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The Travels of Mendes Pinto: Team Game

Time for a Hiatus

Sergio Mascarenhas
Edited by Stephen Barringer
October 23, 2001

Sergio wanted to also provide the the original (pre-edited) draft, for dynamic comparison of the influence of an editor.  

Things have not been easy these last two months, both at the personal and professional levels. Furthermore, I had some problems with my computer. Result: I had almost to stop working on my column. This had several consequences... including, unfortunately, my inability to finish the column for the present month.

Actually, these problems have already affected September's column. You see, my intention was to include with that column not only the final version, but my original draft of it, as well as the exchange of emails I had with Steve Darlington (the Devils Advocate) and Stephen Barringer, who did the editing. For lack of time I couldn't do that, so Sandy Antunes made the wise decision to publish the edited copy that Stephen handed him.

I wanted to have all that material there so that you, the readers, could compare the different stages in the development of each column (if you wish). This would have allowed you to see how these columns develop, not only to look at the last and final stage on the writing process.

For lack of time I couldn't finish the column for the present month. I am going to get back at it now, but it's too late. It will stay scheduled for November.

Yet I wanted to have something to publish. Fortunately, it just so happens that September's column generated several interesting threads to which I couldn't respond at the time. So, I decided to turn my responses to those threads into this month's column.

Srgio Mascarenhas Panjim, October 16th, 2001

LOOKING BACK AT SEPTEMBER'S COLUMN

Last month's column sparked a lot of very interesting discussions. Since I was away, I couldn't address these. Here goes my resume and answer to the points raised:

1. The Secret of Sergios Thought Processes

"I especially like the way you structure your thought and convey it into language (maybe because of my law background)." -- Joo

Hello Joo; in fact, the way I structure my thought derives a lot from my own law background!

"The way you seem to be going, past the attributes down to the resolution mechanics (be it skills, personality traits, health levels and penalties, etc), is very simple, promises to be really elegant and further very well explained."

In the next couple of columns I hope to be finished with this.

"I, as all the people here will stay tuned as you unfold your creative process and develop TtoMP. The reading is my first and foremost reason to come back to RPGnet (IMO)."

Thanks for the compliment. I just hope not to deceive you or anybody else with the end product. After all, I'm going now through the easy step: the destructive part. When the time comes to build, things will be a lot harder. Um abrao.

2. Normal vs. Unlikely Situations: To Cover or Not To Cover?

"But won't these characters interact with non-Europeans?" -- Robert A. Rodger

Valantil provided the answer I had in mind, but A.J.Gibson provides another point of view: "A game should most definitely cover circumstances outside the norm if at all possible. The sort of 'it's-not-likely-to-happen-so-let's-not-deal-with-it mentality that screwed up D&D."

I don't know about D&D, but my way of thinking is the next: If one has a sound foundation based on a core set of principles on how to create rules for particular situations, one may pay attention to the normal situations and drop the fringe ones. In other words, I think of my design efforts in these terms: 'Normality is the default, so it does not need an express representation. Neither do abnormal situations, IF I provide a general principle on how to handle them.' The future will tell whether this is feasible or not.

3. This Is Un-CONSTITUTION-al

"Well, from my perspective, the two main candidates for 'we need CON!!' situations in the TToMP setting are grievous bodily harm and disease. The GBH situation can easily be covered by HP or whatever, and don't need a CON stat. For disease, just do the same." -- Deathl0k

Yes, this is how I look at it. And no, the system will not use HPs.

4. Approaching a Description

"Another approach is to rate Natives and Europeans." -- Andrew Martin

You present exactly the way I'm thinking about handling most things in the game (even if the final terms may be different). Basically, we will have descriptions of groups of people based on different criteria (it can be biological, cultural, social, political, etc., provided it suits and respects the setting). If a character belongs to a group, he inherits the descriptors of the group (unless the player wants to change that description, but in this case he must provide an explanation to why his character is different from the norm... an explanation that is acceptable within the setting).

"And some thoughts about where Sergio is going with skills..."

Actually I'm going in a very different direction from what you describe. But I'll leave this to the next couple of columns.

"So expanding further upon the above, a NPC character could be described according to their Name, Race (Native/European), Sex, and Occupation. Significant player characters could be described with an extra 2 - 4 positive descriptors, and 1 - 2 negative descriptors. Perhaps every two positive descriptors balanced by 1 negative descriptor? All descriptors must fit into a single paragraph of description, much as the original writer might have described a significant character in TToMP."

