16 November, 2017


I may not like something, but I can still appreciate the technical expertise behind it. In this way, I could be referring to a piece of music that doesn't stir any passions in me, but I can understand why other people like it... on the other hand there could be a formulaic piece of drivel with auto-tuned lyrics in the top 40 and I might be more inclined to wonder who slept with whom, or how many dollars changed hands to get such a high public presence for the song.

It works for music, for visual arts, for game design... for just about anything where people put their passion into something. I know what I like, I know that other people like other things, but I feel there is something beneath the surface facade that has the potential to turn something into a classic.

Then something comes along and helps to explain those instinctive thoughts about quality and goodness. It doesn't give all the answers, but it does give a fresh perspective.

I've been thinking more about that lightbulb analogy, and I think it might actually answer some of the issues that I have with hodge-podge, ad-hoc systems in gaming. I think it has something to do with how good the inner filament (ie. the core mechanic) is.

Paul Stefko's Core Mechanic series in this analogy is basically a craftsman critiquing the various filaments at the centre of different gaming light bulbs... he ignores the glass, the table  and everything else, and just focuses on that central element. Through this kind of analysis we can see what the game does at it's most fundamental levels, then we can later see how the glass of the globe manipulates the light to produce the atmosphere and complete game experience.

My problem with ad hoc games is that there is no single central filament. Old-School D&D has one filament handling combat, another filament handling skills (if you decide to turn that part of the light on, or maybe you just leave it for rogues), another filament for magic...some like the combat filament are dangerously convoluted, others are simple straight bits of wire, but every one functions and impacts the wider game environment in a different way. There is no consistency, there's interference patterns built up at the innermost layers of the light, the layers of glass and other elements of the gaming environment all react in erratic ways meaning every game needs to pick and choose which elements to remove or keep, which bits are neglected or forgotten because they just get too complicated, or which bits become focal as the distinct flavouring elements of the session. Plenty of OSR enthusiasts will be tuning out at this point, because it's not something they want to hear. Some may claim that their preferred flavour of OSR doesn't do this...but they're all based on this retro-nostaglic base that really doesn't do a good all-round job. Others may claim that all OSR is basically a smorgasbord toolkit, where you can pick what you want from the wide array of options available... but sometimes people just want to sit down and have some fu  without being interrupted by hours of referencing and page turning. Sure there are some stripped back versions and retro-clones, but even these tend to have multiple systems handling individual things rather than a good solid core mechanic.

I do appreciate Apocalypse World for having that sturdy filament. Just the same as I appreciate Nathan Russell's FU, or S John Ross's Risus... or FATE... or the Roll-&-Keep system from L5R/7thSea. It's often outside the strong central system in these games where I have issues.

Actually, in the case of FU and Risus, if I want a simple collaborative storytelling tool, I don't have any issues at all with these systems. But if I want a system where, I can "play with the glass" and add mechanisms of my own, then they don't give much to work with.

[EDIT - I don't know what happened at the end of this post,but it ate up a whole heap of text I'd written... I'll see if I can remember enough of it to rewrite it]

Apocalypse World has a nice filament (2d6, where less than 6 = bad result, 7-9 = mixed result but generally good, and 10 or more = Good result). My issue here is not with the filament, and upon rereading the model, it's not necessarily with the bulb itself. It's with the table... actually, no it probably exists in both the table and the glass bulb. My problem with games Powered by the Apocalypse is the discrepancy regarding how and when moves are activated, where a few recent posts have indicated that there isn't a good indication of how and when this occurs (different tables play it different ways). But similarly, I don't like the way some moves modify rolls, others exists as rolls of their own subsystems inspired by the core mechanism, then there are those which simply activate, and others which seem to interact with elements of the game completely separate from the core mechanism. It seems so close to a nicely integrated system, but doesn't quite hit the mark...

...I want to do an Obi-Wan Kenobi scream... "You were meant to be the chosen one".

Look, I get it that some people love different games for different reasons, and that there are different products for different goals. But when something is supposed to be elegantly designed and adored by a large chunk of the gaming population,. I can appreciate it for what it got right, then kill the sacred cows in an attempt to see what can be done better.     

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