Category Archives: Uncategorized

Café Game Exchange

So I was reading on Meg & Em’s blog about Epidiah’s terrific idea and have the perfect café in Toronto in mind to try it out with.

If I did the ground work here and the café in question agreed, would any of you who has a published game be interested in sending me a comp copy to put in the exchange?

Dance me to the end of game.

“Enjoying roleplaying is rather like enjoying dancing: At some point you have to throw your inhibitions to the wind, admit you might look like a fool to passing spectators and enjoy the moment. Also like dancing, which at first may seem like a fairly limited activity, roleplaying has almost infinite depth and variety in the experiences it provides.”

From this week’s the Escapist. Check out The Dice They Carried for a fun article.

Playing at Cons

So Brand and I have signed up for Camp Nerdly, and have every intention of going to Gencon this summer barring, you know, random acts of India or whatnot.

This is where I make my first confession: I’m a con virgin. I’ve not been to a single, solitary one. I was asked, years ago when I was writing for Tribe 8 to come to Conthulhu in Toronto and sit on a panel for Women in the “Industry” but I quickly declined. I’ve never really been big into fandom on that kind of scale, and the excitement of cons was pretty lost on me.

This is where I make my second confession: Cons scare the jebus out of me. Though my self of early 90’s theatre geekiness would be shocked to hear me say this, the truth is that I’m really a big introvert. When I think of a convention hall with milling people everywhere, a bazillion hours of small talk and non stop 24/5 interaction without a quiet, thinky space to retreat to? I get a little woogy. I like me the small nooks and long conversations over dinner, not the frenetic chaos of the con floor. Besides, I used to say, I’m never going to even talk to those people again, so why should I bother?

But then, I started getting into design, and talking to all of you freaks, and started thinking that meeting people would be a very good thing. Also, I started thinking about releasing a game, and about coming out to represent what I’ve produced and this made approaching the idea of going a lot more palatable, even… exciting. But, when Gencon came around last year, I was on the other side of the world, so that turned out not to be so possible.

This is where I make my third confession: I know that one of the things that make you all most happy about going to cons is the games that you get to play together, and I want to feel like that too, but deep down I know that cons produce an atmosphere of play that is pretty antithetical to produce the kind of play I like, or want most, or want to exhibit to others. This is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Nerdly before I go to Gencon.

Nerdly’s got less going on in general: there’s a max of seventy people all there to concentrate on one thing. There won’t be thousands of random people from other fandoms contributing to the chaos at Nerdly. There won’t be shifts of demoing games and working the booth that will inevitably drag out all my best socializing energy before I actually get around to the socializing. There will be things like communal cooking and non-gaming group activities and such that build a better sense of community. People will be there with their partners and their kids, which will foster a better sense of them as whole people. Plus, there’s three days dedicated to just that kind of easy socializing and to games, which means even if I don’t get to play where I normally play, there’s a good chance that I’ll get to play closer to it than I will at Gencon.

And while again, this wasn’t the post I meant to write, this time it’s brought me right to the doorstep of the one I did mean to: Intimacy and the Impassioned Other.

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.

Pull|Push: The Moment of Crisis

This article is archived from Brand’s Yudhishthira’s Dice post of May 16 2006.

This should be the last post here. After this I will be moving to a new blog (at long last). But I couldn’t get it up and running before I went out of town on vactaion, so I figured I’d post this here. So away we go:

Since Mo brought out her first article on push and pull, there has been a lot of talk about the subject. Since she came out with the short definitions, with the help of Chris, there has been (possibly) even more talk. A lot of it centers around the divide between push and pull and when and where and why that happens, leading to a lot of confusion.

One of the key issues I see being mulled is something that is implicit in theDeep in the Game discussion (which is why it helps to read the whole thing) that may not be clear in the definitions if you haven’t actually read where they came out of, is what I am choosing to call the moment of crisis. The way the moment of crisis fits into push or pull is pretty simple to say, but may take a bit longer to explain. So stay with me here, and actually read the whole thing.

Push and Pull can both lead to collaboration (pull inherently, push with any degree of skill) but the point at which the buy-in and investment happens is different. If you get the other people’s investment before bringing the moment of crisis by soliciting input, buy-in, and authority sharing then it is pull. If you get the other people’s responses after you have already brought the moment of crisis by using your authority to force something, then it is push. Thus the way the definitions are phrased:

Push is an assertion of individual authority.

