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July 1st, 2013


02:02 am - Legend of the Five Rings
I played Legend of the Five Rings tonight in an interesting scenario by Michael H that put together war, arranged marriages, and courtly maneuvering. There were five pregenerated PCs with name, stats, and the same basic setup: all were honorable unmarried women of the Crane clan friendly with each other. The hook was that we all had marriages arranged to the borderline dishonorable Scorpion clan to cement an alliance in our ongoing war with the Lion clan.

Laura as Asano the Shugenja / magician, younger sister of Kumi
Ben as Kumi the Poet, younger sister of Kumi, secret lover of Taehime
Madeline as Yasuyo the Courtier, older sister of Kumi and Asano, formerly betrothed to Tama's brother Goro killed in battle ten years ago
Michael S as Taehime the Warrior / Scout, younger sister of Tama, secret lover of Kumi
Myself as Tama the Warrior / Guard, older sister of Taehime,

Our betrotheds were:

Bayushi Renga - the beautiful poet, rumored to be possibly mad
Shosura Roukai - a wealth-seeker climbing out of misfortune; rumored to have unsavory connections
Bayushi Garou - a general who had killed a family member years ago; rumored to be strict but fair
Shasura Anou - a widower with a 4-year-old daughter; rumored to be holding a torch for his dead wife
Bayushi Kabe - a warrior implicated in treaty breaking years ago, but honorable since; rumored to be gone for long periods in duty for the emperor

I don't much like Japanese settings in general. Still, it was a fun scenario. High points for me:

1) Brainstorming background that included our families, the secret affair, and the dead brother.

2) Our friendly negotiating over who should be betrothed to which man, which brought up not just what we were willing to tolerate - but how we approached the problem. I was morose and resigned, while most of the others were practical.

3) Switching out parts to play the betrothed in their first conversation with each of us. I was curious to hear more of other people's conversations, though the way we did it did speed things up.

4) The mechanic of putting colored beads into cups for how the prospects of our marriage were shaping up. There were some unclear points, but actions that furthered prospects for a successful marriage resulted in blue beads, while actions that hurt prospects resulted in red beads. In the end, we drew a random bead for whether our betrothed survived the war.

Against the odds, my betrothed survived, while the two lovers both had their betrotheds die. Kumi and Yasuyo seemed leaning towards workable marriages, while mine seemed on a rocky path at best.

Minor issues:

1) The beginning had an information-gathering phase that could be sped up.

2) The dice-pool mechanic was involved, especially for issues that were minor to the point of the scenario.

3) I'm not sure how I would have fixed it, but the failure of Kumi's first poem seemed unsatisfying as did, Taehime's first major stealth - cheating at a drinking game. Those set the characters back, but I felt like they didn't really add to the story. These shouldn't automatically be successful, but somehow it felt that the failures were not very interesting.

Reflection:

I keep coming up with oddball characters. My character was obsessed with honor based on her powers and my interpretation. She was caught between doing well for her family by respecting this marriage, while hating the idea of being married to a dishonorable clan that had killed her brother. This meant a lot of difficult choices between blue and red beads.

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March 8th, 2013


09:59 am - Randomness in RPGs
Via a Story Games thread, I happened across a talk from Gen Con 2012 with James Ernest and Jason Morningstar. Ernest's notes are online, as is a mp3 of the seminar. Part of Ernest's point is here:

Randomness in game design can be broken down into three general categories relating to game design: Cosmetic, biased, and fair randomness.

“Cosmetic” randomness has no bearing on the strategy or outcome of the game. An example
would be a change in background color, or the difference (in poker) between a heart and a
spade.

“Biased” randomness gives resources unfairly to one player over another; this includes most random events in most games.

“Fair” randomness is the rarest type, and the hardest to master. It challenges players to think
strategically in a randomized environment, but does not arbitrarily favor one player over
another. For example, allocating different but equally valuable resources based on a die roll, or randomizing the starting setup in chess.

It is possible to have random elements in a game that fall somewhere in between these categories, but in those cases the multiple aspects of the individual mechanic can still be viewed through this filter.

