Guess Who’s Back, Back Again?

This is an archived copy of Brand’s Yuhishthira’s Dice post from Sunday, May 21, 2006.

Brand is back, tell a friend.

Ottawa was lovely. Now I’m back, and this is the post in which I’m going to be dealing with a lot of the issues that you noisy monkeys have brought up in the 4 days that I was out of town. You’d think I’d been gone a month, not a piddly little half-week, with the volume of discourse you’ve all been generating. Oy.

So here are my thoughts and responses. It’s long and long, but please actually read the whole damn thing before you start to respond, or else I’m going to get cranky really fast.

Also note that I’m going to be moding conversation on this thread for at least a few days, and limiting comments to specific folks. I don’t want to talk about this as fast as fast can be, I want everyone to actually take some time to think and formulate and feel confident and safe about what they’re saying. The break-neck speed that we use in our discourse on the net is a lovely thing for getting energy up and building networks, but it is lousy, lousy, lousy, for people actually getting to understand what others are saying.

So, here we go:

Push and Pull vs. DitM and DatE

My current thoughts on this one are that Vincent’s takes on DitM and DatE are all good ones, and do relate directly to push and pull and the moment of crisis in a very real way. They are also, for the moment, the parts of push and pull that I want to look at.

However, I don’t think that DitM/DatE is all of push and pull. If you look at the history of the discussion of P/P you’ll see that there are a lot of different levels being looked at. Jess Pease in here 20×20 Room article was looking at them as two possible modes of interaction (out of possibly many) in the greater social sphere. Mo and Chris in their Deep in the Game discussion looked at them as techniques to be used in game in order to move the game in a direction. This is a much narrower definition than Jess’s – but it doesn’t negate Jess’s, it just focuses it down another level. Similarly my moment of crisis was another step down from Mo’s definitions from the Deep in the Game thread. Now Vincent’s ideas about DitM/DatE are the newest narrowing and tightening of scope.

To be specific, at this moment with DitM/DatE we seem to be mostly concerned with technical issues and how those effect game play. P/P did this too, though probably less directly stated, but P/P was also concerned with emotional and social issues and how those effect game play. DitM/DatE hasn’t gotten to talking about that yet. Not that it won’t, in time, but it isn’t yet because we’re just getting started and are looking at the process of how things work. In time we may get to talking about how those processes contribute to the social and emotional resonance of game, but we’re not there yet.

So if you’re looking at DitM/DatE and P/P and saying, “I can see how they’re related but they don’t feel the same” there is a good reason for that – DitM/DatE is just starting to explore on area and figure out how to use it mechanically and technically. That gives talk about it a very different tenor than talk about the whole of P/P and the emotional investment/social construction angle. So if your intuitive objections come down to “well, maybe, but I don’t think it feels the same” then you could well be right. It doesn’t feel the same because it isn’t 100% the same discussion, its an exploration of a new direction that came out of the old discussion.

So it is very likely that there will be much more to talk about with regards to P/P than the DitM/DatE discussion. However, for now I want to table that so that we can focus on the DitM/DatE line of enquiry and work it out and figure out how to use it in play and design to maximum potential. Once we’ve gotten somewhere with that, then we can come back and look at other issues under the bigger umbrella as seems useful or fun. I will talk about why this is causing some disconnect later in this essay, but I don’t want that to be the point – I’m just going to offer it up in way of explanation under the Digression header below. That’s just to see if I can’t help people get on the same page, and not because I want to get back into the whole issue of what P/P are and every nuance of their being.

Seriously, I mean it. Especially because a lot of people seem to get it intuitively, and just have trouble talking about it. I’m really hoping that when they start seeing some technical system issues that gradually build into social and emotional agenda issues they’ll be able to start putting names to their intuition. (Though even if they can’t, I’m not too worried. I’ve talked with several people already who, though they have a hard time isolating if “this specific little nit here” is push or pull or ItM/AtE already know the basic ways of using it in game, and that’s fully cool. It’s only really the hard-core designers who need to know huge amounts more than that.)

