you know, this, okay, first of all, so I'll just lay it out. We were going to, I think, a ball or a party or an event at a mansion, yes, and this guy was like a Scottish lord or something like that.

Jason:

Yeah, at the British Museum. Yeah.

Ethan:

I think he's wearing a kilt maybe, or he's got like a walking stick. Like, there's all these like small details about this guy that we ended, oh, yeah, that's right.

Jason:

Right, right.

Ethan:

He's also like, you know, kind of landed gentry, but he stole, I think, a lot of his land from the peasantry around him. And there's all these details that we laid in on this guy, and he's a very like vivid character because of that. And you handed off that, and you did that a couple of times with us during that session, I think, and throughout the campaign.

Jason:

Yeah, the method I used for that one was I had no idea how many NPCs you all would meet in that scene. I also didn't want to predetermine how that scene would go. I knew some of the actions that were going to happen there because I was prepping the situation, not the plot that was

Ethan:

Right.

Jason:

happening at that moment. And so I was stuck at just in prep. I was like, how do I, should I create 10 NPCs or five? And if I do, how do I get them to show up? And that's when I was like, well, what if I essentially gave everybody a stack of index cards? I had them, and each person got an assignment. So one of them would be like, what was their background? Another one is like, what are they wearing? I think it was like, what was their motivation or whatever. And so everybody had to create five or six of these index cards. And then when you met a new NPC, we would shuffle them,

Ethan:

Right, that's right.

Jason:

and that would essentially create the character in the moment. So in a sense, that was not only ceding authority to you all, but none of you were authoring the character. I wasn't authoring the character. Chance was actually authoring the character, right? But I thought that was going

Ethan:

Right.

Jason:

to be a neat moment of feeling like we're co-creating, but also creating some emergent play and also solving a prep problem for myself. Right? Yeah. Yeah.

Ethan:

Right, right, right. Yeah, fair enough, fair enough. Now, the contrast that to Inspectors where there's one other type of authority that happens in Inspectors or world building or decision making, which is actually to me a little bit, I don't want to say it's riskier, but it is the moment in which, I forget what the term is in Inspectors, but one of the conceits of that is you can imagine the Inspectors gameplay as like watching The Office, one of these, you know, a TV show, kind of a faux reality TV show.

Jason:

you you

Ethan:

Comedy series where it's like, there are these cut scenes where you interview the characters.

Jason:

you

Ethan:

Confessionals, that's what they call them. That's right. So in The Office, you'll have one of the characters sitting alone in a conference room being interviewed by the document, the nominal documentary crew.

Erik:

Yeah, confessional maybe? Yeah, yeah.

Ethan:

And that's sort of what you imagine a confessional to be in Inspectors when it happens. And during confessionals that you can actually influence or you can you can determine or declare somewhat important shifts in relationship or implications for relationships between characters, which really kind of crosses a boundary for me in terms of how much authorship you have over your own characters backstory.

Jason:

you you

Ethan:

Right. So there were a couple of moments where I adjusted the relationship between my character and another character such that it had real implications, I thought, for sort of the stance, the narrative stance of a particular other character, other players character that they had control over. That makes me feel uncomfortable, and it's not something that I'm used to in gameplay, because one of the tenants of traditional RPG gameplay is always like, don't you don't get to control somebody else's character.

Jason:

you

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

And we can talk about maybe games where that is explicitly a rule that is broken or a boundary that is crossed, I should say. But I would like to just put this out there as something we come back to. I think that this type of seating of authority happens all the time in D&D, but it happens because it is not seated.

Jason:

you

Ethan:

It is taken. And the example that I would give is to go back to your masks, NPC creation process that happens all the time in regular D&D. What happens is you as the GM present an NPC to the character, to the players who then decide implicitly, this is the most important NPC we've ever met in our life.

Jason:

You're so right. Yes. Totally that's the worst. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Ethan:

And they keep coming back to that NPC. And you know, right? It's a frustrating, sometimes frustrating and sometimes joyous and sometimes both at the same time experience for a DM who all of a sudden has to then create all this material around this one kobold or whatever it is.

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

So, so, and I think because D&D does a bad job at managing authority in that regard or providing a vehicle for the creation of that kind of thing, that it can actually derail a campaign sometimes a little bit or let's say generously rerail it on a different train line.

Erik:

Yeah, I think the maddest my daughter's ever gotten at me was I was running a game with

Ethan:

So.

Erik:

Ethan in his girls' middle school D&D club, and we had made exactly a cobbled NPC, and my players...

Ethan:

You were running a different group for me, I think that. Yeah. Yeah.

