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How About a Change?

August 15th, 2007 (04:51 pm)

The ground covered by the Lumpley Principle is well trod. But what if it isn't the center of your game theory? What if the whole idea of apportioning 'credibility' and the conflict over whose 'turn' it is, doesn't fit your ideal at all?

I've been playing around with these consequences for some time, but a great blog tipped it over for me. In his essay Burning Spotlight, Ben Robbins suggests that spotlight time is the coin of the realm (thus not 'credibility' say I). An interesting idea!

So here's a thought about it. What if you cast your gaze at a set of game texts looking at how it apportions spotlight time instead of the finer points of how it apportions 'credibility'? In many games, I can see a lot more problems than the essence of the 'credibility' structure suggests.

Most typical role-playing games are so absent the idea of spotlight time that anyone with a 'strong' personality can pretty much dominate a game. That would be the social 'system' overriding the game's texts. In my experience, that's why I spend so much time tinkering with my chara designs; not that I want to game the system, but that I want to ensure that at the times that I have chosen, I can dominate the spotlight.

Likewise, I used to consider 'niche protection' pretty important to chara design as a part of role-playing game design, but now it looks more like spotlight guarantee. So often in class-based systems, gamemasters are instructed to make sure that the adventure include things that require all available players' chara. Id est; make sure they all get spotlight time.

I think I was beginning to work in this direction back in Fundamental Particles of Character Class. The idea was that the parts you assemble into a chara are both you statement of 'what I want to play' and 'I will take the spotlight at these times.' And that was how I looked at it, but I never had the words.

This is yet another thing I have to mix into the Scattershot reconstitution.



Posted by: lordsmerf (lordsmerf)
Posted at: August 16th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)

Just thought I'd mention that I think that this is a very useful way of analyzing games. Not on its own, of course, but in addition to the more "traditional" modes of analysis in Indie design.


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: December 31st, 2007 07:32 am (UTC)

That's quite a response. I do see your point, but overgeneralizing will always find similarities.

My point was that player-efficacy is targeted mainly at social ends. You get everyone to listen to you = spotlight time. You get everyone to agree with your changes = credibility.

I prioritize spotlight time or the social engagement of the group over a player's ability to affect the ongoing game. I'd sure welcome a chance to sit in on a game where credibility was more important than the social issues at the table.

The best example we've seen is how everyone knows (and possibly dreads) 'the GM's girlfriend'. That is clearly a social / spotlight issue and it overrides credibility as though it no longer exists.

As long as game had the GM carte blanche, I don't see this changing.


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2008 11:18 pm (UTC)
Well Said! Thanks

I'm glad you started off with your personal perspective on the core elements of role-playing games. You have to admit, though, that efficacy is only one of many personal agendas that can be brought to the table, right?

As far as I'm concerned, role-playing gaming is ultimately a social situation. So, in spite of any turn-taking system one uses, the players will always follow their normal social hierarchy in place of it. I've never seen this as the problem that the strict rules-players do. Instead of enforcing turns in the text of the game (which never works), I work from a more social model. Hence, spotlight time. And like you said, without spotlight time, a player has no efficacy.

I think there may be a little confusion here, though. I would never call it spotlight time in any game I write (unless it was a stage-production-based role-playing game). Spotlight time is what I consider the most effective apportionment scheme over credibility or turns, but not a good name to put in the rules.

Whatever name you call it really depends on the game. I usually call them skills or abilities. The primary idea is that, once the in-game situation has been expressed, players may engage in their normal social behaviour to activate a skill / ability. Anyone who has hard-copy of such will take short-term social priority for speaking (or negotiating or et cetera) what happens in the game. This doesn't replace normal socializing, but it does allow players to inject their ideas without reprisal. (By what you write, I'm sure this isn't a problem for you (^_^); someone else may read this someday.)

I like your suggested scenario, classically know as 'the bartering'. It is one of the most familiar clichés of this kind of breakdown. As such, it underscores the lack of thought in this area of design.

You are absolutely correct that by strict terms, role-playing 'games' are poorly designed games. We always get a laugh about that one around here. This is why I largely don't look at them as games at all. Again, I see them as a directed form of social intercourse.

I think you have some good suggestions for how to design for this classic problem. These are very traditional-style answers and I believe it runs into the usual problem: player personality interactions. Limiting turns works as well as telling a politician their time is up. (^_^) Player input has possibilities, but is too vague for this discussion. Set-up works well, but requires the rules to perhaps abstract things too much for some.

I like your suggestion for collaborative GMing, but I usually take that sideways because I prefer a more traditional breakdown of who does what. My advice for gamemasters has always been, only run a scene where 'something happens'. This means that if a player on their turn takes play down a boring alley of bartering for goods, they better expect some kind of disaster or something to suddenly change the flow of events. I ask that the 'sudden change' can be offered by players as much as gamemasters. And should be reasonably expected in the game's genre.

I really appreciate and approve of your conclusion! Every bit of GM advice I give includes 'if a scene doesn't make anything change, don't run it!'

Thanks for your cogent words. I appreciate your input.


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