2009-06-15 : Lazy Play vs IIEE with Teeth

IIEEteeth. Heh.

Here's my personal rephrasing of IIEE. For this thread you can take it as definitional:

In the game's fiction, what must you establish before you roll, and what must you leave unestablished until you've rolled?

In other words, what fictional stuff do you need to know in order to roll at all, and what fictional stuff should you let the roll decide?

Look familiar? It's what I've been talking about for the last 2 months. Fictional causes, fictional effects.

Here's a quick resolution mechanism.

1. We each say what our characters are trying to accomplish. For instance: "My character's trying to get away." "My character's trying to shoot yours."

2. We roll dice or draw cards against one another to see which character or characters accomplish what they're trying to accomplish. For instance: "Oh no! My character doesn't get away." "Hooray! My character shoots yours."

What must we establish before we roll? What our characters intend to accomplish.

What does the roll decide? Whether our characters indeed accomplish what they intend.

What do the rules never, ever, ever require us to say? The details of our characters' actual actions. It's like one minute both our characters are poised to act, and the next minute my character's stuck in the room and your character's shot her, but we never see my character scrambling to open the window and we never hear your character's gun go off.

Maybe we CAN say what our characters do. Maybe the way the dice or cards work, there's a little space where we can pause and just say it. Maybe that's even what we're supposed to do. "Always say what your characters do," the rules say, maybe. "No exceptions and I mean it." It remains, though, that we don't HAVE to, and if we don't, the game just chugs along without it. We play it lazy, and we get the reading-too-fast effect that Frank describes.

Contrast Dogs in the Vineyard, where if you don't say in detail what your character does, the other player asks you and waits patiently for you to answer, because she needs to know. She can't decide what to do with her dice without knowing. Dogs in the Vineyard's IIEE has teeth, it's self-enforcing.

In a Wicked Age has a similar problem to the example's. Maybe a worse problem. The rules say "say what your character does. Does somebody else's character act to stop yours? Then roll dice." That's what the rules say. But if, instead, you say what your character intends to accomplish, and somebody else says that their character hopes she doesn't accomplish it, and you roll dice then - the game chugs along, not noticing that you're playing it wrong, until suddenly, later, it grinds to a confusing and unsatisfying standstill and it's not really clear what broke it. If you play In a Wicked Age lazy, the game doesn't correct you; but instead of the reading-too-fast effect, you crash and burn.

So now, if you're sitting down to design a game, think hard. Most players are pretty lazy, and telling them to do something isn't the same as designing mechanisms that require them to do it. Telling them won't make them. Some X-percent of your players will come to you like, "yeah, we didn't really see why we'd do that, so we didn't bother. Totally unrelated: the game wasn't that fun," and you're slapping yourself in the forehead. Do you really want to depend on your players' discipline, their will and ability to do what you tell them to just because you told them to? Will lazy players play the game right, because you've given your IIEE self-enforcement, or might they play it wrong, because the game doesn't correct them? Inevitably, the people who play your game, they'll come to it with habits they've learned from other games. If their habits suit your design, all's well, but if they don't, and your game doesn't reach into their play and correct them, they'll play your game wrong without realizing it. How well will your game do under those circumstances? Is that okay with you?

Take Dogs in the Vineyard again: not everybody likes the game. (Duh.) But most of the people who've tried it have played it correctly, because it's self-enforcing, and so if they don't like it, cool, they legitimately don't like it. I'm not at all confident that's true of In a Wicked Age.

You could blame the players, for being lazy and for bringing bad habits. (As though they might not!) You could blame the text, for not being clear or emphatic enough. (As though it could be! No text can overcome laziness and bad habits.) Me, I blame the design, for not being self-enforcing.

Anyway, you're the designer, and maybe it's okay with you and maybe it isn't, that's your call. (It's my call too for my games, and for the Wicked Age, yeah, maybe it's okay with me.) But I raise the question because from experience, slapping yourself in the forehead when people don't play the way you tell them to gets pretty old. If you don't want the headaches, do yourself a favor and make your game's IIEE self-enforcing.

1. On 2009-06-15, Vincent said:

"Hey Vincent, what about designing a game to be flexible, to adapt to whatever habits its players bring, but not to shape their play to itself?"

