ACH - Playing and Role-playing politics

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ACH is clearly utopian. For the Kesh, a good life is to do as little as possible beyond survive, have consequence free sex, keep physically fit, and play word-games. There seems to be no inequality in their society that is not due to moral failure. You might think that table-top roleplaying should fit right into , but there doesn't seem to be any conception of self beyond religiously authorised totem-identities, and reciting religiously authorised dramas. Its all about hinging around themselves. The only threat to their integrity is the dystopian illness of a nomadic Semitic culture that has been urbanised, with which compromise cannot be reached - they are simply terminally ill.

TBH the culture seems to me an example of typically American puritan hedonistic and fundamentalist world-stance where further technological knowledge and research, and systematic and mathematical thought, are unnecessary, and perhaps even bad, for human flourishing. Everything we need to know has already been worked out. Leave exploration to machines. The opposite of the typically American puritan hedonism of Star Trek, where knowledge and research are the apex of human flourishing. Pay no attention to the Borg.

What they share is an absence of descriptions of functional politics that does not pose an existential threat to itself, or protagonists whose politics lead to social change without revolution. I think that RPGs, even when they present conflicted social interactions, likewise have difficulty including the dynamic communal and social compromises that characterise most of us humans most of the time. Why is it so difficult to describe, and design for, an unending play of compromise and politics? If you have played at this, how did it go?

Comments

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    This may not be directly related to your question, but it was spurred on by your words so I'll post it anyway :)

    On one level the (human) people in ACH ought to have every opportunity to be individuals - they are not just given one name, but several during the course of their life, and the later ones are supposed to reflect in some way the path they are following. Likewise, they have the autonomy to dissolve and remake relationships at will, with (seemingly) no particular social check or sanction on this other than the overriding imperative that you don't mate with someone in the same house (did I miss an explanation for this, or is it simply One of Those Things which are True?).

    However, in another way, I don't get any real sense that these people individuate in ways that we would recognise. There doesn't seem to be ant particular coming of age ritual - yes, people do go out on the mountain by themselves, and they do start to participate in events such as the Moon Dance, but I don't recall any ceremony that society at large held to signal that this was now OK? No coming-of-age ritual, if you like, which seems odd to me for a society for which ritual is so very important - there's a quasi-magical quality to the repetition of heya heya during key events, like a kind of invocation of... something (but what?). Likewise, I don't get any particular sense that there is a focus on individuation in the psychological sense - indeed, to a degree the concept of becoming more of an individual is contrary to much of what this society seems to be about.

    Could one join such a society? I don't think there were any actual barriers, but I kind of feel that it wold be almost impossible for an outsider to authentically become part of it. As a reader, this is mirrored by the sense that after all the bits and pieces you have read, you still have no real idea what the book is all about!

    Is it world-building? Yes, I guess so, but perhaps it's a world that you have to be born into to comprehend. I am interested to see if others think that real enjoyable games could be held in this world.

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    @RichardAbbott 'Heya' is not in the glossary, but is described in one of the notes on the text in the back of the expanded edition (near the very end). Heyiya (which in in the glossary) means sacred, holy, to change, to become, and to praise. Heya is a a greeting , but also a way to call attention to a changes of register, from the secular to the sacred, or from speech to chant. It's intended as a tribute to Native American tradition in which the syllables 'he-ya' are common vocables, wordless syllables. (When I was a kid and we played at indians, 'he-ye-he-ya' were always the words that accompanied dances and music in our minds - is that a coincidence?).

    On the question of whether real and enjoyable games could be held in this world, I think the answer is yes, if the game is a short-term game (a 'one-shot') intended to be run in a single session. I'm less convinced that an extended campaign could take place here. Even Le Guin couldn't write a sustained story here - The Stone Telling is mostly about her travels to the land of the Condor and its impact on her. And the 'full Dangerous People novel' in the extra material only consists of chapters 1 and 2, and two pages of chapter 3 before it gets cut off.

    But I don't think 'the world' is what I would bring from this book into gaming. Themes and theory, though - yes.

