Buffy vs PTA (?!)

Monday, July 18, 2005

John Kim responded to my rant on his livejournal. His post is a bewildering apology for traditional games, a kind of case study of his BtVS game, and a vague review of a game he has never played. It's... well, I have no words. You have to go see it for yourself.

I just found it recently. My response is farther down in the comments. I'm trying to engage in a useful dialogue with John, but lately his posts on the various blogs have left me shaking my head in befuddlement. Mr. Kim and I go way back in our Internet discussion history (to the early days of r.g.f.a. circa 1994) so I want to try and keep it going. But man... I'm at a loss right now.

I feel like by pointing out that there are other types of games in the world (and yes, in a somewhat loud, ranting fashion), I have kicked his dog and pushed his mom down the stairs. He is rallying to the defense of things that I enjoy and participate in, as if I was hellbent on their destruction. I can't figure out why.

23 Comments:

Anonymous tim says:  

Not sure why he feels that way. Though at times as a (semi fence sitter) it seems to me that to some extent those who are fans of 'the way things are' are trucking along merrily, happily then someone says 'But this is better! Brilliant! New!" and whether that is true or not the way its presented, the attitude which seems to be expressed, is that the old way--and those that enjoy it, are some how wrong and terrible.

You are not. That I have seen one of those people, but I've seen more than my share of the type who come from a certian forum. Treating each new game created as the holy icon, to beholden to. (First it was Sorcerer, then Paladin, now PTA snf now The Shadows of Yesterday.)

Sometimes the Enthusiasm in this less than emotionally telling medium comes off more as disdain, or contempt, than earnest "Hey this is so cool!"

Now I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I've seen both earnest enthusiasm that if I didn't know the person well, would mistake it all the same. And I've seen disdain come from a certian people who are regular "that" forum posters. But it isn't really the forum's fault, all places have their rats.

Yet some people can't tell the difference.



Anonymous tim says:  

After reading the whole lengthy back and forth thing. I shake my head at the whole thing *L*

How's that for fence sitting.

I understand (I think) what he's saying.



Blogger John Kim says:  

OK, from my perception, you seem to be taking some issue with my behavior -- and I don't see what. The point of "PtA vs Buffy" was explaining the reasoning behind my choice of system for a particular campaign.

Yet you seem to have read it as "John is up in arms defending for traditional gaming in general", which it certainly was not. It was a post about my campaign and explaining my choices regarding it.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Well... I find that hard to believe, frankly. Your post about your Buffy game didn't appear out of the blue. It was directly in response to my rant about the way "traditional" games try to handle cinematic situations by shoehorning a wargame.

If you weren't posting it as a rebuttal to my rant, why quote me at the beginning?



Blogger John Kim says:  

It was prompted your rant, but that doesn't mean that that I'm out to attack anything and everything which you say.

To the extent that you are ranting against how we have been playing in our Buffy campaign, then yes, I'm going to disagree with you. I don't think you've kicked my dog, but as far as I can see, your rant does apply directly to what we do. So as far as it applies, I'm going to disagree. In particular, I think that representational mechanics can be a fine tool for dramatic roleplaying.

But that doesn't mean that I'm standing up for every single "traditional" game. There are lots of games out there which I think suck.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Fair enough, John. I misjudged your motivations. Which I probably shouldn't have been judging in the first place.

I think I've gotten a little too touchy on this subject, anyway, which has kept me from being as clear as I could be.

I still think that there is a world of difference between (forgive the jargon) Nar play priorities and *simulating* a dramatic TV show. Unisystem supports the latter, and think the latter is what you're doing.

My rant can probably be boiled down to, "I'm tired of so-called "new" games that are just another re-hash of simulation mechanics. I have a million games built to do this. More than enough. There are many other ways to make RPGs and I'm excited about exploring those other ways, in terms of design. As a player, I like every kind of play."

With the bitching removed, does that make sense?



Blogger John Kim says:  

I'll buy that.

I'm have further thoughts on lack of diversity, which I'll post about.



Anonymous tim says:  

See:

"I'm tired of so-called "new" games that are just another re-hash of simulation mechanics."


Isn't this a bit of a flawed representation of GNS model since isn't G-N-S about choices made within a game by players and GM?
(Now games can help support a given set of choices, but a game in and of itself is not G-N-or-S as I understand it from the get go.)


Unless of course the Forge crew has yet again reworked their arguments.



Blogger Elliot Wilen says:  

I think it is a bit flawed although what you say about GNS also isn't right. (But I won't get into that.) GNS as currently expressed contains a concept of "Vanilla Narrativism". For the term to meaningful, it must be possible to prioritize Nar without using any special mechanics.

Now I have some problems with the GNS model right at the Vanilla Nar/Sim boundary, but that is the definition.



Blogger John Harper says:  

I said simulation, not Simulationism. I'm not being flippant, either. The terms are not the same.

"Simulation" means what it has always meant. It's not a special theory term.



Anonymous tim says:  

Except you brought it up right after mentioniong Nar priorities which suggestions it has something to do with the G-N-S divide. (Two too similar (related axiomatic) terms used in a too tight context and people wonder why I argue for better defined terms.)



Eliot: What definition? You didn't present one.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Tim: Sorry, but it happens. I didn't come up with the terms and I'd really rather not discuss them (the words for the terms themselves) here.