Some examples:

Cosmetic: We don’t talk a lot about Cosmetic Randomness, but its purpose is to provide variability without any impact on the game mechanics. It’s easier and more prevalent in computer games.

Biased: This is the easiest form of randomness to introduce, and the most common. Here are some
examples.

* A slot machine spin. Some spins are good, some are bad. In a slot tournament, whoever gets the
luckier spins will win the tournament.
* A roll in Settlers. This gives resources to some players, and nothing to other players.
* A movement roll in Monopoly. This can land the player on a good or bad spot.
* This-or-Nothing rolls, all over the world.

Fair: This is harder to engineer. Fair randomness should have a meaningful impact on the flow of the game without favoring one player over another. A strictly fair random event favors no one while slightly less fair events might only favor a certain player by a small margin. Some examples:

* A random setup in Chess (Chess 960)
* Random starting layout in Settlers of Catan
* This-or-That rolls (get Resource A or Resource B)


Beyond Success-vs-Failure

One way I agree is that there is a place for "this-or-that" rolls, or similar shuffling randomization. Rolls in play for RPGs tend to reduce down to only success-vs-failure rolls, possibly with degree, whereas randomness could potentially be in much more variety. Some examples from RPGs:

* Random encounter tables from old D&D, along with randomized treasure
* Drawing Whimsy Cards in Ars Magica, or the themed tarot deck of Everway, where each card has a meaning.
* Access to playset elements in Fiasco

These can definitely add interest to a game, and should be considered more. Random encounter tables have been out of fashion for a while - though they are coming back with the Old School Renaissance.

On the other hand, many things are technically this-or-that but not really all that different from this-or-nothing randomness. For example, in the card game gin, you always get a card - and high cards aren't better than low cards. However, you can still get lucky in the draw. Likewise, in Ars Magica, you could get lucky by getting a Whimsy Card that helps you do exactly what you want to - or you could get a Whimsy Card that gives you something irrelevant to your situation.

What is Fair?

Ernest's use of the term "fair" is out of whack with most people's usage - and often what they are looking for in a social game. In everyday English, a game of chance is considered fair if all of the players have an equal chance of success. However, he calls this "biased" and not "fair". I think this comes from the point of view that a game of pure skill is more "fair" than a game of chance. However, many people enjoy games of chance.

In tabletop RPGs, I think that random rolls of varying interest are used to create a type of social fairness by giving all the players a chance to shine. In many games, unusual random results give spotlight time - especially if they are distinguished as "critical" by the system, but to some degree even if they aren't. Suppose Shelly comes in to play and RPG, and she's had a rough day and isn't at her best. She isn't popping with great ideas. Still, she rolls a critical result at a good time, and she gets her moment in the spotlight. Her friends high-five her for doing well. This was unfair in Ernest's usage because that Shelly got the result when others didn't, but it was fair because everyone gets equal odds for lucky results like these.

Now suppose that the only results were this-or-that rolls where every result is equally interesting. As the saying goes, everyone being special to some degree means that no one is. If she can't get a lucky roll, then Shelly will still get to do things on her turn, but her turn doesn't stand out in any way. She doesn't get the social spotlight of rolling ++++ on a crucial FATE roll. This is fair in a game theory sense that her results depend on her personal performance, but in a social sense we often consider things fair if they spread stuff around regardless of skill.

Outside of RPGs, many games deliberately have less strategic fairness. Games like Fluxx or Talisman are not very strategic, but they are engaging to beginners for exactly this reason.

Reducing Randomness

So randomness can lead to a socialist sort of fairness, where everyone gets a chance to shine even if they aren't particularly savvy, charismatic, or otherwise skillful.

Suppose we do want to reduce the effect of randomness, though. There are a lot of ways to do this, and changing to this-or-that rolls is a good way but far from the only one. Some options include:

* Reducing the range of the dice. Greg Porter's CORPS RPG is a notable example of a game with low randomness. You could do similar in FATE by only rolling 2 or 3 Fudge dice instead of 4.

* Introducing a bell curve, or sharpening the curve. You could play a d20 based game by instead rolling three d20s, and taking the middle result.

* Drawing from a small deck of results. Unlike dice, card decks mean that if you get a streak of high cards, you are more likely to get low cards after that.