    @BarnerCobblewood I'm note really sure what you means by this: Why is it so difficult to describe, and design for, an unending play of compromise and politics? If you have played at this, how did it go? Can you unpack further, maybe give an example. Compromise and politics (as in the discourse of how we govern ourselves) are always part of games, as near as I can tell. But something I don't think that's what you mean.

    You said when you introduced this book that it has informed your gaming a lot. What does your gaming look like? I'm very curious to hear how one has influenced the other. You read my 13 Wives campaign report back when it was online - I think that gave a good indication of what I like in gaming. My settings are filled with ordinary and flawed people (inspired by P.K. Dick and Le Guin?) and situations where combat is not the obvious solution. Is that what you're thinking of? Or something else?

    Also, why do you call the Condor 'Semitic'? I know we did get a hint of their language, but I didn't make a special note about it's provenance. Are you talking about language, or something else?

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    What they share is an absence of descriptions of functional politics that does not pose an existential threat to itself, or protagonists whose politics lead to social change without revolution. I think that RPGs, even when they present conflicted social interactions, likewise have difficulty including the dynamic communal and social compromises that characterise most of us humans most of the time. Why is it so difficult to describe, and design for, an unending play of compromise and politics? If you have played at this, how did it go?

    I think the key to this answer is in the ACH text itself, in the section "Some Generative Metaphors." Most RPGs, and much Western fiction, relies on metaphors of The War and The Lord. Struggle and power. The idea that "all stories involve conflict."

    We, collectively, don't have much experience with stories that depend on the metaphors of The Animal, The Dance, and The Way. The nearest I can come up with are some Japanese stories. The Ghibli films have some examples: My Neighbour Totoro could be an example of The Animal; Kiki's Delivery Service could be an example of The Dance. The anime Your Name could also be an example of The Dance.

    So, how much of our RPG experience has been games that aren't about struggle and power?

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I think the key to this answer is in the ACH text itself, in the section "Some Generative Metaphors." Most RPGs, and much Western fiction, relies on metaphors of The War and The Lord. Struggle and power. The idea that "all stories involve conflict."

    Most of the individual stories within ACH involve conflict, sometimes cultural (as in StoneTeller) sometimes rooted in personal choice. Even the Pandora episode I have just read (Gently to the Gentle Reader), which is scarcely even of flash fiction length, has a difference of opinion between Pandora herself and the reader. It's hard to have a story at all if there is not some element of choice to be resolved - the resolution may well not involve actual physical confrontation, but conflict is, surely, a spectrum which also includes disagreement, negotiation and compromise.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    What they share is an absence of descriptions of functional politics that does not pose an existential threat to itself, or protagonists whose politics lead to social change without revolution.

    I think the key to this answer is in the ACH text itself, in the section "Some Generative Metaphors." Most RPGs, and much Western fiction, relies on metaphors of The War and The Lord. Struggle and power. The idea that "all stories involve conflict."

    We, collectively, don't have much experience with stories that depend on the metaphors of The Animal, The Dance, and The Way. The nearest I can come up with are some Japanese stories. The Ghibli films have some examples: My Neighbour Totoro could be an example of The Animal; Kiki's Delivery Service could be an example of The Dance. The anime Your Name could also be an example of The Dance.

    So, how much of our RPG experience has been games that aren't about struggle and power?

    I think that it depends on whether we are involved in competitive gaming, or recreational gaming. One of the things that attracted me to RPGs was the recreational and communal aspect of the play (as opposed to say organised sports, which I also enjoyed, Sadly, age and injury makes that ever more difficult).

    But as I get older I am becoming more sensitive to what the game says about the world, and what is important in the world. This book has lots of conflict and stuff, but I think it isn't what is important.

    I also think the book is quite flawed, but it is somehow about important things, and not just wrapped up with wish-fulfilment. What game-systems are likewise?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    But I don't think 'the world' is what I would bring from this book into gaming. Themes and theory, though - yes.

    Looking forward to your longer post coming up.

