Friday, 27 August 2021

Free Kriegsspieling the GLoG: A tale of Language, Barbarians and Popcorn

If you just want to see the current version of Free Laws of Kriegsspiel (FLoK) CLICK HERE


The rest of this post is more or less an attempt to map the influences that must have somehow caused this idea that came to me. This isn't a historical retelling, none of this was in my mind when the very first version of this popped into my head the other day. However, I do not believe myself (or anyone for that matter) to be wholly original, so these ideas probably influenced me in some way or other. After all:


Language

I am fascinated with language, which I think is probably clear from some of my other posts (most notably my post on making fantasy languages more interesting). The one theory about language that I adore most of all is that of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus (yes the same guys from the previous post, different book though).

Very simply put they posit a worldview in which everything functions on the same playing field. Sure words are different from objects, but they aren't so different that one cannot affect the other. To me this makes sense, we constantly use language to change things and the other way around works as well, non-linguistic things clearly influence our language. 

This is all really abstract, but an easy example of language changing things are performative speech acts. Things like opening a meeting, declaring people married and giving people or objects their names. 

An easy example of things changing language are inventions. Whenever we create a new thing it needs a name. Often the association of the name with what a thing does then creates even more words and expressions that eventually infect our language beyond the mere addition of a new word. 

Deleuze and Guattari want to go a lot further with this idea, claiming that all language is something we do to create an effect in the real world. Whenever we ask for the salt, tell people to be quiet or even just when we ask them how they are doing, we try to cause a particular kind of response. In order this would be to be handed the salt, that the person in question shuts up and that we get the answer 'I'm good, how are you?'. Language isn't about communication, it is about causing effects in the world, or in the deliberately dramatic words of Deleuze and Guattari: 'Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience.' (A Thousand Plateaus p.88)

A creative multiplicity: the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari | Aeon  Essays
Dolce and Gabbana in the wild

What's more, for Deleuze and Guattari bodies and signs (or things and language) are two different ways of being that the same entity can take on. Or in their words: '[T]he same x, the same particle, may function either as a body that acts and undergoes actions or as a sign consistuting an act or order-word, depending on which form it is taken up by'.

Again, this seems really abstract, but the idea is quite simple. The couch I am sitting on is a body that I can act upon (for example I can sit on it). However, if I one day come home and the couch has been absolutely ripped to shreds this is a sign (of burglary, or maybe an attack meant to intimidate me or maybe just a sign that my cat has finally lost it). 

In sum, language and bodies are constantly interacting with one another, language is something that is concerned with affecting non-linguistical things and something can shift between being a thing and being language.

I have loved this idea for years, but we are dealing with fantasy here. So rather than model the real world (according to these weird French guys and maybe me), FLoK takes this idea even further. In FLoK, Word and Deed aren't quite the same, but they directly cause one another, without the need for a human interface. Here, actions immediately spawn stories. Even if no one was there to observe it, extraordinary feats cause stories about those feats to come into existence. And those stories of how you stole the Eye of Rawk the Red don't inspire you to become a great thief, they by themselves make you one. Even if you never hear the tale, the fact that it is being told makes you more like you are portrayed. 

Moreover, The Words of Power take that last idea, that something can be a thing at one time and language at another, to the extreme as well. I like consumables because you can make them very overpowered, especially if they are unique. Making all magic basically one of a kind spell scrolls really works well for me, but I would have to see how other people like it in play.

Barbarians

I have never played ICRPG nor any other game by Hankerin Ferinale, of Runehammer fame. From what I have seen his play style doesn't really seem to match my own current preference, and ICRPG seems very gamey for my taste. It does, however, also look fun as heck, and I would love to play a game of it one day, but it is so different from how I like to run my games that I don't think I would soon commit to a long form campaign with that system.

Still, the energy of this guy is absolutely amazing and I watch his youtube channel religiously. I love his mission of 'learning how to play D&D just a little more better' and the DIY approach he has to the hobby. And despite the fact that we seem to come to the table for very different experiences, I find that a lot of his ideas really resonate with me. Even if, often, I do end up doing completely different things with those ideas than he seems to have in mind.