* Increasing the number of rolls made. If everything rides on a single high-stakes roll (like D&D's "save or die"), then the effect of randomness is high. If someone has to fail several rolls in a row to die, then that is less random because multiple rolls are likely to average out.

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February 22nd, 2013


01:27 am - RPGs and a Rape Culture Controversy
I've recently been discussing recent controversy over rape and rape culture in games. I wasn't involved in most of the prior discussion, and when I asked about it, there was a lot of misinformation or confusion over issues. Thus, I am creating a collection of links and information regarding the events in question.

This post is just about clarifying the events and issues. (Revised Mar 1, 2013 to include responses and requests.) I'll post my opinions on them later.


Timeline

May 8, 2012: Soda Pop launches a Kickstarter project for a card game called "Tentacle Bento" by Chris Birkenhagen, John Cadice, and Deke Stella. In it, players play tentacled monsters and compete to collect cards representing Japanese schoolgirls.

May 10, 2012: Desborough posts "The Advent of Private Censorship" on his blog, complaining about the flak Tentacle Bento was getting as an example of increased limit of free expression.

May 15, 2012: According to Eric Martin, the Kickstarter collected more the $30k during its first week, but then the project was canceled by Kickstarter based on complaints from writers Brandon Sheffield on Insert Credit and Luke Plunkett on Kotaku.

May 17, 2012: In video game news, Anita Sarkeesian begins her Kickstarter project "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games". She subsequently receives extreme harassment over the project, cf. Wikipedia for article references.

May 18, 2012: Eric Martin posts a news report on BoardGame Geek, "Links: Tentacle Bento Boxed by Kickstarter, Guess the 2012 Spiel des Jahres Nominees & More on The Wheaton Effect".

June 12, 2012: Writer James Desborough writes on his blog a post entitled "In Defence of Rape". Desborough had previously published the card games "Hentacle" (2004) and "Call of Cthentacle" (2009) that have a similar "tentacle rape" theme. (These two also have various supplements including "Sloppy Seconds", "Three's an Orgy", "At the Mountings of Madness" and "The Dunbitch Horror".)



June 13, 2012: Writer Christopher Bird posts on his RPG blog MightyGodKing a rebuttal to Desborough entitled "In offence re: rape". Amanda Marcotte reports on online misogyny on Slate, regarding the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian.

June 14, 2012: User "Ettin" starts a thread on the RPGnet tangency boards entitled "[Trigger/BBR] Desborough vs "Censorship"". Desborough releases a short YouTube video, "RE: In Defence of Rape" (5:08).

June 15, 2012: Desborough releases a short YouTube video, "Mailbag Catharsis" (7:31).

June 18, 2012: According to Maladicta, Mongoose contacts her for an update for their Mongoose Infantry program, of which she used to be a member. Offended by Desborough's post, she creates a petition on change.org entitled "Steve Jackson Games: Stop publishing James Desborough, rape supporter". (The petition was cancelled, but an archived view is available on archive.org. The text of the letter can be found by viewing page source.) She also begins a private email chain with Matthew Sprange of Mongoose Publishing that was later posted online. Desborough releases YouTube video, "Reply to Banshee" (15:08).

June 19, 2012: In response to the petition, Matthew Sprange posts a poll to the Mongoose General Discussion board entitled "Is Mongoose a Bad, Bad Company - You Decide". The poll links to Maladicta's petition and asks users the question "Should Mongoose Destroy all Copies of Sex, Dice and Gamer Chicks?" (The poll was deleted, but an archived copy is available on dropbox.com.)

June 20, 2012: According to Maladicta, she begins to receive complaints from Mongoose fans, including rape threats. James Desborough tweets a response: "Apparently the person who started the petition is getting surprise sex threats. Not on. However I'm sure she knows they're not genuine threats." Matthew Sprange begins to respond on the RPGnet thread to Maladicta's claim that Sprange was "hostile, rude, and accused me of dishonesty". The poll thread on the Mongoose boards is deleted around this time. Also, conversation is going on in Google+ including a post by Frederick Hurley that Gareth Skarka cites as threatening.