    @BarnerCobblewood I'm note really sure what you means by this: Why is it so difficult to describe, and design for, an unending play of compromise and politics? If you have played at this, how did it go? Can you unpack further, maybe give an example. Compromise and politics (as in the discourse of how we govern ourselves) are always part of games, as near as I can tell. But something I don't think that's what you mean.

    If you mean the process of playing the game, yes - see my comment a moment ago. And yet, despite a rhetoric, often in introductions, I have rarely seen e.g. grief given any role in role-playing, unless it promotes some kind of Berserker mode. The emotional range of people generated by the systems is incredibly restricted, perhaps even sociopathic e.g. Charisma lets the character manipulate NPCs, rather than being granted because of the person the character is.

    My experience is mostly with so-called old school games, and solo computer games and simulations, so no doubt there is plenty I have missed. I would like to hear about things to check out.

    You said when you introduced this book that it has informed your gaming a lot. What does your gaming look like? I'm very curious to hear how one has influenced the other.

    It made obvious to me how the system of character generation restricts the possibilities of play, and purposes of play. Who sets out to become someone able to live comfortable at home with their neighbours in an RPG? And yet, that might be a good life. ACH gave me something I could point to which was an alternative. I think it is flawed, also impossible, and I wouldn't want to live in this particular utopia, but it stretches and requires flexibility, which is worth something.

    My playing has become more about dreaming a dream together. Lots of repetition, slow speaking. Few takers - people find it boring. Most conflict dreams are not really worth dreaming - I have to do that enough in real life. When I do play in more classic or old school games (say in a game shop back room with strangers) I try to let the other players make the decisions, then assist them to reach their goals. There always happy to have a cleric who is satisfied with healing.

    That said, I think there is a design problem with advancement in RPGs. It defaults to taking and fighting, which are anti-social behaviours. Play is educational, and yet there is an enormous effort by the game industry that educates people that bad behaviour is acceptable, and do so in order to make money. I see the same, or a similar, stance leaking into more traditional educational systems. See my last question being posted later today or this evening.

    You read my 13 Wives campaign report back when it was online - I think that gave a good indication of what I like in gaming. My settings are filled with ordinary and flawed people (inspired by P.K. Dick and Le Guin?) and situations where combat is not the obvious solution. Is that what you're thinking of? Or something else?

    Yes, your games read like fun. As I recall, you had a stable group who grew together. I think this ideal for working at play. But at the same time, I think the default stance we end up taking together is that goodness can only be accomplished through conflict and destruction, and I wonder why there is so much of that in industry. Look at the news - is public health improved by making it about conflict? Why not work on something else? Part of my answer is that there has been an atrophying of the imagination. I think all of us here know how much work imagination requires, and all share a concern about what is happening with it.

    Also, why do you call the Condor 'Semitic'? I know we did get a hint of their language, but I didn't make a special note about it's provenance. Are you talking about language, or something else?

    The novel contains a story about a nomadic people with extreme religious beliefs encountering farmers, and I think is more Old Testament that say Scottish, or Tibetan, where the same cultural story appears. Probably should have said biblical. It also resonates with the American experience (puritan, anabaptists). PKD also thought the bible was being repeated in America, though as I understand it he was more focused on Romans than this story appears to be, so I am probably influenced by that.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Also, why do you call the Condor 'Semitic'? I know we did get a hint of their language, but I didn't make a special note about it's provenance. Are you talking about language, or something else?

    Well, it seems to me that this is clearly the focus of the more polemic parts of their description. They segregate men and women, regard women and girl-children as property rather than persons, require women to be veiled when outside their own quarters, regard menstruation as unclean, have a monotheistic and patriarchal stance, and are aggressively warlike. I'm sure there are other groups in the world that would fit that as much as the ancient Hebrews or the early Moslems, but I'm sure those are the first cultures that most people would think of.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    I think that it depends on whether we are involved in competitive gaming, or recreational gaming. One of the things that attracted me to RPGs was the recreational and communal aspect of the play (as opposed to say organised sports, which I also enjoyed, Sadly, age and injury makes that ever more difficult).

