2009-04-09 : cloud-to-cloud

First of all, please remember throughout that this: shorthand for this:

...which, in the real world, means something more like this:

Right? If anybody has any questions about the above, ask them down in this thread, please. That thread will make a good place for Q&A.

So next. In that Forge thread I still don't really recommend you go read, Frank T talks about play like this:

And I say I agree with him, but then I go on and on about rules like this:

That's because what I'm really excited about right now is referring materially to the fiction, here:

It just happens that rules like "if your character has the high ground, you get +2 to your roll" are easier to talk about, even easier to come up with, than corresponding examples without the roll or the +2.

But here's the thing. This is wholly aligned with what Frank says in that thread, and contra my lazy over-attention to cloud-to-dice rules. Also, it's self-evident to (at a guess) 1/3 of all roleplayers, while story-gamers seem kind of funnily blind to it:

If your game treats details of the fiction as material causes, then it can treat changes to the details of the fiction as material effects.

If you'll forgive me a(nother) malformed diagram:

And full stop.

1. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

So Ben! Aren't Polaris' resolution rules mostly this:

With a little bit of this:

(Polaris has lots of non-resolution rules too, of course, but I haven't tried to diagram any whole games. Yikes!)


2. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:


Well, let's figure this one out step by step.

Let's say we have the following players and their protagonists.
Alice (A) playing Altair (a)
Bob (B) playing Bootes (b)
Cindy (C) playing Casseopeia (c)

For the future: KEY PHRASES will be in ALL CAPS. And we'll denote an antagonist character played by Alice as (a/a) and a non-antagonist character (moon character) played by Alice as (a/m).

Now let's look at a few cases.

Bob says "(b) takes the high ground."

This is:

Now let's look at something else.

Bob says "AND FURTHERMORE (b) takes the high ground."
He exhausts an appropriate Theme.

Is this:


or is it



I can't figure this part out. Also, when I've figured this part out, it gets even trickier, but I'm starting with the easy stuff. You've played the game, any insight?


3. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

I figure the key phrases to be between the people, similar to is this worth awarding fan mail for? in Primetime Adventures and is the reparteé funny? in HoL. Thus, the former.

But, like, there are a zillion things that, do they count as cues, or as interactions between the players, or what? For instance, if you wrote the key phrases on 3x5 cards and held them up when you used them, would that make them cues where they weren't before? It's like the Forge threads where somebody's trying to class their mechanism as D F or K, and they zoom in so close that those distinctions don't make any sense.

Fiction vs cues vs interactions: they're convenient circles to draw for some purposes, but they don't, y'know, signify.


4. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

Okay, I'll accept that Polaris is too much of a mess to use your model for. If you think what I just drew is complicated, to diagram a sequence of four "But only if..." statements with a die roll at the end. Headache!

It may be worth considering that there's several different things going on here. I was dividing in my head between formal and informal, vs. heavy and light procedure.

The key phrase mechanics in Polaris are highly formal, but they're also procedurally as light as most non-formal mechanics. Likewise, "Bob plays Bobnar," a sort of rule present in every game is formal but procedurally light.

By "procedurally light" I mean "has no / little calculations or records attached."

Consider that the clouds, in your diagrams, aren't the shared imagined space, although they contain it. They are containing all procedurally light rules.



5. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

If it's up to me, then no: the arrows are the rules, so procedurally light rules are arrows, same as procedurally heavy rules. The cubes aren't "refer to the numbers on the character sheet" but the numbers on the character sheet themselves. The cloud isn't "refer to where my guy is standing" but the guy himself, imaginary as he is. Even "who's guy is he?" isn't inside the cloud, it's between us, the people.


6. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

But you're deciding that some things written on the character sheet don't matter. For instance:

Bob says "I take the high ground!"

What does this mean? Who takes the high ground? We look around. Ahah! On Bobnar's sheet it says "player: Bob." Bob must mean that Bobnar took the high ground.