Erik:

Oh, that's right, yep. And so we had this NPC that was a cobbled, and he was very lovable and adorable, and the players loved this cobbled. And I gave it a moment of having a bad experience, right, where he got in trouble with his master, and it was kind of their fault because of what they'd done in play, and honestly it took a year for my daughter to... She was in that play group. And it took a year for her to forgive me because I had mistreated this NPC she was so, so attached

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

to.

Ethan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

I think that's also, it's interesting, it's a place where their narrative authority over what their player characters do becomes a directorial authority over what scenes we're gonna have with what in them, right? And that's actually super interesting. So they, so okay, so I feel like two situations we've talked about now are that sometimes, because I think there is a general sense in the industry that spreading out authority is good, and providing a lot of authority to players is good, but Ethan, you just talked about a place, and that's when one PC has narrative authority over another PC, that that actually can cause problems. And then this place where you can also get problems by the PC's narrative authority becoming directorial authority. Are there other places where we feel like there's a cost, or is it usually, when is it, really my question is, when is it a good thing to take away from the trad model and give authority to players, and when do we need to be careful about it, and when are there consequences that aren't just pure good? Or, that is a movie, I think that's exactly absent, but in a way, even a movie has authority because, right, from a philosophical sense, I as the interpreter of the movie am creating the meaning of the movie, and so it's almost like an unread book, right? That's right. Yep. Yep. Oh. Yep. Scripted. I think that's really interesting, and I think goes along with, well, what's the point of the game? Is the point of the game that the players need some set of authorities because you want them to enjoy the experience, or is it, no, no, we're going to redistribute these authorities because it's the viewer that you care about having a good experience? Yep. Right. Yep. This is, sorry, this reminds me of in old school D&D, they actually had two specific authority roles, the mapper and the caller, right?

Ethan:

>> Yeah, yeah, I was thinking about that at the beginning of this episode.

Erik:

Yep. Yep, and I feel like that's an example of trying for, especially for younger kids. And I don't know, Ethan, did you experience that when you were running the girls' school club that you had to set up structures like that because your kids were young?

Ethan:

>> We had a lot of rules around who could speak and when, and also a lot of rules around not stepping on other people's player character. In terms of like, you can never, we had right away I set out rules which were like, you can't say that Susan's character does something if you're not Susan. Because that happens, otherwise it does happen all the time. There are certain personalities of players, kids who will be like, I am now going to move all the puzzle pieces, all the pieces around on the board. Right? And yeah, totally. And they can be the most creative and interesting kids sometimes because they're sort of natural storytellers and they want to tell this story that they have in their head all of a sudden, this scene they want it to play out a certain way. And so they start to grab other people's toys. Right? Well, I guess that's what we call norm setting.

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

And in the classroom and a lot of the stuff that we're talking about in role playing games when it's the rules is norm setting. Right? And I think that early D&D having the caller, which is interesting to me, by the way, to clarify, the caller is the person who's supposed to sort of collect the moves, so to speak, from the other players and then talks to the GM and tells the GM who,

Jason:

>> Yeah.

Ethan:

by the way, in early, especially Dave Arneson, like in early D&D, used to literally be not visible and like hiding behind some sort of like scrim or a screen. Have you heard this about Dave Arneson?

Erik:

No.

Ethan:

Yeah, that he would actually be like not visible to the players and would literally like just be calling out like a voice in the in the ether what the players are experiencing, which is really fascinating. Yeah. Right. then press be and I'll see it again. Yeah, yeah. It's one of those things that is notably absent too, right? When you read about it, you're like, this is weird and alien.

Erik:

Mm-hmm. I feel like maybe from, my only guess here, and I don't think it's a well-formed guess, but is that as the media form matured and we understood like, hey, yes, if you're at a table and three people shout things out, the GM should just ask, okay, is this what you're doing? Or, you know, it turned out maybe that cultural norms could supplant having an actual authority.

Ethan:

Is that true then also for other types of like, okay. So we see attenuation of authority over time in the sense that like those structures of

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

the caller, et cetera, those, those disappear and the informal space sort of becomes accepted

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

and manageable. Is that also true then for the rules? Is that why rules have be like games have become more rules light because we're able to manage that more or why? Why answer me, Eric?

Erik:

Well, that is a really interesting question, not one I've ever thought of.

Ethan:

Yeah, yeah.

Erik:

I don't know, or is it just, is that an unrelated aspect of us getting away from our wargaming

Ethan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Erik:

roots and our simulationist roots? I don't know.