    There's a huge difference between game-characters being in conflict, and the players being in conflict (or competition). In just about all my RPG experience, the players around the table have been working together to tell a story. But at the same time, that story can be all about conflict and strife.

    I also think the book is quite flawed, but it is somehow about important things, and not just wrapped up with wish-fulfilment. What game-systems are likewise?

    Indeed. It's back to the "guiding metaphors" thing.

    Let's take a couple of episodes from the book. "The Trouble with the Cotton People" features a long and difficult journey, but the key resolution in the story isn't a conflict. The situation is resolved by the Kesh emissaries reminding the Cotton People of their existing agreement; "it was [the Kesh's] part not to shame them further." Common ground is reached by farmers swapping stories of troubles on their farms.

    "About a Meeting Concerning the Warriors" is where the Kesh decided if they want to allow the warriors to stay in the Valley. The warriors say they're needed to defend the Kesh against the Condor people (and others). Most of the Kesh agree that this is a kind of sickness. Some warriors renounced their membership, but the Kesh Speaker says "that to be finished with a thigs was simply to leave it and go on away from it." Tempers calm, people move away, and the warriors are abandoned. Some left the Valley.

    In both those cases, how would it be handled in a game? While there is conflict there, and it's resolved, it's not done so by one side "winning". The disagreement with the Cotton People is perhaps an example of the Dance metaphor: co-operation, connection, common ground, horizonal linkings. With the Warriors, it could be an example of the Animal: kinship, relationships, interdependence; or perhaps the Way: inaction, caution, balance, and inadequate language (note how much silence there was in that story).

    And yet, in games, they'd be resolved by something like "Both sides roll Persuasion (or Negotiation or Oratory or something); you get the highest total, so you win." But that's not at all how the story goes in the novel.

    So. How can we use RPGs to tell stories based on these other metaphors? Or is the whole structure of RPGs just too rooted in its wargaming past to be able to adapt?

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    That said, I think there is a design problem with advancement in RPGs. It defaults to taking and fighting, which are anti-social behaviours.

    I agree advancement is a problem, but not for the reasons you cite. There are plenty of games out there that reward things other than taking and fighting. I think a key problem with advancement is the idea of advancement itself, the idea of increasing power. It's about things being out of balance, of striving for more, of increasing domination.

    My absolute favourite character development system is in Shadow of the Century. Characters achieve milestones and change as a result. But it's a change, not an advance. Character descriptors change, but neither increase nor decrease. One skill increases, but another decreases. Characters never become more or less powerful than before. But they can change massively in response to the situations they find themselves.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    My absolute favourite character development system is in Shadow of the Century. Characters achieve milestones and change as a result. But it's a change, not an advance. Character descriptors change, but neither increase nor decrease. One skill increases, but another decreases. Characters never become more or less powerful than before. But they can change massively in response to the situations they find themselves.

    That sounds really interesting. Are the changes in description voluntary ("I want to trade strength for charisma" or whatever) or the consequences of action and so not directly willed for (kind of like a character in a Star Wars game becoming closer to light or dark depending on how they handle situations). Of course, in the last analysis both are the result of choices, but the first is more overt and conscious, and the second more indirect and derived.

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    > @RichardAbbott said:
    > (Quote)
    > That sounds really interesting. Are the changes in description voluntary ("I want to trade strength for charisma" or whatever) or the consequences of action and so not directly willed for

    Entirely player chosen. It's a Fate game, so the changes are "rewrite an Aspect" or "swap the rating of two skills" where the skills differ by one point of rating. Characters definitely change over time, but the power level remains constant.
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    @BarnerCobblewood , you said that this book strongly influenced your gaming. Apologies if I missed it, but I don't think you've described how it did. I'd really like to hear your take on the book and it's influence on gaming.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Well, it seems to me that this is clearly the focus of the more polemic parts of their description. They segregate men and women, regard women and girl-children as property rather than persons, require women to be veiled when outside their own quarters, regard menstruation as unclean, have a monotheistic and patriarchal stance, and are aggressively warlike. I'm sure there are other groups in the world that would fit that as much as the ancient Hebrews or the early Moslems, but I'm sure those are the first cultures that most people would think of.