It will be more or less like this. I'm just not sure about the positive/negative thing. I don't like this kind of reasoning at the rules level; in my opinion, the rules should not decide what is "negative" or "positive". After all, anything can be either positive or negative, depending on the situation and point of view. So, either the rules don't qualify character descriptors as positive or negative, or they present both positive and negative aspects about the descriptors.

5. The Language of the Game

"If the mechanics of a system are the language in which a story is told, and a single language (such as English) can be used to tell a number of different stories in different genre's effectively, then why can't a single mechanic be used for all RPG genres? What is needed is a mechanic that is as versatile as the English language, with different aspects of the language that can be more common in some genres, but used in any of them." -- A.J. Gibson

Because... Well, I think it can... if it is the right mechanic. Somehow no game I know was able to come out with the right mechanic. I think that this is because game designers based their design attempts on an incorrect approach to generic game design. I will attempt to achieve this -- designing a generic system thats truly generic -- in a future column. Ill do it or I'll die in the attempt! (Time to create a new character!) In any case, look at what I say below.

"[I]f many different works can be written in English why can't all games be played with the same language (roughly). If by mechanic you mean the whole kit-and-caboodle of race, class, attribute, skill, etc., that Sergio wrote about in this most recent column, then the refutation is in the article. Some games don't need certain aspects of the mechanic . To make a system that would be perfect for every game would probably have to allow for a lot of customizing. It would be so open to being customized that it would probably be nothing more than an empty book."

True. But what if the customizing is already done? What if we take the setting material as such and have a decision mechanic that works based on the setting material to reach game results? What happens in most games around there is that we have several layers: setting material (narrative, descriptive); game concepts derived from the setting material; decision mechanics that work with the game concepts. My take is that, if we are able to undercut the intermediate level, we get a flexible and trully generic game system. Of course, it has to be proved that this can be done effectively. Just two ints: it requires an abstract decision mechanic, and it requires a way to match the decision mechanic to the setting materials as given.

A game that goes a great distance towards this is Hero Wars.

"Still I think there are deep differences in the writings. One is a history, one is an adventure into being, the other is a history of God - there are new words in each of them (one difference wrought by time), there are syntactical differences, there are even affective differences (pacing in one is meant to keep you on the edge of your temperfoam seat, while another leisurely describes the world)."

I agree with you. The problem is that in order to keep this in a game system designed the traditional way, one needs to translate each of these examples to a different game language, with its corresponding game concepts. To make things worse, sometimes game designers feel compelled to provide different mechanics for each set of game concepts (contrary to what Ben says above, "All systems that use a die mechanic can use the same die mechanic"). So, if one follows the traditional approach, one is bound to hit a wall of increasing complexity, or to take shortcuts and amalgamate what is different.

"By this, I believe that a single RPG, with the same versatility as English, could be used to play any RPG in existence. This does not mean the RPG exists, and it certainly doesn't mean that an existing RPG (like D&D) could be used well to emulate every single genre. A mechanic that introduces race (other than a generic human default race) and other trappings specific to the setting wouldn't work, because it is not separate from the setting. A truly generic game would need to be separate from the setting, and also it would need to give the GM the ability to choose what aspects of the game they wish to use . In language terms, the grammar would stay the same, but there are no specific words (attributes, skills, whatever) the GM must use. The mechanic of the system would be the rules of grammar the story is described in, and the words available would be the options available for the GM and players to use. The GM can decide what words are forbidden, and can make new words (skills, attributes, etc), but the grammar rules stay the same." -- A.J. Gibson

This summarizes very well where I'm trying to go.

"In short, one mechanic (die rolling scheme) can cover every single genre"

As I wrote above, this is where I'm going.

"and 1 set of skills, attributes, etc, can also cover it also, provided it's an open system"

Here I'm going in a different direction, something I'll attempt to explain fully in the coming columns. To be brief, I'm giving up on the idea of predefined sets of descriptors. I'll explain why when I present my ideas. Once more, Hero Wars is a key inspiration for this.

"(you can make up new ones - there's actually a theory in discrete math about systems needing to be either incomplete or inaccurate)"

My inspiration is not math, but a certain type of legal regulation used in what we call in Portuguese 'Direito Internacional Privado' (International Private Law). These are rules about rules. They are called 'formal rules' since they don't have a specific content. They are used to decide on which among different 'material rules' (those with a precise ruling content) is to be used in a particular situation. (Joo, are you following this?)

"and that the parts of the system you don't need can be ignored (like ignoring astrophysics in favour of Newtonian physics when it is convenient). Of course, the system would have to be pretty big (how many words are there in the English language?). A setting specific game could be created as a sub-system by simply removing unwanted elements of the language."

