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September 5th, 2006


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05:22 pm - Stakes and "Chesting"
So, I thought I should at least reference the debate which is going on regarding "Conflict Resolution" and "Stakes".

There is one line of threads which apparently started with a discussion that I was present for at GenCon Indy. Ron Edwards was outlining what he felt the problem was with negotiating stakes at the start of a conflict. This was discussed on The Forge as part of a thread on "Just a cool Dogs scene", then on Story Games as "Big Gencon stakes discussion". There was also a long discussion of conflict-vs-task resolution on the rpg-create list recently.

I should mention ewilen's "An interesting read, sort of", and following, immlass's "A word to the wise". Ginger's post had an amused comment from follybard, as she read the metaphor for the problematic behavior described: Imagine two people trying to occupy the same space, arms at their sides, pushing at one another and shifting their weight to throw the other off-balance, with their chests.
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And imagining that thought mainly about how painful it would be for those two people to try to push each other with their chests. I suspect the metaphor is intended for those people who imagine "people" as men.

More generally, though, negotiation always involves pushing back and forth (whether done with one's chest or other body part). Ron includes a PDF diagram which I've posted in easier-to-read image form below. His note about fictional time interestingly ties in with my post on Thoughts on IIEE and Linear Progression.



He suggested two solutions to the problem of "chesting":
Solution 1: State your intentions (goals) for the conflict at hand; do not let players request any other fictional content than their goals before the conflict is solved.

Solution 2: Articulate a ruled negotiation for setting stakes, and make it the main conflict resolution mechanism (like Polaris?)

The first seems to be about narrowing the possibilities of conflict, so that it becomes more like arm-wrestling rather than chesting. I'm inclined to look for more solutions, though, which move beyond this paradigm. I think that the gender issues aren't just coincidental. There are a lot of studies of gender and power dynamics which might suggest other solutions. At Knutepunkt 2005, Anna Karin Linder and Tova Gerge gave a talk on "Non-suppressive Techniques" where they talked about how to reduce suppressive techniques within one's play -- which definitely includes "chesting".

I think my issue with the first solution especially is that it just seems to be an aesthetic change. The two sides will still be pushing back and forth over the fiction, just that they're constrained to do so within the limits of their characters goals. It seems like this will encourage players to have PCs who attempt more grandiose goals. They'll still be more restrained than otherwise, but it seems pretty similar to me.

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:zdashamber
Date:September 6th, 2006 01:09 am (UTC)
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Has any bit of ridiculous Ron jargon ever added anything to the clarity and content of RPG theory discussion? Honestly, I can't think of a thing he's named that isn't just a vague pointless place to argue.

Which is to say, he should forget this whole theory kick he's on and spend more time working on getting out the Last Dangerous Visions anthology... Oh wait.
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From:immlass
Date:September 6th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for saying this clearly.

Ron Edwards should hire you as a translator.
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From:mneme
Date:September 6th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
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What immlass said.

I pretty much got this from what Ron was talking about -- but I couldn't express it half as cleanly, and you stripped out everything contentious and left only the meaty center.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:September 6th, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)
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brand_of_amber wrote: In the "chesting" games you fight back and forth socially and come up with stakes. In the "arm wrestling" games you have goals, go to dice, and let the dice/mechanics figure out what actually happens. So in Ron's vision, I think, the game mechanics help determine what actually happens rather than just which of the pre-negotiated outcomes happen.

Well, but there's still negotiation which happens at the start. It's just that the negotiation is restricted to things which the character is trying for (i.e. goals).

So, in a goals game, you could say "My goal is to screw your mother" then the other player says "My goal is to screw your father", then the first player says "Actually, my goal is to both screw your mother and kill your father!" These are character goals, so if you assume that the players are the sort to do this in the first place, the same thing can happen in Trollbabe. During the "Fair and Clear" stage, they negotiate and can change their goals.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:September 6th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)
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Offhand, I don't see a difference between your example of a pre-negotiated outcome ("If I win, I screw your father") and my example of a goal ("My goal is to screw your father"). Do you see a difference here, or is it just that non-goal outcomes are worse in some way?

I get the idea of restricting goals/stakes, but it seems to me to be just another example of restricting the space of the struggle (i.e. "chesting" to "arm-wrestling"). In other words, if restricted to the individual scale, then the players will push back and forth as far as they can within those limits. Also, I didn't see restricting scale suggested in the original discussion. While Trollbabe has the concept of Scale, there isn't anything like that in, say, Dogs.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:September 7th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
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Re: pre-negotiated outcome ("If I win, I screw your father") vs goal ("My goal is to screw your father")"

brand_of_amber wrote: The difference between them is in what happens when you actually go to play it out. If you have flat, pre-set stakes then you know exactly what happens if you win, and if you win I can do dick all about it. We've already decided what is going to happen, so all we're doing is seeing who gets to be Big Boss Man and Have His Way.