    Apart from the veiling, much of this applies to Medieval European culture, as well. If fact, there are few cultures in the world that don't treat men and women differently. True, they don't all go to the extreme of veiling, but not not every Semitic culture did or does this, either. I have a hard time believing that Le Guin, with all her sensitivity toward natives and people of colour, would have been anti-Semitic. She was anti-oppressionist.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Apart from the veiling, much of this applies to Medieval European culture, as well.

    Mediæval as a description fine with me. As long as we understood that no matter what word we use, in the context of discussing this culture in ACH, it has to convey the idea that the author (Pandora? perhaps not the narrator) thinks the culture is not of herself, nor does she think it should be, and so the reader is directed to think the same. My point, which I agree was crudely put, is that some readers will find this easier than others. However this was not appropriate for a discussion about RPGing. I apologise.

    In RPGs, this distancing is often accomplished with monsters, whose culture deserves to be destroyed or driven away simply for existing. So I will change my description to say that the Condor are monstrous, and as monsters come already shaped in the cultures of the players, it is easier to play into those values than away from them.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    And yet, despite a rhetoric, often in introductions, I have rarely seen e.g. grief given any role in role-playing, unless it promotes some kind of Berserker mode. The emotional range of people generated by the systems is incredibly restricted, perhaps even sociopathic e.g. Charisma lets the character manipulate NPCs, rather than being granted because of the person the character is.

    My experience is mostly with so-called old school games, and solo computer games and simulations, so no doubt there is plenty I have missed. I would like to hear about things to check out.

    There's a wild world of games out there now that do all kinds of things. Many of them have a very narrow focus. I'd be very surprised if there isn't one about grief. Maybe that French RPG: Polaris? I gave me copy away.

    Good point re: charisma, but then mechanics are almost always about either (a) how a character interacts with the world, or (b) how a player can shape the story. To have a 'charisma' actually mean that the player can play their character charismatically would be a real challenge to a players who had no idea how to be charismatic - (and have you met gamers?). So instead it becomes a question of (a) how does the game world react to a charismatic player? (by making NPCs more easily manipulatable), or (b) how the the fact that a character is charismatic shape the outcome of the story? (by allowing charisma to change the narrative). I suspect you might be more at home in the latter crowd. Luckily you can do both - like RPGs as story, and like RPGs as sports.

    For my part, I like games that are about exploring new worlds and don't necessarily presume the particulars of play, so I don't collect games about narrowly focused things. I'm not the best person to advise you on games to check out. @NeilNjae or @Michael_S_Miller or @WildCard would probably be better.

    You said when you introduced this book that it has informed your gaming a lot. What does your gaming look like? I'm very curious to hear how one has influenced the other.

    This question still stands, btw - what it is like when you run a game?

    It made obvious to me how the system of character generation restricts the possibilities of play, and purposes of play. Who sets out to become someone able to live comfortable at home with their neighbours in an RPG? And yet, that might be a good life. ACH gave me something I could point to which was an alternative. I think it is flawed, also impossible, and I wouldn't want to live in this particular utopia, but it stretches and requires flexibility, which is worth something.

    I think its very easy to play someone whose goal is the live comfortably at home, but who is nevertheless drawn into adventure (like Bilbo or Frodo or, best of all, Sam). I think it would be rather boring to play someone who actually was living comfortably at home. I mean, I already do that in my spare time - I don't need to also roleplay it.

    My playing has become more about dreaming a dream together. Lots of repetition, slow speaking. Few takers - people find it boring.

    Is it maybe too introspective? RPGs need to be collaborative, and they need to excite - unless, I suppose, you find just the right mix of people to play with who are into the same things.