The way I want to handle this, as I explained above, is far simpler. One does not need to create an extensive set of game concepts because one is simply using the setting materials directly; in other words, our setting and sourcebook (The Travels of Mendes Pinto) will provide the game vocabulary, and all we have to do is come up with the grammar. This simplifies things... if it can be done.

By the way, another major influence of mine is predicate logic and Prolog, the programming language. About 12 years ago I studied both when I was a scholar in a research project on applications of artificial intelligence to Law. I didnt come back to it for the last 10 years (so the concepts rusted a lot in my mind), but it keeps being an influence. To a great extent, I see my future system as functioning like predicate logic and Prolog: a)Like predicate logic, my system picks concepts from the setting and provides them with a formal notation; this is the descriptive part of the game that allows us to create characters and game entities; at this level the system provides the formal rules to derive those entities from the setting;

b)The next big component of the system are the decision mechanics. This is the equivalent of Prolog. It provides dynamics to the static descriptions of game entities that can be achieved in a). If we follow the Logic metaphor to the end, we can notice that my approach has no provision to a Material Logic (as opposed to the Formal Logic mentioned above). The equivalent of a Material Logic in game terms are pre-defined sets of descriptors. I give up with this. Any book on logic will explain the problems with material logic systems, going back to Aristoteles or even before.

"An RPG with that versatility would also take many years to learn -- just like English. And, if you look around you, you'll note a lot of people who can't use English very well despite a lifetime's practice with it." -- Michael T. Richter

At least let's hope that roleplayers are above the crowd in this field. My contention is that if the system uses natural language directly (English, Portuguese, etc., provided it is a language that all the players understand and are proficient with), if you know it, you don't need to learn a specific game language, so the problem is solved.

6. The Generously Generic Genius of Gibson

"I can speculate at some of the features such a system would have to have in order to be perfectly generic: 1 - it would need to have a few central mechanics that are applied relentlessly to all situations, with rules to adapt the situation to the mechanic (rather than having separate mechanics for different phenomena)"

I couldn't agree more.

"3 - it would need to be modular enough that you could remove sections of the game without affecting other sections"

True. To be more precise, this is true about the game mechanics. Since in my approach the descriptive parts are taken from the setting materials, these define what is and what is not in the game.

"Here's a thought: how about an RPG that gives character different attributes based on verbs, and nouns are like objects, and they form sentences, and whatever verb is in the sentence is the deciding attribute for randomization?"

Too complicated in my opinion. And it requires one to keep thinking in terms of meta-game concepts ('verbs', 'nouns', etc.), something I'm opposed to, since it distracts from an in-character mindset.

"Or is that how Hero Wars works?"

Not exactly. I'll explain it in future columns. But if you don't want to wait you can check:

P02Characters1 and P02Characters1 for character creation, PO3Keywords1 for "keywords", the descriptors of Hero Wars (all at glorantha.com).

You will also be able to find the action resolution mechanics somewhere in the Glorantha.com site.

"The idea is that the GM will (hopefully) not have to deliberately choose which rules they intend to omit, rather they will emphasize those rules which are most appropriate, and alter values in the game to produce the effects they desire." -- A.J. Gibson

Agreed. This is the mindset I would like to emphasize.

7. Granularity, Granularity

"Actually, I think Sergio is using the term 'granularity' correctly." -- Weber

This has been a very nice thread. Actually I used the term "granularity" the way I understand its meaning. I could be wrong and I didn't check whether I was correct or not. In any case the column was read by at least two people, and none of them complained about it.

8. Quality Over Quantity

"In comparing two scores, I think most everything can be handled with the following sort of categories: Equal, Just a Bit Better/Worse, Noticeably Better/Worse, Very Much Better/Worse, Overwhelmingly Better/Worse. (Of course, this sets up a quantitative scale. I'm just saying that this is a sufficient number of 'levels', and one can get by fine with even fewer, depending on the game.) I'm sure plenty of people would disagree with me on whether this is a sufficent number of levels, however." -- Weber

I at least agree with you. And this is a key factor on the way I'm designing the game. Notice that you are using a qualitative scale, just the type of scaling I like to use myself.

"Similarly with skills - you can break it down to basic, professional, expert, master or some such." -- Tim

"I also agree that the main strengths of finely resolved ability levels seem to be centered on advancement issues rather than on discriminating effectiveness. (I'm not saying advancement issues can't or shouldn't be important.)" -- Weber

This is also a key aspect of the way I look at game design. Since my game will not put the stress on advancement issues (in the traditional way advancement is understood, meaning a focus on ability), it can drop finely resolved ability levels.