One such idea didn't initially seem to make a lot of sense to me, but recently came rushing back to me. It did so after I had already written the first draft of the FLoK. In a video entitled 'LIVE Creative Classes: A Player's Idea box' in which Hankerin gives his tips on how to play fun versions of D&D 5e classes he says about the barbarian:

'How are you going to be a cool barbarian? First rule when it comes to rolling a cool barbarian: Just roll a fighter. Barbarian is another of these things that they put in the game that makes it seem like there is more game. But really you are just a fighter that is sort of specialised in screaming and chopping. Now this doesn't mean don't be the barbarian character you're visualising, it is what character are you rolling mechanically.' (13:32-14:05)

This, right here, is basically what I want people to do in FLoK. Except for all classes, not just barbarians. And you won't be rolling a fighter and then play that as a different class. Honestly, if I ran it you'll probably start as a peasant or something and do a cool thing and then whatever cool thing you did will give you powers that will enable you to do more things like that more easily. So yeah, if you want to be a barbarian, play like barbarian. Except maybe not a barbarian, because that class is a bit iffy. Maybe play a berserker instead or something. To my knowledge that term is a lot less loaded and a lot more evocative of the things 5e decided to give to all barbarians. 

Björn (Vinland Saga) - Pictures - MyAnimeList.net
When I hear berserker, I think of Bjorn from Vinland Saga. Now that is a cool berserker

Popcorn

Goblinpunch is bound to be an inspiration for a GLoG-FKR mash-up, but I think the most direct influence of Arnold Kemp's system isn't the classes any of the numerical rules. Instead it is his idea of the Legendarium, a place on the character sheet where players write down the awesome shit they have stolen and the amazing milestones they have reached, as well as the stuff they managed to barely survive somehow. 

The groundwork for this was laid in his post called 'Popcorn Leveling and Big Fucking Treasure' and the idea was expanded upon in a post called 'The Legendarium: Diagetic Advancement'.

Treasure (with a capital T) and Milestones result in levels and are recoreded as titles, whereas surviving shit gives you numerical bonusses to resisting that type of damage. FLoK has no levels, nor does it have numerical bonuses, but this basic idea of growing by doing the cool things, getting titles that you can use to describe yourself (or in FLoK that you are being described as) and changing by surviving something that happens to you is baked right into the core of not just the system but the setting. 

But moreso than just this more mechanical inspiration, the GLoG, or Arnold to be precise, has been a massive inspiration to the way I look at rules. In the opening of his amazing adventure (that for some reason no I run it for seems to like very much... I like to think it is me and not the adventure) Lair of the Lamb, Arnold gives a brief overview of his latest version of the GLoG, but starts this off with the following disclaimer: 

'This PDF is meant to be an introduction to the GLOG ruleset, and I hope to publish a book dedicated to that system itself. In these pages you will find enough GLOG to get yourself started.

But here's the thing. There is no unified GLOG, even if you only look at the things I've written. Once you peel back the skin, there's nothing underneath that comprises an essential skeleton. The GLOG is a philosophy—take the rules you like, and discard the rules that you don't. 

That's why the rulebook will never be a higher authority than the DM. The GLOG that can be described is not the True GLOG.'

This is what eventually led me to the OSR, the FKR, and the mindset I was in when writing the FLoK.

Goblin Punch: Gretchlings and Grues
Behold: The face of the True GLOG

Other

Clearly these aren't all influences on the FLoK. 

As always Chris McDowall from Bastionland is probably messing around in there somewhere, with his minimalism and more recent turn towards qualitative game design. I might have momentarily lost focus on Project Social (ADHD am I right?), but that does not mean I have let go of these design principles. Also, the ICI Doctrine probably influenced the idea that you formulate the stakes prior to commiting to an action and rolling the dice.

Writer of the blog Aboleth Overlords, Justin Hamilton, has also played a huge role in getting my mindset where it is today (i.e. one of relying less on rules to model things that could be taken care of with common sense). Especially his 'Less Rules to do More' series was a big influence.

Eric Nieudan, of KNOCK! fame, was the first to introduce me to tags with a project that I am pretty sure is still in the making called Obliviax Oracle, that I still want to use to run a game with some time soon. Also, I have it on good authority that a similar system is used in his Macchiato Monsters, though I have never played it and found it a bit hard to wrap my head around (not your fault Eric, who is definitely reading this I am assuming, my attention span is horrible). 

The first time I actually played a game in which tags feature is Marvelous Mutations and Merry Musicians, so there is no saying if that had a bigger effect on me using tags. 

