Musashi: Suppressing Useful Actions

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions.

A Book of Five Rings (The Fire Book), Miyamoto Musashi

The diametric opposite of role-playing game design. Informatively so.

Game design acid test: if your rules block ideas the players want and you don’t have an excellent reason for it, you’ve got a design problem. Players will work around it, because players are smart and adaptive, but now they’re fighting your game. Design fail.

And then you say “But you wrote Microscope?!? It restricts player contributions all the time! And I had a great idea I couldn’t use!” And I say yes, it gives huge creative power to different people at different times for very specific and fruitful reasons. Your restriction is another player’s field day.

    Ben Robbins | September 5th, 2011 | | hide comments
  1. #5 ben robbins says:

    Hey, no one said it would be easy being a devil’s advocate. The hours are long, the pay is small, and the office is very, very hot.

    I think your summary is pretty good. But look at the constraints thing in practical terms, rather than abstract. When you design rules what you’re really doing is gambling. You don’t know what’s going to happen at the table, a year later, in another state, between a bunch of people you never met. You’re trying to predict what rules you should create that will help those mythical-to-you people have a great game. You’re hedging your bets to instigate fun under completely unknown conditions.

    So when you get in the groove of “maximum constraints, minus one”, it may be very hard to know what the successful limit is, how far you can go without crushing toes. It’s a riskier bet, to use my metaphor. Which isn’t necessarily bad, so long as you know you’re intentionally going risky. You need to design much more carefully (which you should anyway).

    Like I said during the GMless Workshop, I think there’s a lot to learn from Fiasco’s popularity. It has remarkably few constraints. It’s _which_ constraints it has that are important.

  2. #4 Morgan says:

    With the arguments written this way, I’m worried that they no longer contradict. Which makes me a bad devil’s advocate. But I also think I may have corrupted your intent. Please correct me.

  3. #3 Morgan says:

    Can I pull an adhoc and simply add a third premise?

    Constraints promote unexpected and surprising creation
    Unexpected and surprising creation should be maximized
    Total constraint allows no creation.
    Therefore, all else held the same, you should have the maximum number of constraints possible, minus one.

    (I’m going to ask Jackson if I can call this the Tegu principle).

    Alternatively, I can’t reproduce your argument satisfactorily. This is the closest I can get:

    In general, players should get the ideas they want.
    Sometimes, there are excellent reasons players shouldn’t get the ideas they want.
    Therefore, players should get the ideas they want except in cases where there is an excellent reason for them not to.

  4. #2 ben robbins says:

    Very good. But there’s a short-circuit in that argument. The “unexpected and surprising creation” in your example is the useful action. A bad rule set would suppress the very thing you’re hoping to achieve.

    So I think your final conclusion should be the opposite: constraints, yes, but as few constraints as possible to get the job done. Not so many that you suppress player input. Maximum constraints equals zero surprises. In fact, it’s a script.

  5. #1 Morgan says:

    I want to play devil’s advocate here:

    Constraints promote unexpected and surprising creation.
    Unexpected and surprising creation should be maximized.
    Therefore, all else held the same, you should have more constraints.

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