Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "Dream Apart Playtests"

"Traditional RPG gamers had issues with the game's structure and instructions..."

As much as I admire this project I have to admit I'm a lot more comfortable admiring it from a distance -- my gut reaction (as with Dream Askew and even Fiasco) is "Okay, I am completely unqualified to play this."

There's this passage from Sherry Turkle quoted in Unlocking the Clubhouse, speculating as to why some boys turn to computers in adolescence:

Relationships with people are always characterized by ambiguity, sexual tension, the possibilities for closeness and dependency. If these are felt too threatening, the world of things and the world of formal systems becomes increasingly seductive. They turn to formal systems in engineering, in chess, in mathematics, in science. They turn to them for their reassurance, for the pleasures of working in a microworld where things are certain, and “things never change unless you want them to.” In other words, part of the reason formal systems are appealing is because they provide protective worlds.

It strikes me that that's one of the pleasures afforded by traditional RPGs (which in turn is arguably one of the reasons traditional RPGs are seen as an adolescent pursuit unworthy of adult attention), and it's a source of pleasure that's missing from the improv-heavy systems you're most attracted to -- they might provide a safe space to experiment with relationships but that's a very different pleasure from the above-described pleasure of a formal system.

Posted by David Moles at July 8, 2014 09:20 PM

I like the idea of expanding Scenarios to a full page, with picklists and names and so forth--would it be possible/worthwhile to include a short text as well? Either an appropriate saying from Pirke Avot (always my favorite) or a paragraph (or an exchange of dialogue) from a story (or movie) in the bibliography? Also, it hadn't occurred to me but the mediography would probably benefit from a couple of songs/lyrics--perhaps "amol iz geven a mayse" or "di mizinke oysgegeben" or even "vos iz gevorn mayn stetele"?

One problem that I wonder about--one the one hand, a big thick book of rules/instructions is intimidating (at least to me), but on the other, a big thick book can be an awesome thing in itself. So, there it is. Dunno.


Posted by Vardibidian at July 8, 2014 11:51 PM

David, that's an excellent point -- I'm reminded of Mo's essay series over at Gaming as Women on gender and game mechanics, where she talks about "care" and "justice" ethics, and their analogues in game mechanics.

It's a spectrum, of course; in totally freeform games I sometimes also find myself longing for the clarity of formal systems, even while I sometimes chafe in the very formal-system games at overhead, minutiae, and constraints getting in the way of narrative possibilities. The ideal level of structure for me, I think, is something like Apocalypse World (which Mo gives in one of those articles as an example of a care/justice "hybrid system"). Though of course it depends on who I'm playing with -- for one-on-one gaming with Noah I'm actually finding Runequest more satisfying than Dungeon World (because Noah delights in structure, and because the simulationist mechanics seem to actually push the creativity), while with people mostly interested in (and good at) improv, Fiasco is often the right fit.

V, I like the idea of citations! If you want to see a draft, I'd be very open to suggestions for quotes. I will google up your songs, that's another great idea (especially if they can be found with English translations).

A big thick book is awesome, but it's also another project. I still hope to get back to Shtetl World someday, but the idea of Dream Apart was to do something quick and bite-sized, by borrowing a structure, that would therefore actually get done, even as a background task to fiction.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 9, 2014 11:25 AM

I'll have to give Mo's post more careful attention at a later date, but my initial reaction is "I spend ALL FUCKING DAY doing care-oriented mediation; why would I want it in my RPG experience?" Which is maybe not that far from Mo's hypothesis if we model me as a justice-oriented native speaker residing in and mostly-fluent in the language of a care-oriented country and dealing every day with that cognitive friction.

It also occurs to me that my least pleasant gaming experiences have always been ones where justice-oriented gamers gain advantage by care-oriented extratextual moves ("help me out, here, let me put this guy in this square just for this one turn"); and it reminds me of some of the stuff in Lewis Hyde and David Graeber about the damage done by mixing gift and market.

But anyway, enough about me.

Posted by David Moles at July 9, 2014 05:37 PM

Oh, hey, I only just now saw this. A couple of thoughts:

* Have you considered going a step further in your "radical redesign of the Scenario mechanism" by not pre-assigning Scenarios at all? It felt to me like a lot of intimidating responsibility--"you mean I'm responsible for coming up with and playing *all* of the NPCs in the entire shtetl, on the spur of the moment?"--and I was immensely relieved when other players took on some of that. I think that having a Scenario that encompasses a setting (such as the Wild Forest) may require too much from the player who has that scenario when that setting is active (and too little from the other players), unless you expect there to be a lot more setting-shifting than happened in our instance.

So I could imagine players volunteering on the fly to take a Scenario, or randomly assigning a player or set of players to a Scenario that's just become relevant, or various other variations, rather than having Scenarios be "owned" per se (regardless of how much swapping goes on).

* As V mentioned, I think a lot of reading material may add to the intimidation levels rather than reduce them. For example, though a glossary and pronunciation guide would be nice, I vaguely recall thinking that the sheer number of unfamiliar terms pertaining to Jewish mysticism was a little hard to cope with (maybe this is the Unseen World description you mention in this entry? I forget), and I'm not sure it would be an improvement to make the player read through several pages of glossary entries in order to understand those terms. I wonder if you could set some things aside as advanced/experienced/optional to streamline the amount of reading that new players would have to do, while allowing for extra richness for people who wanted to go deeper.

(This applies to expanding the Scenarios to a full page, too--on the one hand, all the things you mention to go on the second half-page are great, but on the other hand, doubling the amount of reading necessary to understand the Scenario seems likely to increase setup time.)

Posted by Jed at July 30, 2014 07:45 AM

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