    That said, I think there is a design problem with advancement in RPGs. It defaults to taking and fighting, which are anti-social behaviours. Play is educational, and yet there is an enormous effort by the game industry that educates people that bad behaviour is acceptable, and do so in order to make money. I see the same, or a similar, stance leaking into more traditional educational systems. See my last question being posted later today or this evening.

    This kind of advancement isn't the norm, not any more. It's a holdover from D&D and its legacy largely lives in D&D and its derivatives. Games like RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu gear advancement to the skills that you use. A game called Artesia: Adventures in the Known World, let you advance based on your actions and how closely they matched certain archetypal ideals represented in the game's Tarot.

    Yes, your games read like fun. As I recall, you had a stable group who grew together. I think this ideal for working at play. But at the same time, I think the default stance we end up taking together is that goodness can only be accomplished through conflict and destruction, and I wonder why there is so much of that in industry.

    There is certainly a lot of it. But there are also other options. I think there's a lot of scope for peaceful play in Sci Fi, in particular. They used to have a course at John Abbott called 'Science Fiction and Peace' - I wish I still had the syllabus.

    But to give one example of a game that doesn't hinge on violence: The Tools of Ignorance, by @clash_bowley , a game about baseball. I'm not sure how much conflict it assumes, but maybe he can comment.

    Part of my answer is that there has been an atrophying of the imagination. I think all of us here know how much work imagination requires, and all share a concern about what is happening with it.

    I do share this concern in general, but perhaps not for the reason that violence and conflict continue to exist, I don't think. For me, it's more that we're seeing an awful lot of derivative material being fed to us, and I see people willingly lap it up. But really original new works seem scarce.

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    I don't have anything to contribute here but am loving the debate :)

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    If you mean the process of playing the game, yes - see my comment a moment ago. And yet, despite a rhetoric, often in introductions, I have rarely seen e.g. grief given any role in role-playing, unless it promotes some kind of Berserker mode. The emotional range of people generated by the systems is incredibly restricted, perhaps even sociopathic e.g. Charisma lets the character manipulate NPCs, rather than being granted because of the person the character is.

    As prompted by @Apocryphal , here are some focussed games that cover more than the standard "do anything so long as it's combat" style of D&D and similar. But please bear in mind that I'm not up to date with what the cool kids are doing on places like itch.io

    Note that in all these games, there's rarely any attributes like Strength or Charisma.

    • Smallville, the game of the TV show. It's a great example of how to do soap operas well. Character stats are Drives, such as Justice, Love, and Glory; and Relationships, to PCs and prominent NPCs. To perform actions, you take dice depending on the Drive and Relationship concerned. Each Drive and Relationship also has a Statement that defines it ("My justice is swift," "Sucker for a pretty face"); you could easily centre a character's grief here. Most of the time, you'll play in accordance with the statements; sometimes, you'll act against them for a moment of character growth.

    • Grey Ranks, a game about child almost-soldiers in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Characters are defined by Things they Hold Dear, Reputations and, most importantly, their position on an Emotion Grid. As the uprising progresses and things get more desparate, characters push themselves to the extremes of the grid, where the psychological stresses are.

    • Hillfolk / Drama System / Malandros (Two games using the Drama System basis). Characters are defined by a cental Desiire (e.g. Acceptance, Power), two Dramatic Poles they oscillate between (e.g. selfishness-altruism, loyalty-ambition), and Relationships to other PCs; they relationships specify what emotionally you want from the other character. Play proceeds through scenes where PCs grant or withhold emotional satisfaction.

    • The One Ring Tolkein gaming. Fairly trad, with standard characteristics and skills driving most play. But a key driver of play is the balance between Hope and Despair, eventually leading to Madness and Corruption.

    • Bluebeard's Bride Feminist horror about misogyny and patriarchy. Players are different aspects of the Bride's psyche, swapping between which is active as a result of trauma. It's about a young innocent exploring the mansion of her new husband, finding the horrific echoes of what happend to his previous wives.