If, otoh, there is a possibility we could both fail, both succeed, and one or both of us get part of, some of, or none of what we want -- then the ability to boss the game around gets mediated by the system.


I'm not quite following this. The partial or mutual success/failure options seem to be an unrelated issue of the game system. For example, let's take Dogs in the Vineyard. This has a binary system: there's no partial success, and no way for both parties in the conflict to succeed.

Under that, would you say that someone could come into the conflict with the goal of screwing your father, beat you on the dice, but not succeed in his goal? How is that different?

Conversely, it seems to me that out-of-character declarations could easily also allow for mutual or partial outcomes. That could be construed as Ron's solution #2, which is exemplified by Polaris, that I agree with. What I don't understand is how solution #1 (phrasing as in-character goals) changes the situation.

brand_of_amber wrote: So, basically, when you design a game if your whole resolution system comes down to "Decide what is going to happen between yourselves, then flip a coin to decide who is right, then that person gets to narrate in how everything they just said comes to pass with no checks other than social preasure into what they narrate" then you've made a crappy game.

This seems to be a fairly accurate description of Ferry Bazelmans' Soap, for one, except that you decide who gets their way by token spending instead of coin flipping. Now, I'm not a huge fan of Soap or anything -- I just thought I'd comment on the relation.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:September 7th, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC)
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Sorry about that. No, I haven't read "Afraid" -- I'm looking it up now. So is this his May 2006 blog post -- http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=201 ? Or is there a more recent document?
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From:mneme
Date:September 6th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Brand basically summarized the good bits. Not all of them, though.

The big problem, of course, is that some systems (and people; don't forget people -- people are the problem) encourage pre-negotiation of everything -- you come up with your reality, I come up with my reality, then we dice off. Which means one of our realities -- a lot of work, is wasted, not only wasting effort but likely making things less fun.

It's worth noting that some systems can end up with similar problems while insisting on orthogonal goals -- PTA can, as the consensus rules (don't drop the dice until everyone's satisfied with the stakes) can encourage people to worry over the stakes endlessly -- despite the inability to pull the escalation possible in other games, they can still end up using all the potential energy before lighting the fuse.

Another problem, of course, which is related to, but not part of Ron's complaint at all (which is -really- a terminology complaint -- he doesn't like the "stakes" term; the other, more interesting complaints are adjunct to this), is that in games like PTA, cutting to a conflict as soon as one becomes apparent and then giving over narration to one player (as advised in the story-games thread) can make it hard not to cut the fun part of play -- i.e. free play -- directly out of the most interesting parts of the game's storyline.
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From:jimhenley
Date:September 6th, 2006 11:38 pm (UTC)
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cutting to a conflict as soon as one becomes apparent and then giving over narration to one player (as advised in the story-games thread) can make it hard not to cut the fun part of play -- i.e. free play -- directly out of the most interesting parts of the game's storyline.


Very true! The impression I get is that for a some gamers - I am decidedly not one of them - this is a feature rather than a bug. Reading the message boards indicates that there are people who are outright hostile to free play.
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From:servingdonuts
Date:September 7th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
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See, this is why I don't need to read The Forge or Story Games or a couple dozen prominent GameTheoryBlogs. I've got you to do it for me.
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From:foreign_devilry
Date:September 10th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
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John, do you have contact info for either of these "Non-suppressive Techniques" folks? Because that sounds like my cup of tea and a box of scones.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:September 13th, 2006 09:54 pm (UTC)
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I was wondering about that myself. I do have emails from their Knutpunkt 2006 registration, but I probably don't want to post them publically. I write you and them an email.
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From:ewilen
Date:September 12th, 2006 06:59 am (UTC)
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As I wrote (probably in a convoluted way) over on my blog, the issue I have with Solution 1 is that I do not see how you can guarantee a resolution to the conflict without setting at least rudimentary stakes. But maybe that's not the point--I was under the impression that the problem was with stakes, not the elaboration and refinement of stakes into "prenarration".

BTW, I'd encourage a look at the thread on Conflict Resolution at theRPGsite, which I link in the comments in my entry. What it comes down to is that setting the scale and nature of stakes (or goals) is as much a form of social determination as crafting a functional, shared understanding of how "task resolution" will be used to resolve conflicts in traditional games. But the benefit of mechanical CR is that it puts this social element front and center. Another ongoing offshoot is a discussion of how Spycraft 2.0 achieves something like a merger of Forgeian "conflict resolution" with traditional task resolutino via its Dramatic Conflict mechanics.

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