Pull is a directed solicitation for collaborative buy-in and input

Could be read as having the addenda “before the moment of crisis” – because with Push assertion of authority comes first, and with pull solicitation comes first.* After you’ve pushed comes the moment of crisis, which others must respond to. After you’ve pulled, you work together to create a moment of crisis. So the GM saying, “You go to see the king” is a push, because after that you’re seeing the King, the GM has that authority and has used it to bring the crisis. But the player asking “Can we go see the King” in a game where the players have no authority to scene frame is a pull — because it may lead to the moment of crisis with the king, but only after the GM buys in and collaberates.

The tricky part here, really, is what the moment of crisis is. Some people have been looking at in only in terms of inserting something into the fiction. That is, if you say something and it happens in the game, it must be a moment of crisis, right? Well, no, not really. Also, it is easily possible to have a moment of crisis without anything being inserted into the fiction.

Which brings us to the tricky issue of what a moment of crisis is. To give my simplest definition: a moment of crisis is when something that strongly matters is decided or formalized. If it doesn’t matter, if it isn’t strong, if it isn’t something that is going to bring reaction or change in a real way, it probably isn’t a crisis. It’s just something that happened.

As a note, my experience with Trad RPG play vs. directed Forge style play tends to be that trad RPGs are willing to spend a lot of time between moments of crisis, working up to them organically, while Forge style play tends to scene frame right up to the crisis. Consider the hours long D&D; talking in the Inn scene vs. the PTA “you’ve got 15 minutes to find, contest, and narrate a conflict that is interesting to your character.” In different games moments of crisis may come slowly, or they may come every action.

So, how do we know if something is a moment of crisis or not? That is tricky, because it depends on the social and creative situation around the table. You absolutely cannot tell if something is a moment of crisis without knowing what is going on in and around the game, and to help demonstrate why, I’m going to encapsulate a conversation between Alex F and myself that happened on the 20×20 room.

In the Deep in the Game post Chris had given an example of someone pulling by doing something in the fiction – so they’ve already done something, and Alex immediately went to the issue of if it is a moment of crisis or not, though he didn’t use that exact term. What he said was:
“My fighter leaves his most valuable magic ring out at the campsite and falls asleep while your thief stays awake.” (from the Deep in The Game discussion, right?)
I cannot see how this is purely “a solicitation for input from other players”.
If I’m playing with a strong Narr agenda, stealing that ring affects my character, and my notion of her. But so does not stealing that ring. Similarly, all the duel examples being given, are direct challenges in terms of Step on Up – and to refuse to take it says something just as sure as not taking it. I am being forced to respond, just as surely as I am forced to respond if you say “I challenge you to a duel” or have your thief steal my ring in the night. (Admittedly, this gets less clear if you are playing to explore/celebrate the fiction, though I suppose a decision not to explore the implications of inter-party thieving sends a message about your preferences).

See how right away he gets at the heart of it? Did what the fighter’s player did bring it to a moment of crisis by his authority? If so it is a push. But if he didn’t, if the important moment hasn’t happened yet, it is a pull. My response to Alex went like this, though I’m modding it here to update it to the language we’re using now:
It depends on social contract and background at the table. This goes right back to the first essays on push and pull, and the fact that it can be really damn hard to know if a given example is a push or pull unless you know a lot about the background of the game.

So, if the social contract at the table is hardcore Nar, in which it is assumed that your character must respond and must make a thematic choice to every opportunity presented to him, then the example is a push. If the fighter player’s goal is to force you to make a choice, any choice and not to actually get you to steal the ring, then he has already used his authority to push it to the moment of crisis. Under that setup, once the fighter leaves the ring out, you have no choice but to respond to it, and no matter how you respond to it you will have made a choice. If that was his only goal, then he’s pushed you into it.

But the example as Chris stated it did not assume that. It assumed that the fighter’s goal was to get you to steal the ring in order to create a plot. Not to make a choice about stealing it or not in a thematic way, but to actually steal it in order to drive the story in a new direction. The moment of crisis hasn’t come yet, because the two of you together haven’t decided if you are going to move the story in that direction or not yet. So simply saying “I do not steal it” is not saying “I am making a strong moral choice about my thief” it is just saying, “I’m not interested in going there right now.” Because it wasn’t at the moment of crisis you still have to buy in before it can get there.