Well... frankly I have no idea what you mean, imaginary person. Those just seem like words strung together formalistically to me: "hey Vincent, what about baking a pie to be flexible, to have either a crust or no crust depending on the people who eat it, not to shape their eating it to itself?" But maybe that's my limitation, so: sure. Good luck! This isn't really the thread for it, or the blog.


2. On 2009-06-15, John Harper said:

Man. It feels like you are talking directly to me, Vx. Last night, I wrote a big chunk of text for the new game, and it's all "you should do this. you should do that." But where are the teeth? I don't know if there are any or not. I can't tell anymore.

I need help! Look at this:

Player: Say what action your character undertakes. If no one interrupts you, then say how the character accomplishes the action. (if your character is in danger during any of this, mark Danger on your sheet)

GM: Listen to the player saying what action the character undertakes. Does that action match anything on the list of tests? If it does, interrupt them and say what trait they need to test.

This reminds me of Poison'd, where the GM listens to the ongoing fiction and jumps in with dice when the fiction demands it. At least, that's how I want it to work. But I'm way too close to it at the moment to see clearly.

What do you think of that little example? And what do you think about Poison'd and IIEE?


3. On 2009-06-15, Matt Wilson said:

Hey Vx: Which kind is your new Apockalisp game? The playtest doc is all kinds of "MC you better describe stuff," but I dunno if there's a mechanical requirement for me to say how I get aggro, is there?

Same thing with that TV game. It rewards description through fan mail, but it doesn't enforce it mechanicably.


4. On 2009-06-15, Matt Wilson said:

Oh, BTW: I'm happy about this post because it makes my latest design seem cooler. Thanks!


5. On 2009-06-15, Vincent said:

John: great!

In your example and in Poison'd both, the GM's going to keep asking the player for concrete details, because that's how the GM knows what she's supposed to say. Without the concrete details, the rules don't chug along, they disengage, right, like gears too far apart.

Matt, same thing with Apocalypse World. The MC's just naturally going to be asking you for details, because she has to choose her own moves so that she can easily misdirect you. The rules say "GM, when somebody goes aggro, ask how," and then they back it up with an extremely practical "because otherwise you're going to be wicked floundering when it's your turn to talk."

Now, "will the GM actually do her job? What if she doesn't?" That's a different kind of question. That's not about IIEE anymore, that's like, in Dogs, "the person seeing the raise, will she actually put forward matching dice and say what happens? What if she doesn't?"

So it's tangential, but the answer there is, orchestrate the GM's or the player's interests so that she will, yes, do her job. In Dogs conflicts, it's the stakes that do it: "see or give!" In "actively reveal the town in play," it's the GM's curiosity about what on earth the PCs are going to do about this screwed-up town. In your game, what's the GM's agenda? Most importantly, when she calls for a player to roll, does it contribute to, or compete with, her interests in the game? If the former, you're good. If the latter, problematic.


6. On 2009-06-15, John Harper said:

Yes and yes. Ok. That is clicking in my brain. The GM doesn't know to say "test Commando," vs. "test Daredevil," until the player says enough concrete stuff. Right. Duh!

GM Agenda: yeah, that's a thing. Reading AW (and Dogs again) really helped me think about that more clearly. I could talk about it, but maybe it's too much of a tangent here. I think it's working the way I want.


7. On 2009-06-15, Chris said:

Hi Vincent,

This pretty much sums up why I find:

Inspectre's Narration > Trollbabe's Scene Request > PTA's Table Talk advice > "Just go with your players".

And yeah, a lot of my experiences with The Emperor's Heart playtesting last year.


8. On 2009-06-15, Roger said:

This reminds me of some people's descriptions of how they play PTA, in which almost nothing is left unexplained until after the roll.

"Okay, so if X succeeds, then this happens and that happens and this other stuff happens; but if X fails, then this other thing happens, and these things happen too.  Alright, we draw cards... hunh, X failed.  Okay, that stuff that we just said would happen, does."