Blogger Elliot Wilen says:  

John--got it. My bad. I will note that orthodox GNS does say that John K's game could be a Nar-prioritized game under Unisystem. (I.e., Vanilla Nar.) That doesn't mean it is, and if the two of you agree that it's Sim or whatever, I'm not in a position to disagree.

Tim, Vanilla Narrativism essentially means prioritizing Narrativism without using certain "overtly narrativistic" techniques/mechanics. So that we don't hog John's blog, if you want to discuss this further, please contact me by email at elliot doughnut wilen at gmail doughnut com (perform the obvious transmutations to get a real address).



Blogger John Harper says:  

Feel free to talk GNS here if you want to. I just don't want to have a debate over terms. They're set now, so let's just use them.



Blogger Elliot Wilen says:  

Nah, I'd rather go to email before I stick my foot any further in it--unless you really want to see a newbie GNS discussion and/or facilitate one.



Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

I'm tired of so-called "new" games that are just another re-hash of simulation mechanics.

So say we all.

"But my method for determining point costs for specialization skills is really good!"



Anonymous tim says:  

"
So say we all."


===
If it ain't broken don't fix it. :D (that is tongue in cheek) problem is I've not seen a game that does it "right" for many genres I enjoy.

Until then well I'm not tired of it--I'm tired of them not doing it "right" but that doesn't mean there isn't something in there somewhere.

And to be fair--that kind of thing sells.

Good or ill it does.



Blogger Bankuei says:  

Hey,

Just wanted to at least thank you for answering the questions I was posing about Buffy (whether you intended to or not).

I figured Unisystem was probably another bog-standard system with a pretty license slapped on top (like LOTR games, Star Wars games, and all the anime licenses from R. Talsorian), hoping that including a specialized list of weapons and laundry list of powers will magically recreate the pacing and themes of the given license.

For the most part, I figure these games try to produce as much of a "not-obstrusive" system as possible and ride the fan enthusiasm wave as hard and far as it will go.

In the end, for these games, "system doesn't matter" because in order to get all that juicy good stuff that generated the fan enthusiasm in the first place- it all has to be built from the ground up by each group- theme, pacing, addressing issues, etc.

I can't wait for the day when we get a game system that supports the cool stuff in a license.

Chris



Blogger John Harper says:  

Yeah, Unisystem is pretty bog-standard. It's a good example of a light system, though, for what that's worth. And the Drama Points, while hardly original, are handled in a deft way.

But, as you say, theme, pacing, addressing issues... all of that is left for the group to figure out on its own.

The Buffy RPG has a little mini episode guide in it (I think Angel does too... I've hardly cracked that book since I got it, so I'm not sure). I've been thinking that the episode guide would be a great place to include clear methods for emulating the show, on an episode to episode (or even scene to scene) basis. Like, using the episode descriptions as case studies for how to structure your own episodes, with procedures for how to get that done.

I'm also totally with you about the "not-obtrusive" system. I've heard many GMs describe their ideal game system in that way. "It stays out of the way so we can play the way we want to." That's far from the kind of play I usually want, but if that's what you're after, a kind of light physics-engine thing is maybe exactly what you need.

I mean, if your group has already mastered the procedures and techniques to get the play you want, you're already using a functional system. Just one that isn't written down. I take issue with it when people describe such play as "playing Unisystem" or "playing Fudge" though, because the actual systems being used during play are not contained in those rules sets.



Blogger Elliot Wilen says:  

As a wag (not a troll) let me ask: does PTA really have the whole system? Or does it depend on prior experience along with folk wisdom acquired over the Internet, at playtest sessions/demos, etc?

I'm sure that if anything was missing in the first edition, much of it has been addressed in the new edition. But isn't the ultimate test of the system-as-text how well the game would work if you threw it into a room of complete gamer newbies?



Blogger John Harper says:  

If you follow the instructions presented in the text, I firmly believe that PTA can be played by anyone.

I have not tested this theory extensively, though. I've given the book to utter gaming newbies and it made sense to them and we were able to talk constructively about it. One person said, "THIS is what roleplaying games are like? I thought it was all about swords and chain mail and monsters and stuff. I would actually do this [PTA]."

But I haven't seen or heard of an all-newbie game, so I can't say exactly how it would go.



Blogger Phil says:  

I've been thinking that the episode guide would be a great place to include clear methods for emulating the show, on an episode to episode (or even scene to scene) basis. Like, using the episode descriptions as case studies for how to structure your own episodes, with procedures for how to get that done.

I have a suspicion that the Farscape d20 game actually touches on this, but I can't recall. Someone remind me to look at this when I get back from vacation.



Blogger Matt Wilson says:  

As a wag (not a troll) let me ask: does PTA really have the whole system? Or does it depend on prior experience along with folk wisdom acquired over the Internet, at playtest sessions/demos, etc?

In general, the people who have trouble with it are the ones with prior experience, thinking that their years of playing D&D will help them play PTA the way it helped them play GURPS. It tends to do the opposite.

The book doesn't spend a lot of time on the required unlearning, but I had to make a decision at some point to refuse the responsibility in the book to advise the would-be player not to make a whole lot of assumptions.



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