Also, I’d like to note that I’ve been talking about what Push and Pull are for six months now, and like Mo I’m healthily tired of the endless talk about “if this particular close to the line example is push or if it’s pull and what are push and pull anyway.” I want to move on now and start looking at things they do in game and how to use them, and DitM/DatE is something that does just that. Maybe as this develops the new angles we figure out and the new games that come out of it will help people twig to the rest in time. (Like how I didn’t really get Nar until I played Dust Devils and went “OMG!”) Maybe it will lead to something completely new. Either way its something cool that came out of the conversation, and I’d like to be able to talk about it rather than the same things for another 6 months.

So, on with DitM/DatE and the issue of resolution.

Resolution, you tricky bastard

We all know what resolution means, right? Well good, because I don’t. Or that is, I thought I did until Vincent and Ben exploded my head. Now, in terms of this whole issue and things Ben and Vincent have been talking about, I’ve been forced to reconsider some things.

To explain why, lets look at some issues, shall we? Won’t that be fun?

The Stakes Example

In stakes resolution you resolve a conflict by setting up stakes and then using a method of resolution (usually framed as fortune – the dice) to decide what happens from those stakes. So you make stakes about an issue, you consult the oracle, and you get a resolution.

Example: If Jon makes this roll then Mo will write commentary for his new magazine. If Jon fails the roll then Mo will never speak to him again.

Seems simple enough, right? We’ve got stakes, and now we’re heading towards resolution.

But, um, from where did we get those stakes? Did they magically appear out of the air? Did Jon say them, in exactly that manner? Did Mo? Did Jon say what he gets if he wins and Mo say what she gets if Jon loses? Did I, the GM in this little drama, get to modify either or both of their statements? Did the other people in the group? Did Jon start off by saying, “If I win you’ll co-write When the Forms Exhaust the Variety with me” and then get negotiated down to the commentary angle? Did Mo start off by saying “If I win, I’ll kill you, you bastard” and then get negotiated down to just not speaking to him again if she wins?

Here’s the thing: by the time we get to resolving the stakes, we’ve already had to resolve something – the stakes themselves. We’ve had to, as a group, come up with what we want the stakes we’re going to resolve to be. Some games may give one person the authority to just say the stakes and have them stick. In some games the whole group may have to agree that the stakes are good, and even non-participating parties can mess with them. The way we, as a group, get down to actually making the final stakes for the stakes resolution is, in itself, a resolution.

Judd has often come onto stakes and conflict resolution threads and given good advice. One of the best pieces is to make stakes that lead to goodness if they are won or if they are lost. In this view the group should set it up so that if Mo comments or if Mo never speaks to Jon again it will drive the story forward. Is it just me, or does it sounds like using group Drama resolution at the social level to set the stakes? If that’s true, by the time we’re whipping out the fortune to say if Mo is going to speak to Jonathan again or not, we’ve already used Drama resolution to set up stakes that we find interesting.

If I, as GM, had the ability to set those stakes myself and no one else could say anything once they were set, is that DatE of the issue of setting stakes? If I could suggest stakes (or others could) but the final stakes didn’t get set until we all agreed what was most dramatic and fitting, is that DitM of setting stakes? By the time we get to resolving what’s going on in the fiction, haven’t we already had to have some resolution at a meta-level?

The IIEE Example

Okay, the thing is not all games use stakes resolution, especially not in the way I was talking about above. (Polaris doesn’t even come close, for an easy example.) But what about IIEE? Oh that lovely IIEE. It will make our lives in this discussion even more fun and interesting.

Vincent recently talked about IIEE and how it relates to ItM/AtE, and said, “IIEE is about what happens in the fiction, ItM/AtE is what the players actually do at the table.” That is true, and I do not dispute that. What I will say is that the matrix of how they work together can be a lot more complicated than one ItM/AtE exchange determining the whole IIEE.

We all know that a game can have separate steps for resolving different parts of IIEE. The classic example is rolling to hit and rolling to damage in D&D.; You roll to hit to see if you can execute the “I hit him” action, and roll to damage to see how much effect it has. You can succeed or fail at either step along the way. That’s a nice easy example.