9. On 2009-06-15, Sage said:

You're making me rethink how I phrase anything in my game. Thanks for the hours of rewrites that'll come out of this. ;)


10. On 2009-06-16, Moreno R. said:

Great! You have finally identified why I don't get good results with some games, but you have called me "lazy".  It's not nice! Why could not we use something like "effort-conscious" or "economic players" instead?

About IAWA: yes, that was what happened (and, as a lot old-time gamers, our group is _very_ lazy with descriptions or narrations, if not done in character), the conflicts were a lot less detailed than the rest of play. But there was something more: maybe because the conflict was not very tied to the fictional level, it often went to the player's level (I sometime joke about PTA being the game that can create friendships, and IAWA being the game that can ruin them...  :-)


11. On 2009-06-16, Emily said:

So, Vincent. Where does the disconnect happen, then? Dogs vs. In a Wicked Age... Is it the way that traits are tied to specific concrete things in the world in Dogs? The fact that you have to narrate your character doing something particular to escalate? The looseness of interpretation about whether something is for love, or for myself? How can we calibrate the gears?


12. On 2009-06-16, Vincent said:

Oh no, not any of those - for instance, I don't think that "my dad taught me to ride" is any more tightly tied to any specific action than "with love" is. Traitwise they hit at about exactly the same level of concreteness.

The most straightforward answer is, in your game's IIEE, don't skip the IE in the middle - don't skip initiation and don't skip execution. My example resolution system at the top is like I—E, is its main problem. In a Wicked Age's problem is once-removed: you oughtn't play it I—E, but you kind of can, if you don't realize that you oughtn't, and then it has occult breakdowns that are hard to diagnose.

So: make sure that your game's rules treat now your character's in action and this is what your character's action is as significant. Especially, make sure that somebody else needs to know that now your character's in action, and needs to know what your character's action is, in order to make her decisions.


13. On 2009-06-16, Matt Wilson said:

Man, Galactic had this great setup for that, but I totally screwed it up. All the traits are cool fiction tie-ins. e.g. instead of "strength" you have "Explorer." You use it when you're doing explory stuff, survival, etc. But what you do and what you use are completely in your own little world as a player. You can just say "I'm using this trait now, and I got a 6. It beats your 5." We didn't playtest it that way, but basically everyone else did.

So now in this reboot, you have to say what you're doing, and get buy in from the table (mostly the GM) that it's a fit for the Explorer stat.


14. On 2009-06-16, Mathieu Leocmach said:

make sure that your game's rules treat now your character's in action and this is what your character's action is as significant. Especially, make sure that somebody else needs to know that now your character's in action, and needs to know what your character's action is, in order to make her decisions.

I love this explanation. Usually a system description is centered on one player, the one who is acting. You manage to show that the player(s) who will have to react to the action is/are as important in the picture as this now-acting player. They don't only react, they shape the present action resolution.

It may be something evident, but for me it's a real breakthrough.


15. On 2009-06-16, Guy Srinivasan said:

Thanks a lot Vincent, you just made me re-read the play procedures of like 7 games. Some notes:

D&D 4e - non-DM players do not ever call for skill checks. If it looks like they do, it is just the player suggesting something to the person who is DM. "I roll Diplomacy to make the goblin let us through the gate" is a borderline incoherent statement. But if you say it, and roll, and the DM agrees, the game "just chugs along".

Burning Wheel - when a player is about to roll, how do we know which ability she will use? Answer: either it is obvious to everyone involved, or the player must go into more detail about how she plans to have her character accomplish the stated intent until it is obvious to everyone involved. If it's not obvious but (say) the GM ends up deciding, that indicates a disconnect that would be better dealt with, but the game just chugs along anyway.

PTA - what's at stake is not the outcome of a bit that determines which of two possible branches we go down, it is the future of an in-game set of fictional objects or relationships between objects. So a reputation can be at stake. The trajectory and results of a bullet can be at stake ("does your shot hit him?"). The behavior of your family at the dinner table can be at stake. What cannot be at stake is something like whether your bullet hits him or he escapes - it is possible that sometimes it's clear to everyone if your bullet does not hit him, the narrator will narrate his escape, but what's at stake should include only the trajectory and results of bullets, or the escaping of the victim, not both at once. (Unless there are 2+ protagonists of course, but that just means multiple things at stake.)