June 21, 2012: User "Ettin" starts a thread on RPGnet regarding the petition and Mongoose, entitled "Mongoose, and reactions". Discussion on Google+ covers this, involving writer Gareth Skarka and Tracy Hurley among others. Skarka post on the situation, which lead to a conversation with Tracy Hurley where Skarka ends with "Now fuck off. For good. And you and hubby better start hoping that I'm not the vindictive prick you portray me as."

June 22, 2012: Maladicta posts a summary of events on her blog entitled "How Not to Handle a PR Crisis: Mongoose Edition", including the contents of her email discussion with Matthew Sprange. According to her summary, her main complaint is Desborough's book, Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks - though she also mentions Desborough's blog post and the working title of "Project Love You Long Time" for a Mongoose Vietnam miniatures game under development. Around this time, Matthew Sprange announces that Mongoose will lapse Desborough's book out of print and not hire him again as a freelancer in a statement posted to their forums and RPGnet.

June 23, 2012: A more general thread starts on RPGnet, entitled "James Desborough and rape culture". Also, a thread starts on theRPGsite entitled "The War Against Desborough and Mongoose Publishing" regarding "a small group of people terrorizing a game publisher and an author". Desborough posts on his blog, "It’s Not All One Way".

June 24, 2012: Andrew Girdwood of GeekNative posts an interview with Desborough. LiveJournal user "Erratica" posts her summary, "James Desborough, Gamers, and Rape".


...

Feb 13, 2013: Chronicle City is a board, card and roleplaying games company founded by Angus Abranson (previously of Cubicle 7, Dragonmeet, and Leisure Games) in late 2012. Desborough posts on his blog of his imprint press an announcement, "Joining Chronicle City Full Time". Soon after, user "Cargo Culture" starts a thread on RPGnet entitled "James Desborough hired as Creative Director at Chronicle City". The third post, by user "Numanoid", has a picture of Desborough with the caption "Good day, ma'am! My name is James, I'm your new neighbor... and I'm required by law to let you know that I'm a repeat sex offender."

Feb 14, 2013: User "Sacrificial Lamb" starts a thread on theRPGsite entitled "The War Against Desborough and Chronicle City".

Feb 18, 2013: James Desborough includes a description of his own sexually-themed publications on theRPGsite thread.

Feb 20, 2013: James Desborough posts a summary of the events from his point of view on theRPGsite thread.



Products and Petition in Question

I've looked at most of the articles linked above, but certainly haven't read all in detail (especially the ultra-long RPGnet threads). I have pirated copies of The Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers, Macho Women With Guns d20, and Hentacle. I browsed a copy of Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks in a game story, but did not read it in detail. I followed a review of Tentacle Bento and asked questions about it that were answered, but have not seen the game itself. I haven't seen Desborough's Call of Cthentacle at all, or its supplements At the Mountings of Madness and The Dunbitch Horror. Based on this, a few clarifications:

  • Tentacle Bento has no nudity, and does not specify what happens to the captured school girls - but there is a lot of sexual innuendo about them.
  • Hentacle is graphic and specific that the women "victims" are bound and penetrated by penis-tipped tentacles, though it does not use the term "rape".


My quick reading of Sex, Dice, & Gamer Chicks and longer reading of The Slayer's Guide to Female Gamers is that they are indeed full of crap that pictures females as alien outsiders to normal gamers. It is intended to be humorous, but it is not in my opinion satirical any more than Benny Hill or Amos & Andy. It engages in a lot of bad stereotypes of both male and female gamers, such as saying that if a female doesn't run away screaming from the regular gamers, then they have an apparent affection for one of them. I first opened up to a "Poon-tang" table. Shortly after that is the female gamer section - where "female" is a type of gamer, like "rules lawyer" or "munchkin" or "thespian".

The text of the letter for Maladicta's petition is as follows:

For years, the hateful and violent ideas of James Desborough have been receiving vindication in the form of publication via several companies. Ideas such as the notion that female gamers prostate themselves for in-game benefits, which makes it okay to treat all female gamers as prostitutes (Sex, Dice & Gamer Chicks, Mongoose Publishing); that women are mysterious, unknowable creatures instead of people (Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming, Steve Jackson Games); or that "[r]ape is fucking awesome" ("In Defence of Rape," Grim's Tales (12/06/12)) have received wide distribution in their inclusion in his gaming work.

