Enthusiastic assent is better than formal authority

Time for some fun in the post-Forge moonscape.

Jason D’Angelo wrote a very insightful analysis of part of Apocalypse World, and (in a comment) linked to Vincent Baker at  http://lumpley.com/index.php/anyway/thread/466 as being something that sets up a key idea for understanding that analysis. In that post, Baker makes three claims:

    1. “Moment-to-moment assent trumps pre-agreed authority, in every case.”
    2. “Any well-designed roleplaying game will assign (at least some) authority upfront.”
    3. Some very good designers consider the assignment of authority to be the point of rpg design. I do not.”

As I find common for the Forge and its hinterlands, that sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure what it meant. And it was clear from the first few comments that no-one else was sure either. My heart sank as a mess of confusion followed. Baker took a long time to express himself clearly; his many interlocutors took a long time to ask clear, explicit questions that squeezed said clear expression out of him. Sadly, when I go back to the Forge or its diaspora, this is my usual experience — it’s like there’s treasure there, but it’s sunk deep in a swamp.

There was a happy ending this time, though — having read the whole discussion, I think Baker’s point is fairly simple and quite useful.

What Baker is saying, put simply

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Levels of detail for NPC design

Status — Conjecture, mostly untested. I have a suspicion that “levels” aren’t the best way to go about most of this — perhaps a flat list (“do at least three of…”), or a set of conditional rules (“if they’re ostensibly an ally of a PC, then describe…”), would be better.


I’m writing this for my Beyond the Forest games. Key properties:

  • Minimal rules complexity, characters are mechanically simple
  • The story emerges from PCs pursuing their Burning Wheel -style beliefs — there is no “plot”

The Levels

Level 1 — People that exist

Give them:

  • Name
  • Build point value
  • One descriptive thing

Level 2 — People that persist

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Smart prep and conceptual density

Some good articles I’ve read recently:

  • Joseph Manola observes that good setting and adventure materials have a kind of conceptual density that makes them novel yet cohesive.
  • Justin Alexander has written two articles about what he calls “smart prep”. I agree with just about everything in the first one; I think that’s true for the second one as well, but I feel like I need to process it some more.

Joseph is talking about using third-party sources, while Justin is talking about making your own material, but there is a common theme — support material that’s no better than the ideas you can improvise on the fly is a waste of time. It’s not just neutral — it’s actively bad.