16. On 2009-06-16, Simon C said:

This speaks directly to a game I'm kind of trying to write that uses otherkind-ish resolution.  It's totally all "What are you trying to achieve?" *clatter* "Ok, that's all done!".

I don't know how to fix it yet though.  This thread is helping.


17. On 2009-06-16, Callan said:

[teasing]What to do if you don't miss tasks resolution, but you do miss tasks... :) [/teasing]


18. On 2009-06-17, Vincent said:

I don't understand! I don't get what you're teasing about.


19. On 2009-06-17, Emily said:

Yes, that's makes sense. I'm looking for more detail.

Contrast Dogs in the Vineyard, where if you don't say in detail what your character does, the other player asks you and waits patiently for you to answer, because she needs to know. She can't decide what to do with her dice without knowing. Dogs in the Vineyard's IIEE has teeth, it's self-enforcing.

Why does the other player wait? Why can't they ignore what you say?
What about what you narrate dictates different things about what dice they will use?
What happens in the fiction if you mumble through your roll, what happens in the mechanics?
How are all the stages of iiee made integral in Dogs?


20. On 2009-06-17, Vincent said:


There are three overlapping effects at the core of Dogs' resolution rules that make it happen.

The first is the most straightforward: if you take the blow, you get fallout dice. The fallout dice you get depend on the details of my raise: am I attacking you with a shovel? Insulting your mother? Shooting you? Shoving past you? All call for different fallout dice. If you don't know what I'm doing, you don't know what fallout dice you'll take if you take the blow, so you don't know whether you want the fallout dice, and thus you don't know whether you want to take the blow.

If you don't know the fictional content of my character's action, you don't have the information you need in order to decide which dice to push forward on the table. If you mumble through this and choose dice arbitrarily, then eventually you're going to push forward 3 or more dice; when that happens, you won't know which dice to take for fallout. The game procedures literally can't continue. You'll be sitting there with your hand over the dice bowl, looking at the dice and not knowing which to pick up, until you say, "wait, but what did your character DO?"

An example showing effect 1:
Me: I raise. 9.
You: I really want some d4 fallout. I wonder if I should dodge or take the blow?
You: ...
You: Hey you didn't tell me your raise. What is it?
Me: Oh! Yeah, I shoot you in the face. Put my gun right up to your eye and blow you away.
You: Dude! I don't want d10 fallout, I want d4s. I see with 2 dice to dodge.

The second is a little more technical, but also concrete and reliable: if you take the blow, you seize narration from me at Effect; if you block or dodge, you undo some of my narration and redo it yourself starting at Execution. If you don't know the details of my character's action, you won't know (a) whether you prefer to let my Execution stand as I stated it, or (b) what to say either way, now that it's your turn to talk.

An example showing effect 2:
Me: I raise. Physical, not fighting. 9.
You: Well, I want the 3d6 fallout, so maybe I'll take the blow. I wonder if there's some reason I shouldn't.
You: ...
You: Hey you didn't tell me your raise. What is it?
Me: Oh! Yeah, I jump out the window and run into the stable.
You: Oho, I remember, earlier you said that you left your big, excellent shotgun with your horse. I see with 2 dice to block it: I see you looking at the window and I get in front of it so you can't just dive out.

The third effect is where traits and escalation come in, and it's the least important. At the beginning of resolution, we say where the action's taking place and we say which dice everybody rolls up-front. If you want to change the venue, or if you want more dice, you have to make raises or sees that give them to you. The rules for all of those things are based on the details of the characters' actions, but that's no guarantee that we won't mumble through. Here's the guarantee: you want more dice, but I don't want you to have them, and I'm entitled to know what your character's done to give them to you. Consequently, if you mumble through but invoke more dice, I'm going to stop you and ask you what your character actually did.

An example showing effect 3:
Me: I raise. I put my gun up to your eye and blow you away. 9.
You: I see with 2 dice so I can block or dodge. I'm going to roll these 2d8.
Me: Wait, what? How come?
You: Oh! I have "slippery as an eel 2d8." I slippery myself right out from in front of your gun and you blow a hole in the wall instead.
Me: Cool, that makes sense. Dammit.

