Monday, 13 May 2013


An interesting post on Hack & Slash  really drives home the differences between our gaming philosophies. 

It is clear reading –C’s article that –C believes that the game stops when one considers the fiction in order to resolve things without rolling dice.  There are others, of course, who view the fiction as the point of the game, and believe that the fiction is impeded by rolling dice unnecessarily.  For those of us who view the game in this manner, dice are only rolled when the outcome is in doubt, or when the action cannot either be modelled at the table or sufficiently described as to remove doubt as to the outcome.

If rolling dice is the game for you, -C’s position here will surely resonate.  I have never read clearer advocacy for roll-playing over role-playing.

-C attempts to use the attack roll as an example “of selecting a move without deciding the fiction first”….but here, “deciding the fiction first” is conflated with “deciding the outcome”, which are not the same thing.  Where the outcome is in doubt, dice are rolled, but the fictive purpose of the die roll (“I attack the minotaur with my axe!”) is decided beforehand.

The die roll arises from the fictional context, and the result of the roll is tied into the fictional context immediately, allowing others to continue to make decisions from the context of that fiction.

Weirdly enough, -C makes a claim in that article that dissociated mechanics are a problem caused by considering the fiction first, which is ass-backwards (as following the link and reading the linked article will readily show). 

An associated mechanic is one which has a connection to the game world. A dissociated mechanic is one which is disconnected from the game world.

The easiest way to perceive the difference is to look at the player’s decision-making process when using the mechanic: If the player’s decision can be directly equated to a decision made by the character, then the mechanic is associated. If it cannot be directly equated, then it is dissociated.

In other words, and more explicitly as the article goes on, a dissociated mechanic is one which does not consider the fiction first.

Finally, -C correctly notes that some people like non-fiction-based games.  Some people even consider games where you are rolling dialogue like combat to be role-playing games.  But it is incorrect to imagine that Pathfinder is not “fiction first” in its aspirations, and it is plainly bizarre to both use Dungeons & Dragons as an example to counter “fiction first” games when trying to discuss the relative sales values of games, while listing it as an example of where the “problem” of fiction-first is encoded in the rules.

In an honest discussion, it should also be noted that the Alexandrian article on dissociative mechanics discusses how the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons specifically and explicitly stepped away from “fiction first” in several of its mechanics…and no one following the industry or the D&D Next materials released by Wizards of the Coast will rationally conclude that the company found this to be a solid financial decision.

A game where the players control elements of the fiction that their characters could not – such as one where the outcome of combat is determined as whatever best meets the “story” or where the players can determine who the NPCs are – steps away from being a role-playing game by virtue of making the players make decisions outside of their roles.  This is why dice (or other mechanics) are used in role-playing games to determine outcomes.

Conversely, a game where die rolls make decisions for characters is not a role-playing game either, simply because the dice, not the player, are making decisions for the character.  Where the results of these decisions – or the nature of the decisions themselves – do not map to the fiction, the result is dissociative mechanics as described by Jason Alexander.


  1. Wow, first Tao, now -C. You should take on Yourdungeonissuck next for the "you're not going to get an honest argument" triple crown.

    1. AFAICT, no meme from Yourdungeonissuck is going to stick long enough in anyone's mind to poison the well.

      Both Tao and Hack & Slash contain enough worthwhile material that what is said there matters. Or potentially matters.

      I don't care what you like to play. But when you point out why what I like to play is a problem for you (and, let's face it, it is going to be for some folks), please be honest about what it is you want, and about the sources you are using. I dislike -C's attempts to use references that say the opposite of what is being claimed, for example, in the vain hope that no one will check.

      But that's just me.

  2. Tao and -C both generate quite a bit of material, it's true. Some of it is even useful. However, in the blogging world, following pages and viewing pages is essentially an expression of support. Much like buying a product is an expression of support for the product/company. Since my personal experience is that neither of these guys is actually interested in discussion, but rather in pushing their own agenda, scoring points or 'winning' the argument, they aren't really worth interacting with or supporting.

    But that's just me. Clearly, you are getting a lot of good food for thought there. Interesting stuff.

  3. Lets take a look at social interactions. It is clear that in a purely roleplaying sense, naturally good talkers will get better results than naturally bad talkers. Because the point of the game is not to fault people for being shy, there are mechanics written into the game rules regarding social interactions. Diplomacy skill, Bluff skill, Sense Motive skill (at least for D&D/PF).

    In a "fiction first" world, I imagine the players coming up with something to say first, and then either rolling the dice or even just getting what they want. But the difference between saying "I ask the barkeep what rumors he has recently heard" and "So, uh, barkeep, like, you know, have you heard any... any... rumors recentl... lately" is that the first is a choice based off of player skill (I am in a new place, go to the bar and ask for rumors) while the second one involves players skill (the same) and social skills (what to say, how to say it etc.). Even in systems where the acting bit is added as a modifier to a future roll penalizes people for not being naturally good at talking.

    Going to both his and your example an attack roll: "I attack the minotaur with my axe" is a player choice. No one would make a person act it out, for example, like people tend to do with social skills, nor do you get to try and force the GM into a result (I attack him for 12 damage) before you actually roll the damage, like saying "I persuade the barkeep to tell us about some quests" before rolling the diplomacy roll would.

    1. A couple of points. First off, I strongly prefer games, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics, which have no skills like Diplomacy, Bluff, or Sense Motive.

      Ideally, the judge takes the character's Personality into account as a "filter" through which the words used are taken into account. This is not at all different than giving a more intelligent character's player more data/clues to work with, or giving the player of a character with darkvision more information about the contents of a pitch-black room.

      In DCC, where an outcome was in doubt, I would call for a Personality check (roll a die, with a result equal to or under you Personality indicating success). The type of die rolled depends upon the motivations of the creature you are attempting to persuade. If you character has an appropriate background, you get a bonus.

      A naturally good talker might not, therefore, get a better result for two reasons: (1) the GM's awareness of the character's limitations, and (2) a roll. (1) is often a clear enough indicator that (2) is not needed.

      I think that both short-hand and long-hand "asking for rumours" has its place at the gaming table. This is similar to short-hand and long-hand searching, actually. "I search the room" requires a roll, and a chance of missing a particular item, while "I look in the drawer" is going to find anything that is obviously in the drawer.

      But then, in a role-playing game, your ability to play a role IS a function of player skill. Because it might involve other skills, such as social skills, tactical skills, or problem-solving skills, this is not any less true.

      If the judge is the filter through which the player experiences the fictive milieu, the character is the filter through which the fictive milieu experiences the player, and a good GM is damn well aware of this.

      People don't generally ask Bob to act out swinging with an axe because it is impractical. LARPers, of course, do ask you to act it out. Even in a tabletop game, the GM might have a prop to ask Bob exactly how he does some physical thing.

      But this is a poor analogy for social skills, unless you are also rolling to determine Bob the player's strategy for having his fighter engage in the combat in the first place....or, for that matter, rolling to determine if Bob chooses the best route in the dungeon. If you go far enough, you are just rolling once to see if Bob's character "wins". Game over.

      You can run a battle as a game of checkers, if you wish, where sides are handicapped based on the advantages of terrain, numbers, special troops, or training. But the less you deal with the players directly making decisions for the characters - the more dissociative your mechanics become - the more you remove playing a role, the less your game is a role-playing game.

      Which is not to say that you cannot like it, or that you cannot prefer it that way.


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