Inspired by response to this, in turn inspired by this

It appears to be the majority opinion that some quality of the impact of game systems prevents authoritative answers as to the impact of special in-character knowledge of the rules-as-metaphysics in a system-agnostic manner (i.e. in a general manner with specific differences between general system categories based of off general principles).

I currently disagree with this opinion, but am aware I am likely wrong because I do not understand this position at all. How and why does the impact of special in-character knowledge of the rules-as-metaphysics vary between game systems? If this is not possible to answer, what is it about system differences that makes no general theory of the impact of in-character knowledge formulatable? What prevents these issues from being overcome?


The question "How does a post-modernist cosmology affect a game?" is not answerable because different rule systems behave so erratically different (i.e. they form a chaotic system) that either no possible unifying principle can be applied or such a principle would require more effort than it is appropriate to ask for from this site (this is a reasonable position). I don't understand why or that this is the case. Explain.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like it should be migrated to meta. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 3 '14 at 5:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This ... may... be a duplicate of your prior closed question. If it isn't, it's very hard to tell what specific problem you're having that isn't just discussion based. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 5:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ We also strongly discourage asking new questions that are restatements of closed questions. That's what editing is for. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 5:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton This isn't a restatement of his closed question, it's a question asking why his previous question is unaswerable. Hence, meta. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 3 '14 at 5:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ A compelling point. Migrating. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 5:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Accurate to a point. I expect the answer to this question to either explain how the change varies across systems or why that can't be explained. I will then use that to reformat or delete the other question. I thought about editing, but this is a very different question. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 6:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Am I the only one who finds the first paragraph to be almost complete gibberish? Could someone unfold it or give an example please. \$\endgroup\$ – user4075 Dec 3 '14 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ClaraOnager better? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a note, the answers to this question do not actually answer the question as posed, but instead answer the question that was closed as too broad, making this question moot by indicating the underlying position is in fact incorrect. The only exception is the answer by GMJoe (which I think is wrong). I have accepted an answer because it was very helpful to me and also very well written, though it could benefit from a short intro actually responding to the question as posed. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Answers on meta are not required to rigidly answer the question, so long as they contribute to the discussion of the issue at hand. The answer you've accepted says the same thing that GMJoe's does: "the the impact on differing games of "rules as metaphysics" varies". That's why the original question was closed: it was unanswerable except with a impossible answer covering every possible system+play combination, or with opinions lacking substantial experience or citations (as has been done here, because meta doesn't require GS/BS). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie But the answer I accepted has citations... Other than that, your comment makes sense though. Is there a meta help center I could be directed to for such policies? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 4 '14 at 6:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really… just kinda, spending time and observing what does and doesn't fly on meta. It's the place where we figure out how to run the site, so by nature it's pretty unconstrained. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 4 '14 at 6:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure if moving this to meta even is good precedent - this is a classic "forum discussion question, hence it's closure on the main site. I appreciate that y'all have enjoyed kicking it around but moving forward let's not use meta as "main site but without the rules," ok? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 7 '14 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Do you mean this question is a forum discussion question or the first one I linked to is? If it's the latter, you should probably add that as an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 7 '14 at 23:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This one (both really). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 7 '14 at 23:56

Once you start introducing "rules as metaphysics" into the imagined space, a few things start to happen. The first is that you'll see characters start to "reason" out the effects — Earthdawn, for instance, has levels of initiation that can correspond to character levels, and in one book for Vampire: the Masquerade, an NPC scientist discovers the "vitae efficiency unit," which players will recognize as the "blood point." (There are some who say that the game Paranoia started out this way: the multiple clones were meant to represent players who just recreated the same character again and again after dying.) At this point, the intrusion of the rules into the metaphysics is mild, and doesn't harm the verisimilitude very much.

The second level is where characters in the game are so exposed to the rules as they intrude into the imagined space that they no longer behave in ways untainted by the knowledge. This is the Order of the Stick level -- characters talk openly about spell levels and saving throws and the like -- or something like Buffy, where people make inside jokes about the genre they're in. (Remember "Normal Again," where Buffy is flashing between the world of the story as we know it and a world where she's a mentally ill girl and all the plot holes and dramatic contrivances are held up as signs of her madness? Like that.)

The third and final level of rules as metaphysics intrusion is where the characters have so much access to rules knowledge that they eventually understand that they are characters in a game being played. (No lie -- there's an Over the Edge scenario where this is the end state.) At this point, gameplay generally devolves into pawn stance as the players lose the incentive to roleplay or the game becomes an exploration of metafiction.