Also, in the first case you may not be able to say, “I just don’t notice” but in the second case you can. If you can say, “I say my character doesn’t notice because he’s (insert any reason here, like ‘thinking about stealing the cleric’s holy symbol’), so my character doesn’t have to make a choice about that ring” then you aren’t being forced into any response in game.

Under that social agenda the thematic choice of your character stealing it or not to define his moral compass is not the challenge to you, is not the goal of the other player, and so simply having to make an OOC choice is not forcing you to define anything other than your OOC interest at this moment. There is no crisis yet, it only gets to that point after you collaborate.
If your social contract makes that particular example something that you must respond to because it is a fiat accompli, the moment of crisis has arrived because of what they already have done with their authority, then it is probably a push. If it is not a fiat accompli, because the moment of crisis cannot arrive until after you buy in, and what is on the table is an invitation (or even a bribe), then it is a pull.

So at that point your example and Chris’s example aren’t actually the same example because you assumed different social situations and backgrounds. Yours is an assertion of authority (“I have the right to make you chose, and choice is the thing the game is about”) and his is a solicitation for buy-in (“Hey, if you steal it this cool thing can happen”). His comes before the crisis has been reached, yours after.

Another person that gave me a useful example of this just yesterday was a new member of the Foundry who was talking about new techniques he’s been picking up since he started reading the Forge and other theory articles. (I’ll note that he came to it through Bruce Baugh, so despite any recent difficulties there are still bridges to be built!). One of the things he said was along the lines of:
So I know the player wants some adventure, but the character isn’t going towards anything I had ready. So I stopped the game and asked OOC, “What do you need in order to get into this?” and the player told me. After that I was able to setup the situation and the player was all over it. In the old days I may not have been willing to stop the game, because I thought I had to do everything without talking about it or negotiating it.”

In the “old days” all he knew how to do was push, to drive it to the moment of crisis and hope the players bought in after the moment of crisis had been established. And without flags even! (Flags are so nice for letting you target pushes that you can feel more confident about getting buy in over after the moment of crisis. Without them you’re stabbing blind.) But this time rather than using his authority to bring something on and hoping it would hit the player’s buttons, he stopped and got the player to buy-in and help by investing their authority over the character before the moment came. So when the werewolf (I think it was) finally showed up, the player was already all over every inch of it.

Push can lead to collaboration. Hell, it can lead to POWERFUL collaboration. But it does so by getting the other person to buy in after you’ve already forced something to crisis. And the downside of push is that without skill, tools, or both you run a risk of making something that other players are really not happy about. How many skilless pushy GMs in the ages have forced moments of crisis that made every player’s eyes roll back in their head?

Pull gets the collaboration before the moment of crisis. It does so by getting the other person to buy in before you bring it to crisis together. And the downside of pull is that without skill, tools, or both you can run a real risk of people never letting you get anything you really want without endless concessions, or end up manipulating you into agreeing to things you didn’t actually want. How many manipulative players in the ages have gotten people to buy in with them and then after the crisis was over had everyone else realize they’d been screwed?

It is also worth noting that you have to have authority to push. You can’t force a moment of crisis unless you have the authority to force. You do not have to have authority to pull, because if you can get other people to buy in then their authority can carry it to crisis — but only if you get the buy in to happen first.

So, there it is. The moment of crisis is when something important to the game, under your social and creative contract, is brought to a head. Pull gets people to buy in before that moment, and then brings everyone already invested to the moment. Push gets people to buy in (hopefully) after that moment, because the moment is brought about by the individual authority of the pusher and other reactions come after.

*Note that this works differently between the “techniques of RPGing” use of push and pull, and the general social use of push and pull. The difference is illustrated in one of Mo’s responses on the Deep in the Game discussion in which she said:
I agree with you, wherein we are talking about the general, directional transaction of the act. So “Pull” at it’s base, social classification is a soliciitation for buy-in and input (in or out of game, really). It’s a classification used to analyze the interaction.

However Pull used as a technique, is something more than just that, which is why I think I was making the qualitative distinction earlier. “So what kind of character was he?” is a pull in social classification, but it’s not a technique. It’s not constructed, it doesn’t really lead anywhwere specific; it encourages a particular kind of feedback in return, but it does not give any guideline for the input it expects.

So, pull as a technique is: “solicitation for buy in and input enacted to go to in a specific direction in a collaborative way.”

Finding a moment of crisis for social push and pull is much harder. Doing it when you have chosen (consciously or not) to use a technique to move a game shouldn’t be as hard.