Jason:

>> I think it is. And I'd also say that I think so much like this goes back to Ethan's point earlier about norms. I think now we just have a lot of more tools around norm setting on like how a table behaves than we did in the past.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

And I think when the hobby was just so early and so primitive, you kind of didn't have a lot of parallels on this is how to behave at a table. Now people have played super complicated board games. You're not like when you introduce people to an RPG that are relatively new to it, it's not as a foreign of a concept as I think it was probably 40 some years ago when like the only other people who encountered anything like this were like Napoleonic warfare fans. It's just like the set is kind of much bigger. Right, like I'll go back to talking about my kids and my kids have played more role playing games that I have by age like eight or so. Right. And and they're already a little bit like sophisticated and how they think about how to play the games. I think just yesterday I shared with you all my eight year old is working on a game that she called cats taking over the world. That's her RPG and she directly addresses authority in the document that she that she created. And I'm just going to read it where it's there's a section about who makes the decisions. And her quote is the person who is talking about the story decides or the people who are playing. And I think it's like it's interesting, like, you know, that she she already recognizes from just like that very early amount of play on like, OK, there's somebody who has to decide things. And that's one of the first things I need to write down is who decides things. And I think back in the age of callers, it was just like way more chaotic and just not a lot of parallels to that kind of play. And I think back in the age of callers, it was just like way more chaotic and just not a lot of parallels to that kind of play.

Erik:

I also think there's a sense in which distribution of authorities can be used in order to, I think the distribution of authorities can be used in some ways to define how are we cooperative when we play versus how are we competitive. And in the early days, I think people really struggled with this, where, okay, is the DM

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

the bad guy that I'm fighting against or are we all telling a story here and we're working together? And I think that actually that was a hard problem and hard question that now I think we all have sense of what are the boundaries, when do people enjoy it, when don't they, in a way that's really the maturing of the industry.

Ethan:

Can you also not say that about the, the, if you're, if you're saying that there's a three pillar, like I don't want to say pillars cause I think D and D uses those terms differently.

Jason:

Yeah, yeah, it's true. Yeah.

Ethan:

But if there are these three authorities model, right.

Jason:

Yeah.

Erik:

Yeah.

Ethan:

Game master rule set players. Could you also imagine that the players had an adversarial relationship with the rule set initially, or even like for much of the hobby and that that has also changed in some regards.

Erik:

I do, I think, you know, one of our co-hosts who's often on is Brendan Power and Brendan often talks about how in the early days of gaming, he was really became frustrated by the power gamer who was somebody who was trying to compete with the rule system, right? I'm going to go find the exploit and I'm going to use it and that's great play is when I can have so much system mastery. And I think I heard Ron Edwards say this, that the problem is actually not that people

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

want to have system mastery. The problem is that players use that as a way to not have their characters ever be in danger, right? That it makes them safe and invulnerable and they can do everything, which then takes the narrative situation and totally makes it unimportant, right? Tension goes away and it just becomes this like, hey, I'm going to goof around and kill

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

the king and then do whatever I want, right? Because there is no tension, there is no challenge to overcome if I've used system mastery in

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

a way that breaks the system and that that's like, that's really the bad behavior. But I think that that actually is Ethan, just to come back to your point, that is me competing with the rule system.

Jason:

>> There was a form of that that I experienced, and

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

I wonder if you all shared the same experience back in the 80s. Which is pre kind of mass market Internet. There was no place to go look for rules or to read about people talking about the rules. You got like Dragon Magazine, that was it, right?

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

There was also a lot of mystery around what D&D even kind of was and

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

how RPGs worked because you couldn't watch anybody else play it other than like what

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

you and your friends were trying to figure out. And I remember back then, I would always get Dragon Magazine. And other people would often show up to our session with a copy of it and be like, there are these rules in this article as if it was a part of the Bible that had just been discovered, right?

Ethan:

Yes.

Erik:

Oh yeah.

Jason:

And that this was a new truth we had to figure out how to incorporate,

Erik:

Yep. Yep.

Jason:

not as optional rules, but as in like a new part of it has been revealed to us.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Through this magazine, right?

Ethan:

I absolutely. That is exactly the experience. It was like interpreting the Holy writ.

Jason:

Yeah, right, right.

Erik:

Yep. So actually I think you could interpret that Jason as that there's really four players in this play, right? There's the people representing the player characters, the GM, and there's two rule systems,

Jason:

Mm-hm.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

right? There's the text of what is written and what it says. And then there's the what we actually follow when we play at the table.

Jason:

Right.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

And I think you could model this as people who took the text is written as having Fiat authority over the rules we all come up with at play and especially the GM, right?

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

I think this was often like a player conflicting with the GM.