How is this any different from the following?

Bob says "Bobnar takes the high ground!"

Can Bobnar take the high ground? We look at his sheet. He has a tactics score of 10, so yes, he can take the high ground.

Why is a name written on a sheet different from a number written on a sheet?



7. On 2009-04-09, Ryan Stoughton said:

I'm reminded of my incredibly fine-grained flowchart for IAWA (the one that takes 7 pages for conflict resolution).

To me, it says "That's precisely how complicated In A Wicked Age is; the rules make it seem simple but there's these nuances here and here."

While someone else called it "a way to make something really simple look really complicated."

Like Ben, I have a hard time seeing which actions "naturally" fall below the threshold.


8. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

Ben: I've played lots of games where I don't meaningfully have any character sheets at all, but I still own a character or more than one. It happens especially often with GMs and their impromptu NPCs, of course.

It's like I said about Polaris' key phrases. If I write them down on a 3x5 card to hold up when I use them, now they're a cue, when they used to be just a component of an interaction between us? I dunno. (Not skeptical, I just don't know. It doesn't seem important which.)

Is the character's name on my character sheet really a cue, or is it just how we know which player to hand the sheet to when the game starts? Why does it matter which, when what matters are the rules themselves?


9. On 2009-04-09, Ryan Stoughton said:

The "naturally" shouldn't be in that post, it makes it sound judgmental.


10. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

Any takers on referring materially to the fiction?


11. On 2009-04-09, Jonathan Walton said:

What excites you about referring materially to the fiction?  It offers a place where the rules can shift to reflect non-mechanical things?

Seems like, in practice, it might be dangerous, especially in situations where players were strongly invested in one character or another winning, rather than investing in a more meta "tell and interesting story" level.  Because, if there are mechanical advantages that can be gained by making declarations that have no mechanical cost, sufficiently driven players will seize them immediately and often.

I've seen this happen in Agon play, for example.  In Agon, you can gain an advantage over a future adversary by finding out information about them and making appropriate preparations. I've seen at least one group push to make a ton of preparations so they would have an overwhelming advantage against the adversary they were going to face, because there was little cost to doing so. It's kinda like those folks who play Final Fantasy or WOW and grind their level up way higher than it should be, so they can waltz past obstacles.


12. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

So, to clarify, if I'm playing D&D, and tracking hit points in my head rather than noting down every hit, that means that hit points are no longer a cue, but instead part of the cloud?

Cool. Here's a rule. Do that, then at every multiple of 20 write down your present number of hit points on your sheet, while continuing to track in your head. Tah-dah!

Now we're referring materially to the fiction*!

( * Now do you understand why I have an issue with the idea that, by memorizing a mechanical component, we make it part of the fiction?)

I have played many role-playing games without the appropriate accessories (on car trips, on camping trips, and the like). Doing so doesn't fundamentally alter the relationship between cues (or whatever you want to call them when we've internalized them) and fiction. You're getting at something important here, which I want to talk to you about, but I can't talk about it with you without first having firm basics. Which your diagrams, thus far, ain't.



13. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

So, to clarify, if I'm playing D&D, and tracking hit points in my head rather than noting down every hit, that means that hit points are no longer a cue, but instead part of the cloud?

No! Not instead part of the cloud. Instead part of you, the smiley face.


14. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

Hrm ...

Let's imagine that we're playing Dogs in the Vineyard but, for whatever reason, we're using non-physical means of generating our random numbers (it would be a pain, but doable.)

Does that change your whole description here into:



15. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

Let me also say I'm trying to get at something really important to understanding

And how you get it and why it is satisfying.

It's that, formally:

can't happen.

Unless you accept that there's a fundamental difference between a memorized cue and a non-memorized cue. In which case, well, I'm curious what that is.