Furthermore, if you're mumbling through but I think I might have maneuvered you into giving me more dice, I'm going to stop you and ask you what your character actually did.

An example showing effect 3a:
Me: I raise. I jump out the window and run into the stable. 9.
You: I see with 2 dice. I block you.
Me [looking at "shoving people out windows 2d8" on my character sheet]: What's your block? Are you between me and the window?
You: Oh, um, no, I trip you as you go by, you fall at the window and I'm over here. Laughing.
Me: Cool, that makes sense. Hmph.

Escalation works the same way. When I escalate, it's to get dice.

Escalation, traits, relationships, belongings - since you don't want me to have more dice, and since you're entitled to know what my character's done to give the dice to me, if I try to mumble through you'll stop me and ask.


21. On 2009-06-17, Brand Robins said:


That reminds me of how, back in the early days of Dogs, a lot of folks wanted to know why fallout was done by specific blow taken, rather than by "general theater of current level of escalation."

I didn't realize, back then, that the reason I was always so against "theater of escalation" fallout was for exactly the reasons you just described—it moves the game into game as dice moving, rather than game as interplay of dice and fiction.

Cool. Learn something new every day.


22. On 2009-06-17, John Jenskot said:

I think I posted this on Anyway before but a few years ago an old friend of mine after playing Dogs commented, "this game forces you to roleplay."


23. On 2009-06-18, Callan said:

"I don't understand! I don't get what you're teasing about."
Well, it seems that while conflict resolution resolves what's actually important to the players about a conflict, in leaving behind task resolution all the little actions (tasks!) of how they arrive at a resolution have been lost along with task resolution. I'm just teasing a bit since it seems like looking longingly at the task in task resolution, after indie design kind of fell in love with conflict resolution.

I mean, the details of our actions...these were called tasks, not long ago. So I tease a little :)


24. On 2009-06-18, Vincent said:

Oh lord. No, no they weren't.

Dogs in the Vineyard, for instance, is pure 100% conflict resolution.

I agree with you that there's been an unfortunate fad in indie design away from our characters' concrete actions, and that some people - even some designers - have associated it with conflict resolution vs task resolution, but they're mistaken.


25. On 2009-06-22, Abkajud said:

Hey, Callan!
Fortunately, my players tend to be intensely concrete in their descriptions of actions, which at least keeps this problem that you're describing from occurring.
On the other side of it, I really, really do have to say "so the stakes are..." every single time, and if I don't, they go right back to task resolution, with no mention of stakes.


26. On 2009-06-22, Abkajud said:

On further reflection, I'm realizing that there is no structure to what's at risk in the game mechanics I've been working on - not like Dogs, anyway. There's a loose, figure-it-out kind of method in place at present; also, I've been focused mainly on getting people to admit what they want to happen if they *win*.
Getting folks to be creative with what happens if they lose seems like a bit much at the moment.


27. On 2009-06-25, Paul T. said:

I hope this isn't too off-topic, Vincent, but I have a quick question. You said:

"Dogs in the Vineyard [...] is pure 100% conflict resolution."

The way I've been playing it is, if you Raise with some attempt to do something (a task), and I Take the Blow, that task has succeeded. For instance, if you say "I jump out the window", and I Take the Blow, you've jumped out the window, no argument.

Am I picking a nit that's irrelevant to this or am I misunderstanding the Dogs rules?

(By the way, I really like this post of yours. Excellent game design advice, and I plan to get some serious mileage out of it. Thanks!)


28. On 2009-06-25, Vincent said:

"A raise is something your opponent can't ignore" means that every action you have your character take is a move in a conflict.

It's not that tasks and conflicts are incompatible, mutually exclusive, in the Big Model. It's a matter of "do your rules resolve conflicts, or do they resolve only tasks?"

Playing by most conflict resolution rules - well, most except for the I—E ones - of course you'll establish what your character does successfully, and unsuccessfully. You can't resolve a conflict between characters without establishing what they DO.

If I haven't managed to explain myself here, ask again!