The thing is, once you get into it, the examples don’t stay easy for long. That’s because at each stage of IIEE you can have a different resolution for that stage, depending on the system of your game. So, you could do something like this (using one, multiple, or all of these for check points for blocking/rollback/authority):

Intent: You get to say what your intent is, once you’ve said it no one else has anything to say. That’s Push/At the End.

Initiation: You have to negotiate with someone else to actually start the action, even when you’ve said you’re starting, other people can still modify it or cancel it by choosing not to buy-in. That’s Pull/In the Middle.

Execution: Once you’ve started it, you may then have the ability to say how it goes until it hits the moment of effect. Your narration is thus Push/At the End.

Effect: You could then have to stop and negotiate with others to see, now that the action is done, what the effects of its completion are. That’s back to Pull/In the Middle.

To make it worse, you may be able to use different types of resolution as well. You could use (probably normally do, in fact) Drama to determine the intent, karma to determine the initiation, fortune to determine the execution, and drama again to determine the effect. Like this:

Intent: You roll against a chart to see what the NPC’s intent is (fortune)

Initiation: You have them go about that intent in a way that seems the most likely to cause conflict (drama)

Execution: You play cards against the PCs to see if the NPC can do what they want (fortune)

Effect: Having succeeded or failed at your execution, you now narrate what happens based on how well you think the others responded to your challenge (karma)

At this point we’re starting to make a matrix, a big list of choices for things that can be combined and recombined to make that process of working through IIEE work very differently in different systems. Who has authority at which level of IIEE to say what? Is their say the end of it, or only the start of the negotiation? When do they use dice? When do they use drama? At what point is it even an issue? You can make a game, I’m sure, that always goes right to effect. (I don’t know if it would be a fun game, but I didn’t claim that either.) At that point things get simpler, but not necessarily for the best.

In Nine Worlds, for example, you use drama to set up your stakes and intents and then (depending on how you have framed it) use fortune to determine who has narration rights, and then that person gets to use DatE to determine initiation, execution, and effect. (Though I’ve noticed that most NW’s APs I’ve seen never have the narrator stop the initiation of the other person’s effort – they just stop them before they get their desired effect. It’s an interesting social gambit, don’t you think?)

OTOH, in Sorcerer you frame up your intent dramatically, roll the dice and start playing to see if you ever get to execute (Ron’s talk about how in Sorcerer you may not get to have an action every round goes here – we assume that we should get an attempt to execute every pass, but that isn’t how all games work), and after the dice are done use part mechanics (damage, currency, etc) and part narration to decide what the dice actually mean in terms of effect.

Then, combine that with the stakes issue from up above, and you start getting a “resolution tree” rather than a simple resolution. Every time we go about resolving something in game, we’re really resolving a whole host of tightly interconnected issues.

(Also, it’s probably worth noting the ways in which Intent and Stakes framing work together, but that’s a different issue.)

So, um, when are things actually resolved?

So, if you have a resolution for stakes, or a resolution for II that then leads into another resolution for E and then another for the E after it, and one of them is something in the middle and two of them are something at the end, when the hell does something actually happen?

Well, lets look at Polaris. With Polaris you can get into a scene without specific preset stakes (in fact, you usually will), have people go back and forth in multiple turns of adding, modifying, negating, and doing things in the middle. Some things will get resolved as you go – a big stack of “but only ifs” for example, may all come to pass in the fiction when someone else pulls an “and furthermore.” But even then the resolution of the whole conflict isn’t over until you hit an end phrase. When that end phrase comes up, you get your final resolution. Be this fortune at the end (“It Shall Not Come To Pass”) or Drama at the end (“And that Was How It Happened’) you know you’ve hit the end and the whole unit of conflict is resolved because you’ve gotten your end phrase.

I think there are probably invisible end phrases at the end of a lot of resolution trees. Much as it can be confusing to think about the multiple levels of resolution that may go into deciding a conflict, we all know when we get to the end – it’s when the thing at hand is finally decided. Once the conflict has been staged, with all the resolutions needed to stage it, and then acted out, with all those resolutions, and then finalized, with all those resolutions – you’re done. Now lather, rinse, repeat.

Okay, so how can pushing me off a roof be pull?

One of the issues I’ve seen brought up over and over is how can something like “I push you off the roof” be pull? Isn’t it something that demands a response?