Thus, the impact on differing games of "rules as metaphysics" varies based on their resilience to parody and camp. In your example, if the GM describes Charles as "checking an Aspect," it's akin to saying that "Charles looks at Alice's watch -- not Bob's, Alice's -- and sees that there's only ten minutes left, so he has time to make his escape." (The "ten o'clock monster" from LARP, as another example.) If Charles understands Aspects, then Charles understands Fate Points, which means that Charles stops acting in ways recognizable to Alice as "like a person." How important that is will vary from system to system and setting to setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I appear to have used a lot of words to express what @Brian Ballsun-Stanton has done in few. I hope I've at least entertained in the process. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Dec 3 '14 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ A curious inversion, mate :) The examples are quite useful. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 6:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The God Learners of Glorantha are the first instance of the third level that I know of. Also, see 'Genre Savvy' in tvtropes for many examples of the second level. \$\endgroup\$ – user4075 Dec 3 '14 at 9:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ClaraOnager I'm pretty sure the God Learners didn't think they were characters in a game. At best level two: they became aware of and able to exploit the metaphysics of Godtime. Arguably though, they were actually level one, since they were more concerned with creating an in-universe understanding of observable phenomenon, like the blood point example here, and were not talking openly about RuneQuest success levels, &c. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jadasc The initiation levels in Earthdawn are a poor example, because they are explicitly a level-two awareness and do (not 'can') correspond to character level. A better Earthdawn example is damage: characters know that Strain (the mechanic) is a real thing in-universe (literally reified), but don't/can't speak openly of their damage points. Earthdawn's premise is that mechanics and universe have a 1:1 relationship (so level 1 for all things), but only a subset are identical in-mechanics and in-universe (level two), e.g., Circles, Ranks, Blood Wounds… \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ (But not to leave the wrong impression: overall, excellent answer and a nicely-useful typology; +1!) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '14 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Thanks — I was drawing on old memories of Earthdawn, which I only played briefly. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Dec 3 '14 at 19:00

This is a question of post-modernism and setting. Self-awareness is a post-modernist response to "normal" settings. Any game, in any setting, can be made post-modern and self-aware. Most games, and most published settings do not presume this self-awareness, as the fact of the self-awareness becomes the focus of the narrative, rather than the narrative itself.

Most normal stories do not focus on the mechanics of story, because that's not the story they want to tell. The entire post-modernism movement was founded on exposing the mechanics of art as art.

  • \$\begingroup\$ AH! Excellent! This is what I was looking for originally, sort of. Now I just need to research postmodernism in RPGs to see what it's like and how to run it. Since we're on Meta, How could I have asked a question to get this answer better? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ On a discussion forum. This isn't a problem you're having that has a single correct answer. It's a "guess my problem" question. We don't like those. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 6:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically, this series of questions has required an inordinate amount of discussion which should have occurred either in chat or on a forum. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 6:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ What could tip me off to a question being that kind of question? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Being able to point to the specific, real world problem you're having means that's it's a good question. The further away you get from that, the further away the good question gets. Abstraction is... tricky. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 6:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Also, any question where the only criteria that you can provide for judging which answer is best is "I'll know it when I see it" is a probably too subjective for the Stack Exchange format. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 3 '14 at 6:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. What @GMJoe said as well. Having a specific problem, and being able to identify what a "best answer" would contain are both good signs. Being able to articulate what would make an answer is a bad sign. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 3 '14 at 6:13

The relationship between rules and in fictional setting varies by system. For any two given systems and settings, the rules will simulate different things, for different reasons, in order to produce different kinds of stories.

In a game like GURPS, for example, the rules an (extremely approximate) simulation of the physical laws that govern the game world and the experiences of its characters, and the difficulty of an action is governed by (for example) the abilities and circumstances of the character and the resources and expertise required to achieve the task. In a system like Fate, on the other hand, the rules are built around resolving the dramatic moments of stories that take place within a world, and the difficulty of an action is governed by how dramatically important the action is and how interesting the consequences of failure and success are. In each game, the consequences of characters knowing about the "rules" would be drastically different; In GURPS, a character might try to find rules contradictions or loopholes they could exploit; In Fate, a character might try and ramp up (or eliminate) the dramatic stakes in order to improve their chances of success.

Because the way in which the rules of the game relate to to the fictional world can vary so much, the consequences of characters being aware of the rules will change from one game to the next.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems to just say "the rules vary, so the impact varies". Is that accurate? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 3 '14 at 6:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Yes. Though I feel a strange compulsion to stress that it's not just that the rules can work differently in one system when compared to another - the rules might be working towards completely different ends, by completely different means, and govern completely different aspects of play. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 3 '14 at 6:07

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