That companies continue to publish James Desborough's work is nothing short of abhorrent. Female, gender-nonconformist, and equalist male gamers make up a much larger demographic than the misogynistic rape fetishists who find his work enjoyable. That his work is still in publication is a stain on the hobby and vocal condemnation should be the only response.

Until game companies apologize for publishing such hateful material and openly condemn James Desborough, they will not receive our money. With the multitude of tabletop RPG companies, there is no need to support the ones who promote hatred towards large segments of their demographic.



While her comments on his writing are arguable, the letter completely misquotes Desborough's blog post in a misleading and slanderous fashion.

Commentary

I'll be posting my more general opinions in a later post.

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February 21st, 2013


09:02 pm - DunDraCon report up
I have now posted my DunDraCon report to my convention reports page,

DunDraCon 2013 Report

I ran my pulp villains larp, "Shadow Centurions Assemble!" for the third time - and I will shortly be posting the full larp materials to the larp webpage at

http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/spiritofthecentury/shadowslarp/

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September 20th, 2012


01:03 pm - Past and Upcoming conventions
So I've finally updated my Convention Reports page with at least brief reports on

Gen Con Indy 2012
and
Pacificon 2012

As preview, here are the two games I am running at Big Bad Con in October:

Hellcats & Hockeysticks
St. Erisian's school has stood for over a hundred years and survived war, plague, famine, demonic attack, strange explosions in the science block and countless attempts to get it closed. To be fair, not _ALL_ of these disasters were the fault of the students... As the headmistress says, "At many schools, the girls are left unprepared for the cold, cruel world. At St. Erisian's, it is the cold cruel world which must be prepared for our girls."

This is a session of mayhem in the spirit of the St. Trinians movies, using the Hellcats & Hockeysticks system - billed as "the role-playing game of chaos, anarchy, and decidedly unladylike behavior." Characters are upper class girls at the strange and infamous St. Erisian's boarding school, and will be created using templates either in advance or in the session. cf. http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/hellcatsandhockeysticks/

1001 Nights: Shajar al-Durr
In the year 1250 in Cairo, a new Sultan has been appointed. With the crusaders defeated, it seems like a high point, but trouble brews with those who dispute the appointment.

This is a run of Meguey Baker's A Thousand and One Nights, set in medieval Egypt with premade characters. This has a rotating storyteller, so we will all pick characters from the pregenerated set and create stories as our characters. cf. http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/1001nights/


And here are the two games I am running at AmberCon NorthWest in November:

Nine Princes in Onyx
By some accounts, Onyx was created when the rainbow serpent gave grandfather Daquain the jewel - and from that he carved the primal Pattern. But the future is being threatened now that prince Keyon has returned to vie for the throne.
This is a re-imagining of Amber with different cultural roots. Like Zelazny, it isn't a particular real-world mythology, but it draws on various myths - just different ones than unicorns and knights on horses. It is set at the parallel time to the first Amber books, as prince Keyon returns to Onyx after long absence.
This will be character-heavy, run using a variant of traditional Amber Diceless rules.
Every Meal a Banquet
"Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the Corps!" That's how sarge would wake you up. But in the thick of the action, the choices get more difficult. When the T-Rex mercs have been tearing through your front lines, and drones keep breaking through platoons point defenses, your whole life may flash before your eyes - and you might not like what you see.
This is a game about space marines, but it's about who they are and the choices they have to make rather than shooting enemies. It will be diceless, with some dialogue scenes acted out.

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July 2nd, 2012


12:21 am - Rant: deep+interesting =/= negative+traumatic
Looking over my larp list from the last post, one thing that stands out is that half of them are light and comedic, suitable for pre-teen kids. I think there's a tendency in culture as a whole to view tragedy as more deep and interesting than comedy - particularly if the topics are highly charged and extreme. This is reflected in some of the Nordic larp scene - including American and other attendees.