The answer is, and I want you all to say this out loud, IT DEPENDS ON THE SOCIAL SITUATION AT THE TABLE WHEN THE STATEMENT IS MADE.

Okay, maybe I need to calm down and stop shouting. Let me back up here and address something that a lot of people have been having issues with, and see if I can clarify it in a very brief way. In communication theory one of the very basic models of how communication works is that you say something, the other person hears something, and the aggregate of those things is the communication. So if you say something meaning “Come to dinner on Friday” and I hear “come to dinner on Friday” then the communication was “come to dinner on Friday.” But if you say something meaning “Come to dinner on Friday” and I hear “Come to lunch tomorrow” then the communication is a mess of signals that involves you and me having an indeterminate meal at an indeterminate time. It’s the thing in between the intent of the speaker and the perception of the listener that is where communication happens (or doesn’t happen).

Push and pull work much the same way, they take up the middle space between what you intend to do and what the other person thinks you are doing. You can intend to push, and if I know that you’re pushing then the push can go through. You can intend to pull, and if I know you’re pulling, then the pull can go through. But if you go to push, I think it’s a pull, and start treating it like something to be negotiated over, we’ve gone into muddle land. Most of the time this probably gets resolved by whoever has the better ability to argue/coerce/convince/plead coercing the interaction into the type they wanted it to be. So you could intend to push, I could intend to pull, and we could end up pulling or pushing depending on who gets their way in the end. (We’ll also probably both be unhappy.) Thus if you’re my GM and say “It’s raining” and mean “I am saying it is raining, that is said and done don’t argue” and I say, “It would be better if it is clear and sunny” and mean “I want to modify what you said because I think you want my input now” then we get into issues. If you force it over me anyway, then it stays pull. If I get you to mod it, then your push got subverted. As with communication it’s the thing in the middle, the thing we end up communicating, that is where push and pull sit.

Luckily for us this does hook up with the resolution theory pretty well. If you think that you’re getting to do DatE and say something, and I think that you’re going to DitM and try to mod what you’ve just said… we end up with issues. If we have a good social contract and/or explicit system to fall back on then we can use that system to figure out what we are doing and why. If we don’t, we’ll end up in the same muddle as above – with the one of us that can finagle the best getting it out over the other guy. Knowing what you are doing, what the other person is doing, and who has rights to do which is thus key to keeping things flowing smoothly. So at that level being able to have system/social contract that says “we can push/DatE in situations t, u, and v; but must pull/DitM at situations w, x, and y” is just making sure we’re on the same page and doing the same thing so we have fewer miscommunications and abuses of those miscommunications.

Thus all the confusion over “is it push or pull because I say it or because the other person perceives it” is missing the point. It is both, and neither. What you intend matters, what they perceive matters, but what the social dynamic/resolution method of the game ends up actually being because of the fusion of intent/reception/and social force is what determines if it was a push or a pull.

So, given everything I’ve said above, lets consider a game where you cannot even finalize your character’s intent (first I in IIEE) until you have the approval of other players AND everyone at the table knows that explicitly. At that point we’ve got an In the Middle for resolving Intent. You say, “I push you off the roof.” But, every single one of us at the table knows that you aren’t doing any such thing. In fact, what you’re really saying is, “Can my character want to push yours off the roof?” Because until you’re done with the system for resolving intent, you haven’t even gotten the authority to want to do anything ICly yet. You don’t have authority to push me off the roof, or even have you character want to push me off the roof, until I’ve bought into it or had a say about it. Because you have to get my buy in before it happens, then it must be….

I chose this example on purpose, because most of us are used to games in which our intents, and the intents of our characters, are fully under our authority. Much as someone may be able to stop us from executing the push over the roof, they can’t stop us from saying that our character wants to. But, if even intent is something that must be done ITM, then you can’t even form an intent as a final action until after others have had a shot at it.

OTOH, if you have the authority to say “My character wants to push your character off the roof” then you’ve made a push/ATE at the intent level. Once you’ve said that is what your character wants, there ain’t nothing I can do about it. However, even then we now know that is only one part, and that it can still get turned into a pull/ITM at the Initiation level with any number of responses.