16. On 2009-04-09, akooser said:

So cloud to cloud:

We are playing a game. It's been establish in the fiction: 1)That we are in a dark hallway of an evil cult
2)The priests are going about their business
3)The priest are not alerted to intruders

All cloud so far?

The players announce that their character are diving into the shadows to hide based on the established fiction of the scene.

The GM says okay.

Still cloud to cloud?



17. On 2009-04-10, Callan said:

I thought Frank had meant something more like, um, perhaps two boxes to the right, with a gap between them (have a question mark there), indicating not knowing how to get from one square to the other.

Then having an arrow from the cloud to the question mark (which I would call a broken line, but were talking Frank's thing), filling in the question mark with a square.

His main point seemed to be that without the imaginative cloud thingie, you didn't know what the hell procedure to go to next. He saw that as a feature, rather than a bug (and you can see how I see that, from how I just phrased that).

Or maybe I remembered the thread the wrong way?


18. On 2009-04-10, Vincent said:

Ben! I've been thinking hard and here's where I land. This is the one that formally can't happen:

It's not that memorized cues are no longer cues, it's that all cues serve the players' conversation.


19. On 2009-04-10, Ben Lehman said:

Vincent: I'm not sure what you're illustrating there. Are you trying to show skipping the people? Because, indeed, that can't formally happen. But not what I'm talking about.

There's another thing that can't formally happen, which is action in the fiction completely uncued.



20. On 2009-04-10, Ben Lehman said:

Maybe we need to talk about this on the phone? I dunno. I feel like I'm talking about something really painfully obvious and it's not getting across in any way at all.


21. On 2009-04-12, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

No, ben, the people aren't skipped. They're just assumed.

Does it matter if things are a cue or not? I mean, what matters is that there are procedures that we have that are abstract and apply to a category of narrative control.

"Bobnar takes the higher ground" is equivalent to "I take the higher ground (though I am real Bob rather than fictional Bobnar, so it's really Bobnar.)" That's a stylistic thing.


22. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

Joshua: Unless you know what Vincent is trying to draw, you're not helping.

If it doesn't matter to you what's a cue or not, I don't see why you care about this discussion as a whole, which is, after all about, fiction->cues relations.



23. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

Hey Ben, are you comfy with the proposition (convenient for this scope of discussion, not necessarily true in any kind of absolute way) that some things - Bobnar, his sword, the tree stump, the wood-trolls, eg - are components of the game's ongoing fiction? That you can, for the most part and admitting some ambiguity, generally tell what things are components of the game's ongoing fiction vs what things aren't?


24. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

Vincent: Yes.

I have a cues question. Let's say that, instead of rolling dice for this particular game, we play a finger game instead (Paper Rocks Scissors, Odds and Evens, what have you.) Cue or not a cue?



25. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

Well, first: is our game of r-p-s or odds-evens clearly a component of the game's ongoing fiction? No. Is it ambiguous? No.

(I mean, if we were resolving Bobnar's rock-paper-scissors match with the wood-trolls, it might be ambiguous, but as we're resolving their bloody battle sword to claws instead, it's not.)

Anyway so it's not inside the cloud.

So far so good?


26. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

Totally unclear to me.

Our game of odds and evens (as part of resolution, not part of the fiction). Is it
1) Located in cues
2) Located in people
3) It doesn't matter
4) Other (please explain.)

Please pick one.


27. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

The smiley faces are our interactions.

The bulk of our odds-evens game is interaction. We hold our fists out, bounce them up and down, "one, two, three, go!"

Our fingers, me holding out one finger and you holding out two fingers, those fingers are cues. Someone can point to them, count them.

We held out odd fingers, so somebody says "odds!" Interaction again, the smiley faces.

So: the game of odds-evens is (2) located in people. It calls upon our fingers, held out according to certain rules, which are (1) located in cues.


28. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

I get that the bulk of it is interaction. I'm asking if there's something else there, as well.