Brand and I have had our hotel booked since February, and although the reasons that we were planning on going have changed (Suryamaya will not be released but Crime and Punishment came into being and will) we were both totally hyped about going. Since Jonathan asked what my plans were around boothing it, I’ve been a flurry of emails with what seemed like the whole world about the ins, outs and upside downs about Gencon distributing.

I’d like to thank Jonathan Walton, Ben Lehman, Emily Care Boss, Ron Edwards, Luke Crane and Brennan Taylor for all of their help, advice and encouragement over the last week. It’s made me very excited about the release of Crime & Punishment, and very happy about the coming of Gencon.

Which is why this is so dissappointing. 🙁

I regret to say that Brand and I will not be able to go to Gencon this year. Life has taken a strange and wonderful turn and we will likely not even be in the country at that time. I can’t really discuss the details of what’s going on as of yet, but suffice to say, our plans for Gencon have been well, and truely scratched.

That said, I still plan to release Crime and Punishment in time for Gencon, and hope to have it distributed in my absence, though I haven’t figured that one out quite yet.

And for all those folks that Brand and I promised games and drinks and strange times to? Well, you’ll have to go back next year to collect, because we will be there with bells on.

Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down

This is an archive of Brand’s Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down from Yughisthira’s Dice January 6, 2006.

Okay, there’s been lots of discussion since Mo first started talking about push and pull. I’m going to try to put my thoughts on it in here, after talking with Mo and running this post by her, to deal with some of the confusion that’s come out of the mingled enthusiasm and misunderstanding that’s come from the posts. Sometime in the next few days Mo should be doing a companion post to this one that talks about push/pull in actual play that we’ve done or seen, which gives the practical grounding to this otherwise aetheric bit of jabber.

First, let me say that a lot happened with push/pull in a very short time. Mo started talking about it in terms of social dynamics: the way that players approach the process of making decisions in game. It then quickly morphed to become partly about techniques, ephemera, and ideas around how this may be codified in game and the ways in which games may have already mechanically reinforced one or the other. Some people hooked onto the social angle, some to the ephemera, some to the mechanics and some to he theoretical possibilities. So when they all started talking to each other there was a lot of miscommunication because they weren’t all talking about the same thing anymore. Maybe I can take a small step towards fixing that.

To start with the social level, which has to come before the mathematical game theory level in my brain because that’s the way the discussion started, let’s look at Mo’s comment about “a space to fall into,” as it has become pretty infamous. That one is an interesting social/rhetorical bit, and not one I see a lot of mechanics to point at in terms of providing clear examples. That one more has to do with the way that the person at the table is working with others in order to get their desired response. So, let me try to elucidate in terms of rhetorical strategies.

When you are in a debate, or giving a speech, the commonest method of getting your point across is to build your fortress of logic, maintain it against assault, and then wear down the opposition before you to drive your final point home and win the duel of wits. You point out the gap in their reasoning, and then fill it in with your superior logic. (Or just superior ability to manipulate through words, but lets assume some honesty for now.)

When you are a teacher, a parent, or someone trying to Rorschach someone else, however, there is another common method. You build your fortress of logic, move it forward to the point that it fascinated the other person, and then before you reach the final point you pull back and let them reach the final point all on their own. This is the stereotypical “So you know if A is B, and B is C, and C is a dog….” A moment passes, a grin “Then A is a Dog too!”

That first one is a push, you overwhelm their argument. That second one is a pull, you create a space and let the other person overwhelm themselves. Obviously sometimes one technique works better than another (you rarely change an entrenched opinion with the second, but it is far easier to build process understanding with the second than the first). That is what Mo was talking about, more or less, with the gap. You do still build something, you do still put ideas forward, but in the end you let the other person decide if they are going to buy into those ideas or not.

Now, at the start of the conversation the reason this is at a different level than mathematical game theory is that we are, for the nonce at least, talking about social dynamics that go outside the normal role of mathematical game theory. Let us take, for one moment, the prisoner’s dilemma. Those of you who know the logical structure will know that it does a very good job of describing the logical choices that the prisoners have to make. It lets you know what the strengths and weakness of each position are. It also doesn’t tell us a lot about why emotional human beings in real life chose as they do. We’ve all watched Law and Order, right? How often do the confessions have to do with the logical structure of “if I squeal and he doesn’t” and how often with “I’m gonna screw the bastard because he was screwing my wife” or something similar? Push and pull were not, initially, looking at the moves of the game in logical sequence – they are looking at the motives behind, and the methods around, ways of gaining and using influence.