However, I think that here we also are seeing another issue with the current discussion and why people have a hard time seeing the connection between P/P and DitM/DatE – because one dealt with a lot of issues, including the emotional resonance of the action, and the other is focusing very specifically on the systemic expression of the resolution. To put it in bastardized Forgese, DitM/DatE are dealing with things at the level of technical agenda and large parts of P/P were dealing with things at the level of social/emotional agenda. However, the two overlap heavily (especially in the P/P arena where they weren’t clearly defined), and one leads into the other.

So, despite the fact that the “I push you off the roof” in the above example is clearly something you have to buy into before it can happen, it feels very forceful to someone who is used to playing under a different social situation than the one described above. Because of that people want to “pad” the issue because they want to use a method of resolution that gives a certain emotional resonance. For example, the second example above can lead to a much different game than the first because in one you still have to deal with the fact that another PC wants to kill you. In the first you don’t. OTOH, it may help some people if the first was phrased as a question rather than a statement, even though (and let me emphasize this part) phrasing it as a question does not change the logical or technical structure of the statement, it can change the emotional or social structure of it.

I’ve seen this happen over and over in getting abused players from illusionist games to open up to Nar. They will take everything you do DitM/FitM/pull/whatever in whatever to be a big pushy DatE that only the GM can use. When the GM says something, that’s law. The GM is always right, and always has final word, and very often his first word is the final word. So people get a certain social/emotional habit towards game and when they move to games where they have rights and can use DitM or even DatE themselves they still feel like they’re being pushed and don’t have the right to push themselves. A lot of us drive ourselves nuts trying to figure out why they won’t use the rules to let them do what they can do – but the reason is really pretty obvious: we haven’t given them the emotional ability to deal with what they want to do yet. Part of that may well be their own bad past experience, but part of it may also be the way we frame things and the way the game feels. In a very real way that confidence doesn’t come from what you can and can’t do by the rules, it comes from what you feel you can and can’t do under the rules.

And now that I’ve brought up that issue, I’m going to table it for the moment. I do think we very much need to talk about how to use itM/atE and such to make people feel confident in the game, and all that other stuff that Mo was pointing towards with P/P – but I also don’t want to do it until we have some more development of how the rules would work to structure play. Once we’re to a point where we can talk about different modes of structure, we can talk about how those modes support different social agendas. (Funny, isn’t it, how much we talk about creative and technical agenda and how rarely we have discussions of the same depth about social or emotional agendas?)

So, I promise we’ll get back to that. Social and emotional agenda are important. Anyone that thinks otherwise is being silly. I just want to have some more detail and surety on the whole DitM/DatE before we get there. Okay?

end digression

Right, so back to discussing the structure of resolution, where we’ll stay until we get to the point were we’re solid enough with mechanics and systems and how they’re actually working to get back to the discussion on how they effect social and emotional agendas.

So The Thing Is

I think some of us have gotten used to thinking of resolution in terms of “conflict resolution” – which is a good thing in some ways. We should be able to resolve conflicts, and have coherent systems for so doing. But, we can’t overlook the fact that resolving a conflict is made up of a series of smaller resolutions. Many times we overlook those because they are assumed, or because someone has the authority to just make them happen. Things like framing intent, for example, aren’t often thought of in terms of resolution because in most trad games you have the authority to frame your character’s intent however you want. But if you acknowledge that in some game somewhere you could have to negotiate with others to even frame your intent, you realize that there is, in fact a choice there, and that choice is actually resolving something.

From that point, you have to play and design to make a resolution that gives you what you want out of the game. If you don’t want people to be endlessly figuring out what their intent is, make it so they have authority over it. If you want people to have to work together from the first moment, however, make that intent framing something that happens in the middle.

Now I’m sure you all have many questions. Good. For now, however, I only want comments from Vincent, and Mo so that they can tell me all the errors I’ve made, and we can work this out. From there I’ll open up a thread where others can comment. I may do this in waves, adding a few new people to comment each time, so that the thread can get multiple input without getting drowned in the competing (and not really listening) voices that tend to crush so many threads in the cold, nasty world of the net.

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