And finally: everything else, or maybe none of the above? Look, I won't pretend I understand how my mind works and like I said at the start, none of this was actively on my mind at the time of writing. I've read a large amount of books and blogs, watched a bunch of series and movies, and studied a bunch of philosophy and even some literature and cinema theory. Who is to say that boring-ass Kant isn't an influence on this game. Or American Psycho (the book, I haven't seen the movie). This was mostly just a way to share some stuff I think is cool under the guise of showing off my influences. 

Final thougths about FLoK:

The resolution system is basically a coinflip + a 1-in-10 chance to get a special result. I initially wanted to do something with modifiers (based on ICRPG's +3/-3), but I hate having to think about numbers during a game, even simple addition. Crits are something my players seem to love though, and seeing how weird shit happening sort of powers the idea of Renown as well as Scandals and Emberassements having a 1 in 10 change to get either one of those is something that seems like it would work well. 

Negative tags don't seem to be as popular as positive ones, people don't seem to like differentiating themselves in negative traits (though curses, wounds and conditions are often used in tag systems). However, part of the GLoG seems to be this idea that your characters might suck but can still be part of the adventure and I really like that. Rolling a character that is 'frail' and 'weak' but wants to fight epic monsters is a little story waiting to happen and seems a lot more interesting to me than rolling a 'strong' and 'hardy' characters that wants to do the same.

Always moving things forward, even if there is failure is something I am attracted to because I don't play very often or very long (4 hours max and that is already very rare). I accept that nothing happening can be narratively interesting, as it adds weight to both big successes and massive failures by creating suspense, but I simply don't have time for that shit.  

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow in Movies -  DailyArtMagazine.com - Art History Stories
I thought this section could use another picture and Bruegel is the mood I am in.
Also Solaris is such a great fuking movie. Probably had some influence on the FLoK somehow.

As a closing remark, I don't know how much more love this little project will get from me in the future. With my current attention span I find it hard to stay on topic for much longer than a week or 2 (sometimes I can't even manage more than a few days). I pumped this out over the course of 3 days, so if the compulsive drive to continue to work on this stays for a while longer, I might manage to get some more work done on this. However, my teaching semester is starting next week and I would really love to get back to Project Social as it is far bigger in scope (unfortunately...), so be prepared for the possibility that this is all I'll manage to get done on the FLoK.

Friday, 6 August 2021

RPGs as Concepts rather than Definitions

This is another more philosophical post. In fact, outside of the fact that I think the philosophy in this post could be used to help you in your game design, there isn't much here in terms of gameable content. However, I am a pragmatist and I genuinely believe that these insights are of actual use when designing games. 

This post in is part a response to a wonderful video done by Kyle from Map Crow, on the question 'Are RPGs Art?' in which he gives a definition of roleplaying games and one of art and goes on to show how the former meets the qualifiers of the latter, proofing that Kyle can, and I quote 'win any argument as long as [he] can set the definitions.'

Amazon.com: What Is Philosophy? (9780231079891): Gilles Deleuze, Felix  Guattari, Hugh Tomlinson, Graham Burchell: Books

Currently I am reading the wonderful What is Philosophy? by Deleuze and Guattari and I just finished the chapter 'What is a Concept?'. In this chapter the authors present concept making as a typically philosophical endeavor and clearly oppose it to definition making. And it was when I read that, that I found myself reconsidering the points made by Kyle and wanting to approach the question from a conceptual, rather than a definition point of view. First, let's look at what I mean when I talk about definitions:

Definitions

'The concept of a bird is not found in its genus or species but in the composition of its postures, colors, and songs: something indiscernible that is not so much synesthetic as syneidetic.'  What is Philosophy? p.20

Attempting to define something can be done in multiple ways, but I'll be using the method Aristotle formulated as an example: You take something general and add a differentiating special difference, for example: 'Man is a rational animal'. Animal is generic, but what makes one a human rather than a horse or a mouse is that a human is rational, this is the special difference. 

Definitions are almost always compounds, even if we do not use the general-specific difference kind of definition. This is because we are going to be using different terms, which each require their own definitions, to define the thing in question. So to make sense of 'Man is a rational animal' we need to know what 'animal' and what 'rational' mean.

This compount approach was the central approach Kyle took in his video as well, building a definition from elements that made sense in isolation, going from a definition of 'role' and 'play' and 'games' to a definition of 'roleplaying games'. The resulting definition is a bit like a mathmatical equation, build up from seperate parts that can all be considered individually without alterning their meaning.