A discussion I had with Wyrd Con was over the issue of bringing in negative trauma into games - like cold-blooded murder, rape, torture, suicide, oppression, etc. I'm thinking in particular of Kapo, The School Trip, the jeepform Drunk, System Danmarc, The Tribunal, and others. I don't think that these elements should be strictly excluded from games, but I do feel like they consume too much attention and analysis - when there is more interesting stuff going on in other games.

Games being fun doesn't make them any less creative, meaningful, deep, and/or educational. Fun is engaging, and draws players in to participate more, open up more, and create more. Conversely, a game isn't more deep and interesting just for having picked trauma as a subject.

To get more concrete... American larpers as represented at Wyrd Con tend to prefer fantasy or science fiction genres and more mechanics in their games than the Knutepunkt crowd. I love the Knutepunkt scene and always have fun playing there, and I'll want to draw on stuff I've learned from them when I run something at next year's Wyrd Con. Still, my Wyrd Con game will be fun in the fantasy/sci-fi and with mechanics, just also pulling in other ideas I've learned from the Nordic scene.

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July 1st, 2012


01:12 pm - Wyrd Con and my larp history
Last weekend I was introduced to Wyrd Con, a interactive storytelling con in southern California now in its third year. It's now listed in my convention reports page. As usual, it's long and over-detailed, being a substitute for my memory.

Wyrd Con 2012 Report

I didn't run anything this time, but I think I might next year. It seems appropriate to make a brief recap of my larp history:

In college and early grad school (early 90s) I ran and wrote several murder mystery games, though we didn't call them larp. I played in a Camarilla larp in Chicago in 1996 (Chicago Requiem). After that I went to my post-doc and I continued RPGs but wasn't interested in larp until I started corresponding with the Knutepunkt crowd in 2004. In 2005, I played in J Li's "Queen of Spades" at DunDraCon and then went to my first Knutepunkt in Norway. After that, I ran and played in several of the Shifting Forest parlor larp series, plus co-GMed a P.G. Woodhouse larp. I started writing my own in 2007:
  • Stagecoach
    A larp set in the Firefly/Serenity universe, first run at GenCon Indy 2007. It uses the Parlor Larp system from Shifting Forest story
  • Redwood Realms
    A hurriedly-assembled outdoor fantasy larp that I put together for a friend's 13th birthday party in summer 2009.
  • A Royal Celebration
    A fantasy larp inspired by The Princess Bride, first run at Pacificon 2009.
  • A Hero's Welcome
    A sequel to the prior fantasy larp, first run at Pacificon 2010.
  • Reunion Wishes
    A modern-day paranormal larp, first run at KublaCon 2011.
  • An Eye for an Eye
    A larp set in the Firefly/Serenity universe, first run at Pacificon 2011.
  • Shadow Centurions Assemble
    A 1930's larp about pulp villains, first run at KublaCon 2012.

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May 1st, 2012


09:37 am - Solmukohta 2012 Report
I got back from Solmukohta 2012 in Finland two weeks ago, and I finally got around to finishing my detailed convention report. It's now listed in my convention reports page. It's long and is basically an info-dump of my notes, observations, and a few thoughts.

Solmukohta 2012 Report

I continue to have a swirl of thoughts about larp and role-playing in general going around in my head (along with Billy Joel songs thanks to Sarah Bowman). Hopefully I'll get some time upcoming to start writing them out.

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March 31st, 2012


12:20 am - Player Feedback and Pecking Order
Earlier this month, on the relatively new blog Gaming as Women, Darla Magdalene Shockley posted about some pitfalls of player feedback mechanics - drawing from experiences with Paranoia XP and Primetime Adventures - in a post called "Game Design and Sexism: Player Feedback Mechanics" . This was a controversial post, and by way of explanation, Jessica Hammer followed up with a post,
"On Being Left-Handed" that detailed how a mechanic could cause issues for a group without being. Robin Laws also commented on the topic, in "Precisely Subjective".

Way back in 2007, I posted about social hierarchy in my post "Status and Gamism" - which was jumbled mess of an article. So I'm going to try to post a little more clearly about social hierarchy and relate it to player feedback mechanics - which basically means players or the GM giving rewards (like XP or hero points) to players for doing cool things. First, some basics...