9. Its All Relative

"You described low-resolution ability scales in terms of absolute scales, and that's what you are designing. I described low-resolution scales in terms of the difference between two referents, and that's how the system I've designed works! (Okay, there's no practical difference; it's the psychological orientations I found interesting.)" -- Weber

What! In fact, it seems that invention is just a repetition of what has already been discovered. You are using here two concepts central to my game design efforts: the difference between absolute and relative scales. The difference between us is that to me there's a major practical difference between one and the other, and both point to two completely different ways of designing games, like...

"Presumably your system doesn't use quantitatively defined character abilities, but the GM provides the differential based on a qualitative description of the character, eg 'He's one of the world's best fencers, but his understanding of technology only extends as far as wiring a plug.'" -- Tim

On what concerns my design efforts, this is where I'm going. Notice that using qualitative scales means:

a) That it leads almost necessarily to scales designed in the terms presented in Section 8, above;

b) That it also leads easily to the usage of straight language as I proposed in Section 5. (We express qualities with common language, not with numbers; and we order qualities also with common language, not with numbers; Section 8 provides some good examples);

c) That it may work based on relative scaling (it can also work based on absolute scaling if one pre-defines a qualitative scale). But I've not explained what I understand by this, at least so far...

"You are dead-on in guessing that I use qualitative descriptions for case-by-case judgements. However, it still works out to assigning a 1-D quantitative scale when it comes time to add numbers and roll the dice. That's why I said I didn't think there is much practical difference between the two attitudes." -- Weber

A long time ago I discussed this in a now defunct discussion list on game design. (I had come up with my concept of qualitative scaling, as opposed to quantitative scaling, on my own - with the help of some features of both RuneQuest and SkyRealms of Jorune. It was in that discussion list that I was told that other games - like FUDGE - had done this.) At the time I faced the criticism that in any case a qualitative scale has to be matched to a quantitative scale for dice-based randomisation purposes, so why bother with the qualitative one?

In fact, there are several reasons:

FINAL COMMENTS

Well, these discussions were really great. They move around some of the key ideas that underline my design efforts. Let me present a summary of these ideas, since they will be developed in the coming columns. The system:

  1. Will work by using plain language taken from the setting materials.
  2. Will not use stratified sets of descriptors (ones that are independent from the setting materials and designed specifically for game purposes).
  3. Will scale things on a qualitative scale, with a small number of levels.
  4. Will scale things in relative terms, not according to an absolute, predefined scale or set of scales.
  5. Will use a single resolution mechanic.

Furthermore, the system is subdivided into three components: the setting materials; the rules that allow the players to define game entities -- the descriptors (the "predicate logic" of the game); the decision mechanics (the "Prolog" of the game).

Next column, I'll explain the way the system will handle descriptors. In the column after that, I'll explain the resolution mechanics.

In the mean time, you may wish to take a look at my original DRAFT [Sandy: Make DRAFT Into a Link] to compare it with this final version. The differences between the two result from me adding the system-as-logic metaphor, and specially from the excellent (my opinion) editorial job done by Stephen Barringer.

Like Mendes Pinto, I am approaching my destination slowly... but I am approaching it. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
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All The Travels of Mendes Pinto columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Not Dead Yet by Sergio Mascarenhas, 18jul03
  • Still Struggling With Section 4 by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07mar03
  • It's Time For Combat by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31jan03
  • The Criminal Always Comes Back to the Scene of the Crim by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31dec02
  • Tahahahahime Is On My Sahide! Yes It Isn't! by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07nov02
  • Character Creation for Dummies by Sergio Mascarenhas, 08aug02
  • Thus Do We Start by Sergio Mascarenhas, 01jul02
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part II) February 21, 2002
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part I) December 6, 2001
  • Time for a Hiatus October 23, 2001
  • System as Language September 27, 2001
  • Don't Forget the Damn Index! August 30, 2001
  • R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.&nb\ sp; UFF! July 26, 2001
  • Who is this Mendes Pinto, Anyway? June 28, 2001
  • Once Upon A Time ... (How It All Started) April 25, 2001


    All Ruleslawyer For Free columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Experience: From Fiction to Roleplaying Games September 11, 2000
  • The Applied Experience Curve Concept June 26, 2000
  • Experience Curves May 30, 2000
  • Trait Curves March 28, 2000
  • A Change of Course November 28, 1999
  • Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System October 26, 1999
  • Introduction September 21, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg