A Penny for Your Thoughts


Explaining why IIEE is called IIEE is more work than explaining what IIEE means. I'm'a do the latter here and save the former for comments, if anybody asks.

I understand from somewhere that there's a rule in improv acting: don't block. Blocking is when somebody says something and you say "actually, no." Instead, when somebody says something, it becomes publically owned, but inviolable; you may build on it, even transform it, own it, but you don't get to deny it.

It should be easy to see how this rule helps to keep things working. If people have yay-or-nay over each others' ideas, every new contribution is a question, and we have to spend time and effort answering it before we can move on. Instead of contributing with confidence, you contribute with a question mark at the end. How should I treat others' contributions? "No blocking" provides an easy, reliable answer. You don't have to think about it, you can pay your attention instead to coming up with contributions of your own.

(Combine with a turn-taking rule, an understanding of conflict, and a one-minute discussion up front about what we're trying to say - or polling scene elements from the audience - and you have a functional improv system. Or so I'm given to understand.)

"No blocking" is IIEE.

RPG rules are allowed to be more complicated than improv theater rules - in fact, they have to be, because they stand in for practice and rehearsal. Furthermore, when you're acting, said means said and done means done, but when you're narrating, you can take things back or revise them before you really commit. So no surprise, RPGs approach how should I treat others' contributions in a wide range of ways. "No blocking" becomes "what may I, what may I not, block? How much of another's contribution is blockable, how much is sacrosanct? Under what circumstances? How do I know when and which?"

But go to your game shelf and you'll find that very few games give you explicit guidelines. Even the best games, even the games I love. They say things like "when somebody's character does something and the outcome is uncertain..." and leave the real design work to you. Consider this example:

I say, "I crack the safe."

Can you say, "before you even notice the safe..."?

Can you say, "before you even get started..."?

Can you say, "okay, you're there spinning the dial and listening through the stethoscope, but before you even get the first tumbler..."?

Or do you have to say, "okay, you've opened the safe, and then..."?

Each of the possible answers, notice, is a different level of blocking. The first, you've blocked me altogether. The second, you've granted me my character's impulse, but blocked any action on her part. The third, you've granted me my character's action, but you've blocked the outcome. And the fourth, you haven't blocked anything.

Anyhow, go to your game shelf and choose a game. Does it tell you which you can say, under what circumstances? Probably not. Probably it leaves it up to you and your group to work out. Probably, worse, it leaves it to your GM to decide, on a case by case basis, without even mentioning that it's a decision to make.

See how bad that sucks? What if the GM instinctively says "before you even notice the safe..." to actions he doesn't like, and "okay, you're spinning the dial..." to actions he does like? He's privileging not just the actions he likes - he's privileging the players' contributions he likes. He's using an invisible, unaccountable power to force the game to go his way. Instead of being a fellow collaborator, he's the unspoken director.

Even co-GMed play without clearly defined IIEE has problems, just like an improv troupe would have without "no blocking." Every contribution ends in a question mark! When I say "I crack the safe," I don't know what I've contributed. Have I contributed an outcome? Action? Have I even contributed my character's impulse to do so? We have to decide, anew, every time.

On 1-23-05, Ben Lehman wrote:

I think that the "unspoken" part of the "unspoken director" is usually quite explicit. GMs are expected to exploit their infinite black power, poorly defined consequences to resolution, and ability to fiat rules in order to sculpt the game into their story. Many game texts (the WW ones, for instance) are quite up front about this.

Just a nitpick.


P.S. I still throw in extra categories to IIEE, in my head, in that I think it starts with Situation (and Stakes, the often skipped step.) To give an example, the GM could say "No, wait, you aren't even at the bank yet!" in response to "I open the safe," thus not only negating that you've started to do it, but any possibility of doing it later.

On 1-23-05, Ben Lehman wrote:

"Block" power. Not "Black" power. duhrr...

And, The Thread I was Talking About.


On 1-23-05, Matt wrote:

Man, there's so many things to discuss out of this. Like for starters the difference between blocking the character and blocking the player. In some games, they're the same thing.

I mean, what if blocking benefits you as a player? Then you'd readily accept it, right? The easiest example I can think of is if my GM blocking makes the scene more interesting, like your arch rival shows up and tries to get to the safe before you do. As long as that doesn't limit your choices, it should be fun for you.

What about this: Bad blocking is when your choices are diminished. Good blocking gives you more choices than you had before. Okay blocking is you have about the same amount.

On 1-23-05, Chris wrote:

Linked right into other folks ability to block, is also the question of initiation of any action. The easiest example I pull to demonstrate the horrible mess that is IIEE is "I jump across the hole", which then goes into, "But what if the hole is too big(for the character to jump)?"

The most common functional blocking is, "The hole is too big for your character to jump(and he or she recognizes that fact)." The GM withholding vital info blocking goes, "Are you sure?", and the GM as an ass doesn't block at all and goes, "Ok, you don't make it, and you fall to your doom! heehee!" Then there is the GM who takes control of your character, "Nope, you can't jump it".

Now, check out the differences- In the first example, its assumed that the player is stating the intention, but hasn't initiated yet, and the block is simply a flag to the player about the consequences of initiating it. The second one could also be a flag, but fails to indicate WHY it is a flag(the real intent of the player is for the character to cross the hole, not merely jump). The third example shows a withholding of information and a deliberate lack of blocking in order to punish and terrify the player. That is, next time, the player will ask 101 questions before doing anything out of fear that there is some other imaginary element or factor not being explained(or made up on the spot by the GM) in order to cause harm for the character. You could say the blocking is not in individual actions, but the right of the player to freely contribute to the game. Finally for the last example, we have the complete blocking that, while it may at times be in the interest of the player, other times, it is not.

It's easy to see that out of these 4 common examples- 3 are not particularly nice, fun or enjoyable for most groups I can think of. When most games leave this bit out about how we make that jump from A to B- Look out, its like kids with blindfolds and power tools. On speed and muscle relaxants. Not good.

On 1-23-05, Vincent wrote:

I should say in case it wasn't clear, I don't think blocking is bad. I think "no blocking" is good, but so is any arrangement whereby I know when I can and can't block, and when I might or won't be blocked.

I'm quite proud of Dogs in the Vineyard's blocking rules, for instance.

On 1-24-05, Matt wrote:

How does Dogs handle blocking that doesn't take place in a conflict?

Like if I say "my guy goes to bed early and gets a good night's sleep," can you still block that with an axe-wielding nutjob?

It seems inevitable that there's going to be some moment in play that doesn't involve dice and the players will be at odds. Do you say, "okay, let's back up, and you roll XYZ," or what? Just wondering how you'd make that call with Dogs.

On 1-24-05, Matt wrote:

By the way, this whole discussion about "blocking" is way cool. Giving me a lot to think about for next time around, y'know?

This mostly heartbreakery game called "Pirates!" has a pretty funny character ability that this reminds me of. In a way, the whole idea of "railroading" is in the blocking family. It's like saying "as soon as you stray too far from this path, I can block you as much as I want. Anyway, one character type has the ability "to ignore the GM's plot." I love that and everything it implies.

On 1-24-05, Vincent wrote:

Roll dice or say yes!

On 1-24-05, Vincent wrote:

Which maybe I should expand.

You: I go to bed and get a good night sleep.
Me: But, axe-wielding nutjob!
You: No way. I said good night sleep.
We roll dice! What's at stake: do you get a good night sleep?
I Raise: Axe-wielding nutjob!
You Block: He slips trying to get through my window and breaks his head. You Raise: I snug my arm up over my head and snore.
I Reverse the Blow: Your snoring is loud!
You Take the Blow: Yeah, but I been livin' with it my whole life. You Raise: I have happy dreams.
I Take the Blow: Yeah yeah happy. I Raise: Sister Havepatiencealready starts screaming in the next room, screaming screaming!


Or I can just say yes.

Non-GM players aren't mandated to roll dice or say yes, so whenever they disagree and aren't resolving it easily themselves, the GM should step in and go to dice.

On 1-24-05, Matt wrote:

The idea of that kind of conflict is cracking me up with its coolness. Damnit, I want sleep, guess it's time to escalate so I can have more dice.

On 1-24-05, Chris wrote:

Fall out- "I drool in my sleep over my Dog's Coat. Yuck!" :)

But yeah, Vincent, I'm totally with you that blocking has good and bad applications- all it is, is a specific application of how people get to input and trade credibility back and forth across the table.

On 1-24-05, Vaxalon wrote:

The rule in roleplaying games is, "No Forcing." It's the opposite of "No Blocking" and it works just as well.

You're not allowed to say, "I crack the safe" any more than the improv actor is allowed to say, "No, actually, you don't."

"I crack the safe" is forcing.

(I'll leave games like Donjon and Primetime Adventures out of this, because they deliberately make forcing into part of the fun.)

GM: "Hm, you don't see a safe in the room."
Player: "I search the room." (searching doesn't by definition imply finding, so he doesn't have to 'attempt' anything here)
GM: "You find a safe behind the picture of the pope behind the Bishop's desk."
Player: "I'll try to crack the safe."
GM: "You're having some difficulty"

Roleplaying games aren't improv theater, no matter how often the comparison is made.

On 1-24-05, Vincent wrote:

...No, not really, I don't think. "Games like Donjon and Primetime Adventures" - collaborative games - are the kind we're talking about here.

Understanding "I crack the safe" to mean "I try to crack the safe" is outmoded. Any game design built on that understanding is obsolete already.

On 1-24-05, Matt wrote:

Just like blocking is bad if it uses unclear rules to take away your ability to contribute meaningfully, saying "I crack the safe" is only forcing if it eliminates the possibility of the GM (or whoever is the adversitizor) to introduce cool stakes. As long as you're dealing with conflict resolution, there's still plenty of opportunity to resolve "do I find the important stuff and escape with it."

Such as "you crack the safe, sure, but you discover that the Evil Dr. Steve has already taken the secret plans."

or "sure, you crack the safe, but just as you do, you hear the front door open!"

The above examples would imply that, in a well-written game, the GM can introduce conflict with a "yes, but" approach. Good blocking. Yay.

On 1-24-05, TonyLB wrote:

Which, if I understand correctly, is the entire point behind explicitly stating Stakes: You designate a specific thing that the players know they aren't allowed to narrate unless they win. They then know that everything else is fair game.

So if your character is from a family of professional safe-crackers, and this model safe is the one that drove his domineering father to a nervous breakdown, the Stakes could be "Can I crack this safe?" In that case you can't just say "I crack the safe". But if the Stakes are anything else ("Do I impress Greta", "Do I get the information", etc., etc.) then narrating the safe-cracking is just a step on the way.

On 1-24-05, Chris wrote:

On 1-24-05, Chris wrote:

"The rule in roleplaying games is, "No Forcing." It's the opposite of "No Blocking" and it works just as well."

Hi Vaxalon-

I'd say that most games the assumption is that the GM has the full right over determining who gets to input and how. Therefore, the GM can Force things, and any input by others without GM approval (implicit or explicit) is considered "forcing things". Basically, both blocking and forcing are just subsets of who gets credibility authority- who can input and how, which ultimately is the basis of Shared Imaginative Space interface and the group.

On 1-24-05, Matt wrote:

One other thing that occurs to me:

You could take another cue from improv and incorporate instructions into the rules that tell players how to tell other players that they do or don't want blocking for any given situation.

Suppose it's GM-less play, and the players already understand that scenes need obstacles and conflict for them to be interesting. So you want a conflict somewhere in this scene that the safe is a part of.

"I crack the safe" says: "meh, safe, boring. Move on. Conflict elsewhere."

"I eye the safe carefully, and get out all my good crackin' tools" says: "safe fun and exciting, someone please throw a complication at me."

Then again, you could just do that very last part whenever you want a complication. But why make it that easy?

On 1-25-05, Eric F. wrote:

Tony, that's fabulous insight. A stake is simply an aspect of the scene which has been explicitly classified into a spot in the IIEE sequence - it *will* get addressed during the second E, the effect. You're not allowed to resolve the stake before then; that's all it means. Non-stake aspects can get resolved elsewhere in the IIEE - and each location implies stuff about how we're handling that event.

Intent: "After popping open the safe - cheap Russian crap - I think I'll try and decipher the codes on the papers inside."
Initiation: "Cracking the safe open is a gimme; I'll give you a 2d6 bonus to your investigate pool."
Execution: "I'll Block with twelve by pulling a blasting stick out of my coat, and Raise with a fourteen - Boom! Safe? What safe?"
Effect: "Okay, cool, seventeen successes is plenty. The safe pops open."

So, question - perhaps I should take this to the Forge - if "Stakes" is the name we give to actions/events which must be addressed only during the last phase of the IIEE, whaddya call the other three kinds of events? And can we draw as much value out of that classification as we can (cf. Dogs among others) by clearly labelling the Stakes part?

(For instance... I can imagine a system where you named one item/action/event which *must* be fully resolved during the intent phase; one which *must* be fully resolved during the initiation; one for execution; and one for effect. Exactly four things named. Let's say we add together the associated dice for all four things - the "Precondition", the "Relevant factor", the "Narrative colour event" and the Stakes - and rolled 'em together. That would be really neat.)

Turning the thing on its head, phrase 'em as questions.
1) Can you just say that this thing has already happened as part of your planning to do something interesting?
2) Can you assert that this thing happens, as a guaranteed part of an act in progress?
3) Can you assert that this thing happens as part of our negotiating process to determine the outcome?
4) Can you assert that this thing happens only if the resolution said it did?

There's the nitty-gritty of "credibility" for you. Who gets to say which category a given statement goes in? I have this sneaking suspicion that that is ALL of what we do when assigning credibility, which is to say all that the rules do, period.

- Eric

On 1-25-05, Vincent wrote:

There's another enormous piece, by far the larger piece, yet to talk about; let's not see IIEE clearly and think we've seen the whole!

How should I treat others' contributions?
Answer: IIEE.

What should I contribute?
Answer: ...?

On 1-25-05, Ninja Hunter J wrote:

(A quick aside here: am I to understand that IIEE is 'the process whereby one person says what hir character is doing and it is agreed upon by all players'? And anything that does that is IIEE?)

On 1-25-05, Vincent wrote:

Nope! IIEE is, very specifically, the process whereby we examine a person's contribution and decide how much of it is already established vs. how much of it is yet to be established. IIEE is the process of breaking a contribution into its undeniably true vs. maybe true components.

Resolution is the process whereby we then determine the truth of the maybe-true. Any rules worth a damn, all the important stuff is determined by resolution, with IIEE determining only the framework and circumstances for resolution.

So far we've barely even talked about where that person's contribution came from - the larger, harder, still more interesting part of RPG design.

On 1-25-05, Matt wrote:

Don't feel bad, NHJ. V had his IIEE epiphany in September 2003. We're all wicked far behind.

Regarding where contribution comes from: I wonder how I'd want to contribute if I'd never played any games like D&D. I mean, would I be inclined to ask "what do I see in the room," or would I just tell you? Most games assume that it works like the former.

Damn gamer baggage. I need a special kind of priest to cast it out of me.

On 1-25-05, Ninja Hunter J wrote:

Don't get me started on D&D right now. I'm in a game that's fun because the GM knows what to ignore and fudge, so we use the mechanics, as usual, for stuff that doesn't matter.

Which sorta gets back to the discussion at hand, actually. The GM winds up reading the dice when they say what he wants and ignoring them otherwise, thereby ruling by fiat wearing the mask of dice-based resolution. Whatever happens is subject to 'actually, no' because he's relying on prebuilt materials, though his own story is already better than the materials provided.

Vincent, thanks for the definition. It's more expansive than I understood, but now I dig.

Hey, what time you getting down here?

On 1-28-05, ScottM wrote:

A good definition of IIEE and why it's important to keep things clear IIEE from TSOY

On 1-31-05, Vaxalon wrote:

Chris said:

"I'd say that most games the assumption is that the GM has the full right over determining who gets to input and how."

I'd say you were wrong on that score.

In most games, players have the right to decide how their characters feel, think, and what tasks they will attempt. There are exceptions, but in most games, if a GM tried to overtly deprotagonize a PC, the player would protest.

On 1-31-05, Chris wrote:

Hi Vax,

Consider the following concepts and their general context: "Rule 0/The Golden Rule/MGF", "GM is God", "How to control problem players", "railroading". I'd say the assumption is strong in the gaming community.

Do players protest? I think so, ranging from deciding roleplaying isn't for them, arguing over in-game content, "realism", canon, or rules, or non-verbal dissatisfaction. Do those protests mean much? Well, that's a different story.

Most people lack the vocabulary, or the cognizant frame of mind to recognize social contract or credibility going on at the table. It usually just gets summed up in "style of play". For the most part, if someone likes or dislikes a GM, they'll talk about genre bits, pacing, plots, evocative descriptions, but what I think is the real determiner is how the group's social contract and general division of credibility gets handled. If its what someone wants, then that's a "good GM", and if it isn't what they want, then that's a "bad GM".

For the most part, people look to the GM to be the definer of what those guidelines and credibility divisions will be. For many, they do not know that roleplaying doesn't HAVE to involve credibility power being concentrated in one person, and so, all those issues are just assumed to be the result of the "GM's Style". Many also assume that if this is the only way to play, they often will submit to railroading, deprotagonization, etc. often because they either just want to play, or want to play with their friends.

At the end of enough of this kind of conditioning, you have players who don't protest when deprotagonized, can't possibly fathom kickers, or non-railroaded play, or especially director stance. There's a lot of people out there who look at Inspectres as if you'd have to be on crack to believe it could produce any form of functional play.

I would say that in most games, players have the right to input Color, in the form of dialogue and minor tasks, they have the right to input specified decisions, in accordance with GM's plot trees, they have the right to make minor tactical decisions in regards to resource management and combat. One can look through a great deal of rpg games, forums, and written advice to see that this is a common assumption for play. Getting more rights than that is often not seen as a group thing, but as a benevolent dictatorship held by the GM. ("That GM plays really loose. You can make your own problems and stories. He calls them 'kickers'.")

Although, I wish your statement was true. I wish more people would focus on their right to input, and be aware of it as a group activity.

On 2-1-05, Emily Care wrote:

For the most part, people look to the GM to be the definer of what those guidelines and credibility divisions will be.
Under the standard GM/player division of credibility, the character is the _only_ area that the player has (mostly) full say. And even that can be mitigated by the GM if it's backed up by system ("Your guy's only got an 8 for Perception, roll to see if you see the ninja") or if narrated plot over-rides what the player wanted the character to do (Player:"I slash at the ninja on the wall", GM:"Whoa, there, how are you dealing with the fact that the room you are in is on fire?").

But even granting character as the player's purview, the overwhelming majority of credibility and ability to contribute belongs to the GM: they make and continually define setting& world, determine scene & situation, and have primary responsibility for system.

So, yes, not full. But much, much more than anybody else. And as Chris said, the real split is generally left up to GM discretion, and players get conditioned to expect even less than they may really have.

On 2-1-05, Eric Finley wrote:

This discussion should bear in mind, though, that constraints - including constraints on what you may contribute - sometimes spur creativity.

I'm thinking the far end of this may be a Turku school player, in a heavily Illusionist or other GM-weighted game. He might have control over nothing except his innermost thoughts and a few specified decision-branch points (with limited options)... but he may be as happy as a monkey in a banana factory. The contraints which basically make him a spectator as far as the gameworld is concerned can serve to focus his attention on the most delicate shadings of internal sensation, which may well be what he's in it for.

This isn't to say that I don't agree that most games today have an awkwardly top-heavy distribution of credibility, and could stand to shift further down the spectrum. Merely to point out that it's not a completely one-sided spectrum.

On 2-1-05, Chris wrote:

Hi Eric- by all means, constraints are a good thing- I see them as lenses to focus and provide momentum to play. Depending on what elements you constrain, and how tightly, you can get some really cool things. I even agree that hardcore Illusionism or Participationism can be loads of fun- I've done it before.

My only issue is that for many people, they cannot conceive nor allow for the possibility of other types of play. This is more of a result of simple ignorance and defensiveness, but still is a problem if you even want to get to talking about player contribution, credibility, or social contract.