What is status hierarchy?

Any social group will have some sort of status hierarchy - also known as a pecking order, or just who is coolest and/or hottest. There may be multiple hierarchies of importance, but people will establish some sort of pecking order. These rankings correspond to how people in the group give respect to others.

Some people associate a pecking order with bullying or other dysfunction, but there is always a hierarchy. In nicer hierarchies, the people at the top may behave better and give respect back to others. However, there is still an ordering going on.

How do games affect hierarchy?

Games make a social space separate from the usual interactions. So when everyone goes out to play basketball, the person who is at the top when hanging out by the lunchroom might not be the star. Instead, the star might be someone else - based on skills different than the usual social skills. On the other hand, the usual social hierarchy can also influence the game. For example, kids playing basketball might be more likely to pass to someone they think is nice than someone they think is a jerk.

Games can reward game-specific skills (like chess strategies), isolated real-world skills (like Trivial Pursuit), or broader real-world skills. Broader skills are likely to be a basis for social hierarchy. For example, someone who is creative and outspoken may do well in party games and also be high in the social hierarchy.

What about RPGs?

RPGs are social games that tend to correlate to the group's usual social hierarchy. For example, Gary Alan Fine published his sociological study, "Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds", about mostly D&D groups in the midwest circa 1980. He observed as a sociologist that social status in the game mirrored the social status outside -- i.e. the alpha male in real life was the GM or the party leader / caller.

That isn't purely the case, though.

RPGs - along with boardgames and card games - tend to force turn-taking that gives everyone a more equal chance to shine. In contrast, some sports like baseball put certain players like the pitcher a more prominent role than others. RPGs also use other ways to rotate the spotlight, such as distinct niches for each PC. For example, if the quiet person is playing the cleric, he may still get his turn to shine when it comes to facing undead. Other games have more explicit rotating spotlight. For example, Ars Magica players take turns who is playing the more powerful magi, while campaigns of Primetime Adventures have different spotlight sessions for individual characters. Equal turns moderates or flattens the hierarchy, but it doesn't change the ordering.

Randomness can also change ordering. A player who is lucky with cards or dice may get extra attention.

In addition, some RPGs reward game-specific skill - sometimes called "system mastery," though that may emphasize only the mechanical aspects. Complex games like Burning Wheel or Champions may give players a boost who have developed skill in manipulating the system. This can change the ordering, though the more skilled player may also be the ones already socially dominant.

What do player feedback mechanics do?

Player feedback mechanics here means mechanics where a player or GM gives rewards for broad reasons like "that was cool" or "good role-playing".

It seems to me that player feedback mechanics shift the focus away from game-specific skills and from randomness, and more towards general skills. In other words, they make the game hierarchy more like the general social hierarchy.

Assuming I like my group's social dynamics outside of the game, this can be a fine thing. However, if I'm dissatisfied with certain things about the group, then the feedback mechanic may highlight those more compared to playing without that feedback. Apropos of Darla's post, a female player might be dissatisfied with her position in the social order, feeling that it's influenced by biased cultural standards. The feedback may highlight this compared to not having that feedback.

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November 2nd, 2011


07:24 am - Street Game Festival
There is an ongoing festival of "street games" that is going on in San Francisco. I haven't participated in any of them, and will be attending AmberCon NorthWest this weekend. Still, I'm curious about the relation of these with live-action RPGs.

Come Out & Play 2011 San Francisco

Certainly a few of the games sound very much like LARPs such as the Cowgirl Way Society's Wanted!:
Maggie Durrant is WANTED! Dead or alive! And there’s a generous bounty on her head.

Maggie Durrant is on the run. Ever since she left the East Coast, her uncle’s goons are on her tail. Will you help get Maggie and her horse get on the next train out of town? Or, will you try to catch her for the bounty? With the stealth of the Underground Railroad and the dynamics of assassins, you’ll wind your way through Mission streets and alleys trying to throw the other team off the trail. Meanwhile, the Cowgirl Way Society will help you unpack Maggie’s story, make and spot lookalikes, track down safe houses, and scrape together the right train information.

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