    • The Watch and Night Witches two similar games about women on the front lines in war. The actual "fighting" part is handled quickly, almost abstractly. The game is in the bit between, where people deal with the fallout of the missions, repairing or developing relationships, and dealing with the grief and pain of losing comrades.

    That's probably enough to get on with! I have many more examples along these lines. I've run or played all of the ones above, so please ask questions if you have them.

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    @Apocryphal said:

    Quite a lot, so I am going to focus on just a few things. Happy to discuss anything else though.

    Good point re: charisma, but then mechanics are almost always about either (a) how a character interacts with the world, or (b) how a player can shape the story. To have a 'charisma' actually mean that the player can play their character charismatically would be a real challenge to a players who had no idea how to be charismatic - (and have you met gamers?). So instead it becomes a question of (a) how does the game world react to a charismatic player? (by making NPCs more easily manipulatable), or (b) how the the fact that a character is charismatic shape the outcome of the story? (by allowing charisma to change the narrative). I suspect you might be more at home in the latter crowd. Luckily you can do both - like RPGs as story, and like RPGs as sports.

    What about RPGS as finding out who you are, and who you could be?

    You said when you introduced this book that it has informed your gaming a lot. What does your gaming look like? I'm very curious to hear how one has influenced the other.

    What ACH did for me was open a way to think about playing incomplete characters with a yearning for some part memory and part dream, who are beginning to know that it won't be realised, and then using that to derive the character's game-actions. Also to be character who follows rather than leads. I suggested to a few people who asked about what I was doing to read ACH, but none of them have been able to finish the book.

    I do think that, in general, RPGs generate and make habitual stances that an untrammelled agency is the way to live, whereas we might be better served by playing at characters who are content with being unfulfilled. Unrounded.

    This question still stands, btw - what it is like when you run a game?

    I haven't run a game in several years. I play in games. Pickup games mostly, with people I don't really know, for short periods of time (few months), and where I don't have a profound grasp of the rules. I mean i read them, but I don't memorise them, because lazy I guess. I usually count on the group or Gm to tell me the mechanics of how my character does something beyond the most basic of stuff, and just accept whatever they decide.

    What have I learned from this? Most mechanics end up being about getting and counting the 'stuff' that the system uses mechanically to count success. Many player's decisions about how to act are driven by those goals. Thus to be 'co-operative' means to work towards the most basic of goals (acquiring stuff). Not the best, nor most entertaining (for me) of goals. But being a follower means getting the stuff other people want, so that's what I try to do. When another character goes too far for my character, I don't argue, I just don't help.

    To be clear, I do like the experience of playing with other people, and always learn something (not always good) from seeing how the players approach the session. But like I said above, I'm trying to craft and play passive characters who are not doormats.

    Is it maybe too introspective? RPGs need to be collaborative, and they need to excite - unless, I suppose, you find just the right mix of people to play with who are into the same things.

    Perhaps, or perhaps it's that RPGs are is too extraspective. For example, I've learned to avoid playing with people seeking immersion.

    That said, I think there is a design problem with advancement in RPGs. It defaults to taking and fighting, which are anti-social behaviours. Play is educational, and yet there is an enormous effort by the game industry that educates people that bad behaviour is acceptable, and do so in order to make money. I see the same, or a similar, stance leaking into more traditional educational systems. See my last question being posted later today or this evening.

    This kind of advancement isn't the norm, not any more. It's a holdover from D&D and its legacy largely lives in D&D and its derivatives. Games like RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu gear advancement to the skills that you use. A game called Artesia: Adventures in the Known World, let you advance based on your actions and how closely they matched certain archetypal ideals represented in the game's Tarot.

    Yeah I'm definitely going to look at Shadow of the Century that @NeilNjae suggested. I do think that games should make characters playable through decline as well - it is part of the arc, and declining and failing shouldn't be seen as character failure. It should be a part of the role-playing. Barner himself is the character that I thought I played this best.

    I think there's a lot of scope for peaceful play in Sci Fi, in particular.