There is a real way in which, when discussing P&P; I’m reminded of something that Ron (I think) said about looking at the script of a finished game and trying to say if it was G, N, or S. Basically, he said that you couldn’t. Because GNS doesn’t have to do with if a story is told or not, it has to do with who got to say what, when, and why. So if you’re looking at the finished product, you’re looking in the wrong place. Same deal with push and pull – if you’re looking at a lot of statements after they have happened it can be really hard to tell if they are push or pull, because you have to watch the dynamics of it as they are ongoing. It isn’t so much about the result as it is about the power dynamics between the human beings that lead to that result.

So when on anyway Tony LB said that you couldn’t look at chess and say which move was push and which was pull that is because, by the rules at least, there is little pull in chess. You can bait someone in, but that’s just so you can spring on them and overwhelm them in the end. The point of chess is to push. The game theory of RPGs, however, is a little more complicated by the mix of modes and the interactions of people, stories, and power discourses. Even then you can push and pull outside the realm of game theory, in the social sphere (Illusionist GMs who are good at keeping the PCs from knowing they’re on the railroads are really good at it) – but with those understandings I think we can look towards some mechanics that may reinforce push and/or pull as viable ways to play the game.

Lets take a simple case at the mechanical level: Dust Devils vs Breaking the Ice. Both are very fine games, and both could not rock harder. I say this to dispell any lingering misconceptions that anyone is saying that pull is better than push or any such silly thing. Both are good, both have their place. They just are different ways to move things, is all.

In Breaking the Ice, you want Kate to love you. To do this you must convince Kate’s player that you’re doing cool things. You have no way of forcing Kate to love you. You have no way of forcing Kate’s player to give you bonus dice, or re-rolls. And yet you need those bonus dice and re-rolls, so you have to do things that please Kate’s player. You have to entice him to give you dice by doing things that please him. Similarly, Kate’s player cannot force you to do anything. He can suggest, he can entice, he can bribe you with dice — but in the end its all bribes and enticement.

The kick in the head about Breaking the Ice is that even if you entice each others dice out, you may still not have Kate fall in love with you. That is because in BtI the push all comes from the system. There are a limited number of dice, and a limited number of rolls. So even if you work it, you may fail in your mutual goal. That’s where the tension comes from. But both players pull all the way through. Neither gets to force anything on anyone at any time.

Now, otoh, in Dust Devils, you want Kate to love you. You start a conflict with the stakes “Kate falls in love with me.” If you win that conflict Kate falls in love with you. If you get high card, you get to say how Kate falls in love with you. This is push. You see what you want, you get it. (Or don’t get it, based on how the game goes.) By the rules the GM may or may not be able to refuse the conflict on its face, but once it starts (is accepted) he who wins, wins. If you push your system and take the stakes, regardless of what the others may want you to do, you can happily have Kate love you. You don’t have to entice points out of the GM, you don’t have to work to gain his approval. You pushed, you won, you get.

Now, there are obviously going to be social contract issues that mess with this. There are ways of others at the table pulling you back (or pushing you back), socially. There are also probably social pulls around the table where people sweet talk you into the ways you do and don’t handle your narrations (or social pushes, for that matter…). However, in the absence of a problem, you push, you win, you get.

So, in terms of mechanics working on their faces, there it is. At the grossest level of mechanics, pull means you have to bribe, entice, sweet talk, and lead someone by the nose to get them to where you want them. Push means you can bowl them over and take what you want, if you can win it. We already have lots of push mechanics, and people are starting to work on some nifty bribery based mechanics (like here and here) that show some of the possibilities for pull as bribery — you can tempt, you can build holes and step back, but you can’t force and take.

Now, I am certain that there are more subtle levels of push and pull – but the difference between gaining narration rights over someone else’s character, and bribing the player of that character to do what you’d like to see are at least a step towards the differentiation. It’s harder to do that “open a space” thing with mechanics, as of yet, because… well, because I’m not quick enough to think up a way to do it. I’ll bet money that it can be done though.

Now, to turn to that enigma which is Capes. A push game. A pull game. A pully pushy game. Tony LB is demented, and a genius, and this game makes use of both pull and push, at different levels, at almost the same time. The cycle of the game seems to be, after watching the flash demo, to go something like this.