29. On 2009-06-26, David Artman said:

VERY interesting and thought-provoking post and thread. You're making me have to rethink everything about ASCII @HACK by saying far more clearly what one playtester said like this: "It's clever, I dig it, but why would I role-play if it's really all about resource min-maxing and instantiating things for dice?" Even then, I know that he meant mostly "creatively describe actions" and possibly even "act in character;" but what he was trying to really get at is what you've explained above.

Color me impressed. Again. Must get boring to hear that, eh? ;^)

As a potential illuminating aside, I am happy to realize that I will not have to address this hardly at all for GLASS. That's my real baby (I'm reluctant to even birth it, let alone watch when people change it!!) and I read the above and though, "Oh, shit, is GLASS like I__E?" And I think it isn't, and for an interesting (to me, maybe to you) reason: it's LARP rules. I may well have to go to the LARP board and do some linking to here, because you point out one of the major reasons that LARP isn't the same as table top.

There's is no need for details and explanations of how you are resolving a conflict. You swing your weapon and hit or not; you maneuver and duck and weave; you incant (or not) your spells or powers, throw packets or spread arms or point; you discuss tactics and plans. It's all live, you see and do all that; and GLASS in particular is designed to be the most "invisible" system it can be while supporting the most (multi-)genre conventions. As such, it can't (well, OK, shouldn't) become mired in system wankery or "roll playing."

Enough crowing, though—I just wanted to point out this distinction. Hmm... and come to think of it, it's not even really true of all LARPs—non-contact systems tend to turn into turn-based, step-by-step, phased task resolution (especially in a mass battle) where everyone's more concerned with resource management and winning at roshambo (and getting it the fuck over with) than remaining in character or stunting or creative details.

You want detail and creativity? Go to a boffer LARP! It's also better exercise than 12oz curls and Cheetos munching. :^)


30. On 2009-07-02, Josh W said:

I never got the "but it never actually happens" bit before. I thought that was a little bit mad actually! But now I think I get it: You want a moment where "the how" is fleshed out. Do they swing their first? Do they dive head-first? Or in another example, what's their tone of voice like? How do they first introduce the problem? Do they mention that old forgotten thing?

Or do they just say "you convince them not to leave"? It's like those stupid comedies where someone says "I don't know how you talked me into this". When I see that, I almost want to shout at the screen "Neither do your writers!", :P it's just lazy. You can almost imagine the dice rumbling in the background! Now I have only one friend who plays this way, and he's also the one interested in playing boring games he knows how to win. He's not so into the how, the moment of action itself, he's into the payoff, and he wants to get there as fast as possible!

I on the other hand am more zen than that, thank God! Although that does get me into sticky scrapes with over-compliant GMs: If I set a character's goals, then ten seconds later they have them! They don't realise that what I'm into is using goals like the aiming in peggle, a way to cause a chain of interesting events. I wouldn't be too bothered if they never hit that point, so long as the intervening effects are cool. Although I may feel sorry for the character and try to get them little breaks periodically!

Callan, well spotted, crunchy task based games, laborious as they may be, insure that people mention that stuff!

This very issue has stalled my conflict resolution based game for ages, though I couldn't put it into words; I wanted the game to be about actually talking through what happens, even though the dice only answer one question! My resolution (to the problem of resolution)? Force the dice mechanic to ask how you do stuff, like I always used to, but structure it more than "yeah that sounds convincing", and give help to the weaker player if their character is better than them at something.

That last part shows some of the danger of giving these things teeth; they can chew up the inexperienced! If someone says their character plays the piano, then shouldn't they then say what chord progressions, rhythm and tempo? We ask the same of people in combat. So anything that requires players to specify such things should not underline their ignorance. So here is one mechanic; players may use their characters skill to pick up on the skill of another player at the table, and ask them how their character might achieve such a thing. They explicitly have waffle protection, so if someone goes on about 70 calibre needle point rounds or whatever they can cut them off, but that player has the opportunity to help them flesh out the action to their satisfaction, if the player gives it.

I hope such a structure will mean that those players who would previously over-rule people with their superior knowledge, now act as contractors to fulfil a brief, which is given by intent and skill level, and perhaps by general ideas of strategy that the original player adds, with them being final arbiter of what their character does. So they are now asking players to make it fit to their satisfaction, while still getting to appear as experts.


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