Jason:

I love what you just said because to me that brings upon another big memory of

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

when people would bring characters to your table that they had been playing in another campaign and you're always like, well, what rule set were you all kind of following this because why do you have three rings of wishes? And that it's almost like the reality was colliding with the reality that you

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

had built up at your table. And I think that's why you then create like this adventurers leagues and all this other stuff, which again is something that's I think has largely kind

Erik:

you

Jason:

of petered out of the system. I'm sure somebody who's listening will be like no, adventurers league is still alive and well, blah, blah, blah. And there's all these rules and adventures on it, whatever. It's not as kind of fundamental as I think it was in like the 80s and 90s when you

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

get like the role players game associations newsletter and they had what was legal

Erik:

yeah so there's something that I really struggle with in authorities and this is

Jason:

and what was not, what the errata was. And character portability I think was like a thing that I just don't even see it. Maybe that's just kind of how we play. Maybe for kids these days that still exists. I don't ever see any systems or rules discussing character portability as much.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Transcription by CastingWords© 2016 The CastingWords Podcast. All rights reserved.

Erik:

something that in when we play modern kind of what they call story games I always walk away and just to be clear I'm gonna say what I like and what I find compelling and I don't want to invalidate anyone else's experience to the extent that you love these games and you value them great that's awesome but I have had a hard time with many modern games that don't have traditional authorities and as a player I often find them less compelling and I was thinking

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

about that in prep for this episode and there is there's a game designer named

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

Paul Tzigi CZEGE and he is famous for having declared the Tzigi principle

Ethan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Erik:

which is that challenges are more interesting and compelling if you if the

Ethan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Erik:

person making the challenge isn't the person trying to overcome the challenge that if you've defined your own challenge overcoming the challenge you defined it's just not as compelling and I think this is a special case like kind of the special relativity case of a more general principle which is that narrative and in our episode on fun we talked about this narrative is all about curiosity and your mind pattern matching what's gonna happen next and discovery and in that world I think there is a general rule which is that consumption

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

of narrative is less compelling if you're the one creating that narrative and I feel like I feel that all the time in modern games that have this non-traditional authorities where the players are defining what is the challenge or even just what is the story and I find it interesting we call these story games because I think for good reason but even as a player my enjoyment of the story actually goes down in these games and again maybe you're different but I think the real way to understand that is that the effect of giving that authority to the player moves the type of challenge in the game whereas in a game in a traditional game I as a player am overcoming the chair the challenges

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

that are teed up by the GM with his authorities um but what is the challenge in a story game you know what is the fun challenge in a story I think it's not that the fun challenge is the act of authorship itself right that it's a

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

story game to the extent that the fun is trying to make a story not that it's

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

more fun and enjoyable to consume that story and I I've been thinking about this all the time lately

Jason:

I love what you just said, and it reminds me of the game Microscope.

Erik:

oh yes

Jason:

Right? And so for any listener who hasn't played Microscope,

Erik:

you

Jason:

Microscope is a game that really is about worldbuilding. It's not a traditional RPG, and it's one where you take turns around the table

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

laying out different parts of a world and the world's history at different altitudes.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

Sometimes it's like, you know, defining a big era, and sometimes it's defining something as small

Erik:

Yep.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

as a certain scene that happened in a moment. And the fun of that game is that you're sharing authorship across the table.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

Yep. Right. So, we're going to go ahead and get started. So, I'm going to go ahead and

Jason:

There's some rules in it around who can kind of, how big of an impact you can make with a move, essentially one of your index cards that you're doing.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

But the fun is at the other end, you're like, what an amazing, crazy world that we just all invented together. And I guess to me, Microscope's not an RPG. It's like another kind of activity that we do together. And I think what you're hitting upon, Eric, a little bit, and it's I think a recurring theme for us, which is you sit down to play an RPG, you want the kind of dialectic that you just described from traditional RPGs. And when you don't get that, you're like, this is fun, but it's a different kind of fun.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Jason:

It's like a theater improv game fun.

Erik:

Yes.

Ethan:

Right.

Jason:

It's kind of why I bounce off of Fiasco as an example.

Ethan:

Yeah.

Erik:

Uh-huh.

Jason:

When I play Fiasco, I'm like, this just feels like a theater kid game where you're like warming up

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

before you're all pretending to be my fair lady or whatever. And it doesn't hit the note that RPG play plays for me. And I think what really is coming home to me is in that moment, it's the primacy of the system. In a sense, the system has almost more authority in games that I enjoy than the DM or the player.

Erik:

Yep. Yep.