You start with mechanical push: introduce a conflict that changes play at least until it is resolved, and which will change play more after it is resolved. It is a push because the simple act of introducing a conflict does change the flow and course of the game, and you can see your chance and take it without getting permission or help from anyone else. However, the first part makes it a weak push, at best, because nothing has been resolved yet. The second, however, is the iron hand in the velvet glove – and is very important to the next step.

(In the flash demo this is shown as a push most clearly by Claire introducing the “Vindicator and Claw Fight” – by doing this Claire has already interjected her will into game by making sure that there cannot be a fight until the conflict is done. That was a push, as I see it, because it has already changed the flow of the game. If she had done a different conflict, the game could have gone to the fight as a conflict. But now it must happen differently, and Claire did not have to by your leave to get it.)

At the same time as you are introducing your subtle mechanical push, you need to match it with a social pull. That is to say, as Tony tells us over and over, you need to introduce conflicts that the other players will care about enough to contest. You can maybe win something that nobody cares about over in the corner if you want to – and if it is important enough to you, that option is open. However, if you want to get significant resources from the event you have to pull the others in at their social level, by grabbing the things they care about and dangling them over that open space, so that they fall in. This is, I must note, a particularly brutal way to pull (a pull with big spikes and fangs and shit), but it really does seem to be pull based.

Next, there is a mechanical tug of war (mostly pushed based, using the system to enforce your will) over who gets control that ends when one player wins the conflict. They then get to narrate the resolution. Pretty clearly push again – you won by forcing the mechanics to support you, now you take what you won. This is often a much stronger push than that at the start of the conflict, and goes to the Dust Devil’s model above.

So, in this model I see Capes as being very judo. There are several throws in judo in which you start with a moderate push, and when the opponent responds to readjust their balance, you use that energy to take them down. If you then kicked them on the way down, you’d have something like what Capes does. In the end push is more mechanically enforced, but if you can’t play the social pull game you won’t do as well. Without both the mechanical push and social pull elements, Capes would be half the game it is.

Now, MarkW also brought up some good issues about Proposing and Judging, and some worries about how P&P; fits into that category. He felt that if you pull you refuse to propose, and judge instead. This, however, is not always the case. In push or pull you can defer and renegotiate who is proposing and who is judging as you go – it doesn’t have to do with one or the other, so much as it has to do with how you deal with one or the other. For this example I’m going to use Polaris.

You’ve entered conflict in Polaris, and someone proposes “And then she falls in love with me.” This, in Polaris can be met with judgment (either acceptance, or “This Shall Not Come To Pass” or other key phrases). However, it can also be met by another proposal. “But only if it turns out that she is your sister.” In that case I find “But Only If” to be a bit pull mechanism – you accept what they say, but hang that acceptance over the hole of “if this thing that I want too” and so use their initial proposal as an enticement. The initial proposer can then judge that statement, or propose back, and so the cycle goes.

Eventually someone will hit a judgment point, or a push phrase, and the whole cycle will get judged and decided. In this context “It Shall Not Come to Pass” is probably the strongest push in the game, as it sends it to dice. If you do it at the right time and win, you see it, you want it, you win it, you take it. The whole cycle of proposal and judgment then becomes like footwork and body position in aikido, something that works on multiple levels and with more than one possible direction.

It isn’t as simple as “every time there must be one propose and the other person must be the judge” and so there is no need for the puller to refuse to propose, or to ever judge (though they can also do both, propose and judge, judge and propose, propose and propose and judge and propose…). You don’t refuse to engage in propose and judge by pulling, because Polaris lets the cycle work round and round in footwork until the final blow is struck.*

P.S. A note, thanks to alephnul, it is also possible to, in a more simple setup, just read a pull as a counter proposal with pre-acceptance. That is, something is on the table, the puller proposes that the other person fill the void, with the understanding that the new proposal is accepted. Thus when you pull in this mode you give something, and the other person does not have to push in response because there is no resistance to overcome. Essentially the pattern becomes “I love someone, tell me who it is” (proposal, judgement already made that your response will be accepted), “Well, it’s Kate!” (proposal, accepted on its face because the judgement that it was good enough was made before it was said).

When used in that way pull requires a lot more trust, openness, and vulnerability. It isn’t the only way to use pull, but it is a very strong statement when it is made. That is a pull of a very different kind than the “competetive pull” of Capes, or the coercive pull of a bribery system, and may point the way to a mechanic based “open up a space for them to step into.”

So, that’s four games with mechanics, some social backgrounding, and ideas about bribery and opening holes. What do I need to do next guys and gals?