Imagine that Bobnar having the high ground in the fight gives Bob a rethrow in odds-and-evens to determine the outcome of the swing. Is that rule this sort of rule:

If not, what is it?


29. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

It is, because of our fingers.

Here's the same sort of rule with no corresponding cue. "If another player describes a character's death, that means food for the winter for all the crows, so congratulate that player heartily."

I haven't made the picture for this rule. It's a single rightward arrow from the cloud to the smiley faces. (Or from the cloud to the middle of nowhere, if I'm not showing the smiley faces.)


30. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

Okay, cool. So fingers can be cues.

Let's try another rule. Consider a pure-karma system where we're looking at static scores. Imagine that having the high ground gives Bobnar +10 to his Battling score.

Is that this sort of rule?

If not, what sort of rule is it?


31. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

IF the Battling score is written down somewhere on the table, OR we're representing the +10 with 10 red glass beads or something, then yes, it's that sort of rule.

If the battling score and the +10 don't exist anywhere in the physical world, but exist only in the heads and interactions of the players - if nobody could point to them or hold them up for a camera - then it's the "congratulate the player" kind of rule: an arrow from cloud to smiley faces.


32. On 2009-04-13, Ben Lehman said:

So, let me get this straight.

When you talk about finding a particular satisfaction in this sort of rule:

If it happens that we don't write anything down, it no longer has that particular satisfaction for you? My previous example, provided that it is "all in our heads" is a different sort of rule altogether?

I don't buy it.



33. On 2009-04-13, Vincent said:

I find a particular satisfaction in this kind of rule:

In the blue rightward-pointing arrow:

...Whether or not we then go on to write anything down.

In rules that refer materially to the stuff of the game's ongoing fiction.

If it happens that we don't write anything down, that blue rightward-pointing arrow still exists, and still is the one that makes the difference. The rules still refer materially to the stuff of the game's fiction.


34. On 2009-04-14, Vincent said:

I just thought of one of my personal favorite cloud-rightward rules: "If your pirate suffers a deadly wound, [your pirate must] strike a bargain or die."

Your pirate's suffering a deadly wound has absolutely no cue consequence. Your pirate's striking a bargain does have cue consequence, but of its own; the cue consequence for striking a deadly wound bargain is identical to the cue consequence for striking any bargain at all, under any circumstances.

Dying, if you fail to strike the bargain, also has cue consequences, but again they're identical whether you die of a deadly wound + failing to bargain, old age, a disease, or "killed outright," which can happen too.

if your pirate suffers a deadly wound, he must strike a bargain or die.

if your pirate strikes a bargain, or dies, [there are both in-fiction and cue consequences].


35. On 2009-04-14, Ben Lehman said:

I think you're mistaking a finger pointing at the moon for the moon, but I'm unable to figure out how to express it.



36. On 2009-04-15, Vincent said:

Maybe this? I think that cues are just fingers and our interactions are the moon. That's what I meant by my comment #18 above.

You seem to think the reverse? When you talk about memorized cues, for instance.

I don't think a phone conversation would solve it, because I have to draw when I talk, and how would I show you my little pictures? But 5 minutes in person would.


37. On 2009-04-15, Ben Lehman said:

I don't think a phone conversation would solve it

hahahaha! Res0lved.



38. On 2010-02-17, Mauro said:

Vincent: Sorry to bump this up after a while, but I'm reading your messages and I've a doubt.

You said that

is short for

Then I think that

is short for

and that


for as you said, "I haven't made the picture for this rule. It's a single rightward arrow from the cloud to the smiley faces. (Or from the cloud to the middle of nowhere, if I'm not showing the smiley faces.)".
So, my doubt: you said you "find a particular satisfaction in this kind of rule:

In the blue rightward-pointing arrow:


Shouldn't the first picture be



39. On 2010-02-17, Vincent said:


Maybe. Here's what I meant to say:


40. On 2010-02-18, Mauro said:

Ok, thanks! Then I've understood.


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