    Peaceful play requires peaceful players, which I find in short supply. Probably because pickup games.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    As prompted by @Apocryphal , here are some focussed games that cover more than the standard "do anything so long as it's combat" style of D&D and similar. But please bear in mind that I'm not up to date with what the cool kids are doing on places like itch.io

    Thanks for the list. I'd like to hear about Smallville and the Drama System. Do you think Drama System might be added to other games?

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Thanks for the list. I'd like to hear about Smallville and the Drama System. Do you think Drama System might be added to other games?

    What would you like to know?

    As for adding Drama System to other games, that's what Malandros did: it mixed Drama System with Powered by the Apocalypse for the "procedural" (non dramatic, i.e. action) activity. In play, you need to keep track of emotional needs and whether they're assuaged or rebuffed, alongside the practical effects. For example, if I want respect from my father, the chief, I may ask him to let me lead the trading mission. We many be having a conversation about safety and other duties, but it's really about whether he respects me. If he does respect me, I give him a Drama token; if he refuses, he gives me one. I can use a bunch of Drama tokens in a scene to force a reaction from someone. In that respect, it should be fairly easy to bolt on to another system.

    There's an open-source SRD version of Drama System, if you want to take a look at it.

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    I want to know how these games' systems worked in a session, and across sessions. Did your play group want to play these more than once (or maybe not what you do)? How long did it take people to grok what was happening?

    It seems quite artificial (to me) to divide the two into different phases or scenes. I like playing games, even episodic games, for hundreds of hours. So for instance in Grey Ranks, if I had an interesting character-arc, I would like to find out what happens next to that person. That seems to be ruled out by the system.

    When I read about Drama System, I had the idea that players can work on their 'character development' regardless of their tactical decisions, which seems unnatural to me, and I wonder about what happens when the system forces players to have their characters do things they don't agree to. No doubt I misunderstand how it works. Does it happen that players gain or lose Drama Tokens with being aware of the risk, due to their characters having acted without thinking?

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I want to know how these games' systems worked in a session, and across sessions. Did your play group want to play these more than once (or maybe not what you do)? How long did it take people to grok what was happening?

    Most of these games work as one-shot sessions, but they generally work better over several sessions. Smallville seems to take 2-4 sessions to really get going — but once it does, it's fantastic. I used it to play something very close to the HBO series Rome back in the day, and we ended up with a campaign that created a very similar story.

    It seems quite artificial (to me) to divide the two into different phases or scenes. I like playing games, even episodic games, for hundreds of hours. So for instance in Grey Ranks, if I had an interesting character-arc, I would like to find out what happens next to that person. That seems to be ruled out by the system.

    I don't know what you mean by "divide the two into different phases or scenes." What two?

    Grey Ranks is unusual in that it has a fixed arc, covering the Warsaw Uprising. There are 10 chapters, and each character gets one personal and one mission scene in each. The whole game takes 3-4 sessions. At the end of the game, the characters have likely destroyed everything they hold dear to survive, and most will be dead despite that. It's grim, but powerful.

    Smallville and Drama System both support open-ended play, but after about a dozen sessions at most, the characters, and the dynamics between them, will have changed so much that you'll need to step back from the story, review the new situation, and craft a new context for ongoing play.

    When I read about Drama System, I had the idea that players can work on their 'character development' regardless of their tactical decisions, which seems unnatural to me, and I wonder about what happens when the system forces players to have their characters do things they don't agree to. No doubt I misunderstand how it works. Does it happen that players gain or lose Drama Tokens with being aware of the risk, due to their characters having acted without thinking?

    I don't know what you mean about "'character development' regardless of their tactical decisions". There are no skrimish-wargame type tactical decisions in Drama System. The closest you get is whether to support or betray someone in a conflict. But other than that, the decisions you make are about addressing your Desire and whether helping or hindering someone else will benefit you. There's still a lot of fictional positioning in the game to make things work. For instance, if I end up leading the trading mission, I could return rich, which would open up new ways I could influence other characters.

    I think the players are always cognizant of what's happening, and players narrating unthinking actions is typically a fun story moment!

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