Jason:

And this is also maybe why I enjoy old school play a lot, where you elevate the authority of the dice so much. Right? Yeah.

Erik:

Yeah. I often find a sweet spot where, for me, I keep coming back to that the GM has the authority for any situation. And this is very Trad Gaming, to say, what are your odds of success? But it's the dice that have authority to say, given those odds, do you succeed or not? And there's some magic alchemy there where the player knows that whatever he does, he has a chance, but also knows that his narrative actions have meaning because they're being evaluated in terms of the odds of success. And that I don't know what it is, but that is that thing that transports me into the player character in the moment to be like, oh, I really hope that this outcome comes out in a specific way.

Jason:

How do you feel when you're playing, like I believe the Star Wars, not the West End game, but the Fantasy Flight, I believe, where the dice have a mix set of success, where there's like a success, a little bit of failure, and then the player, the DM kind of have varying roles in determining what that plays out. When you're playing that, how does that feel to you?

Erik:

I have honestly never played that game, so I don't know.

Jason:

Oh, okay, okay, yeah. I think there's a set of systems out there where the dice don't just indicate success or failure, they indicate a mixture of success or failure, and then the system then describes which part, which of those authorities kind of gets to describe how successful or unsuccessful,

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

or a complication, I think is maybe a common method there.

Erik:

Yep. So when I think about that, I often think about Cyrun, where they have-- you roll a mountain of dice, and then you have to allocate those dice to different types of-- the different dimensions of success. Like, was your roll effective? Did the people who are coming after you, are they closer to getting you? Did your power create some terrible side effect? Did I learn any memories about my past? And that's, I think, similar to what you were saying, which is that the rule system, again, is giving you mixed successes. And then you structure which part is the failure and which part is the success. And I actually really love that system. I would love to play not so much about, I feel like we've played Cyrun, but as a game aficionado,

Jason:

Yeah.

Erik:

I often play in my head with how could you make that more generic and use it in other systems? Yep.

Jason:

Oh yeah.

Erik:

Yep. I did that with my kids. We started a spell jammer campaign. We played one session, but we played a good amount of Microscope to make that session, to just define the situation that they were in. And then I, as the GM, took that and then made adventures out of it. Yeah.

Jason:

Totally.

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

I'd say really, I love what you just said, because I honestly, I think so much of what I love about modern RPGs, is it is a collage of things that I've loved over the last 40 years of RPGs,

Erik:

Yep.

Jason:

even the ones that are wildly inventive, do exactly what you say, where they're going to take something, and they're just going to turn that up to 11, and then that becomes really the focus, and it lets you explore a different kind of play.

Erik:

I love it. That's great.

Jason:

Yeah. Yeah, I like it.

Erik:

I love it. And maybe with that, it's time that we wrap up. I think we usually, at the end of the episodes, we talk a little bit about what are we going to take back to our table. And I'll start. I really liked the thought of players having authority over other players' characters and how dangerous that is. But I'm really interested, is there space there for something for one session of a game to do something really, really interesting? I think, especially in a horror game, where you're supposed to have less agency. So super interested in that.

Ethan:

I'm going to spend my time thinking about how much I regret introducing that concept to Eric. No, you know, honestly, this is probably the broadest takeaway for me, which is I haven't been framing things. I'm familiar with the concept of authorities, but I haven't been framing my play in terms of who has authority and what, but I think it would be really worth going back and doing this. I also would really like to do an actual play of original D&D Dave Arneson style, where one of us is behind a curtain and then there's a caller.

Jason:

That'd be great. Yeah.

Erik:

That'd be awesome.

Ethan:

So maybe we can make that happen sometime.

Erik:

Yeah.

Jason:

I think for me, I want to try a little bit of per session playing with declaring how authority might change in this session.

Ethan:

For me, when I named him year after year, I was like, Radzi, how curious are you?

Jason:

And so just kind of thinking about, okay, what's the experience that I think the table might have today? And if I were to say, hey, this time, when you roll in this way, or when this thing happens, you're in charge.

Ethan:

I was wondering if there's a school of the70s that go 100 years back?

Jason:

Or this time, I'm in charge of this. Or this time, the player next to you is in charge. And just see how that goes over.

Ethan:

And I was like, "I don't think so.

Jason:

And I think intentionally playing with authority, but by declaring it at the beginning,

Ethan:

There's an older school that goes around 100 years,

Jason:

instead of maybe what I typically do, which is some more at-the-moment passing around authority,

Ethan:

and I'm not sure if it's the same school."

Jason:

might lead to different outcomes at the table. So I'm going to give that a try.

Ethan:

And I was like, "I don't know."