Deconstructing the Future 4: I Care About What You Do, Not What You Care About

In Shock:Social Science Fiction, your character has a number of characteristics: Two pair of Praxes, a list of Features that might grow over time, and Links, discussed back in Part 2 of Deconstructing the Future.
Praxis stands in, in many ways, for the “stats” of many roleplaying games and, at the same time, for “alignment” in D&D and its offspring — and you’ll notice that it shares some of the weaknesses of alignment, as a result.

However, because they’re proposed in play, they establish what the players — not the designer — want to be the core set of ethical questions as the fiction develops. Along with the Grid and Audience, they establish the authorship powers that the players have over their experience of play.

What You Did vs. Why You Did It

Praxis, as they exist right now, conflate the way a character gets things done with their reason for doing it. If you’ve played a lot of Shock: you’ve seen it happen: an Antagonist sees that a Protagonist wants something, and then says, “Ah, you want x! I want y!”… but then they sort of ask around the table in an undesigned process which Praxis should be the one for them to use.

Passing Judgment

The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze, however, demands that you keep your motives secret (the text actually says that you must lie about them, knowing that any truth you tell might, itself, be told to mislead those who now assume you are lying). Instead of revealing your motivations explicitly, you must reveal them diagetically — through your character’s actions. The game cares about what you want, but only insofar as it directly impacts the world. This is for a couple of reasons. One is that the Sword & Sorcery genre is fecund with florid prose; descriptions gush with evocative verbs, the poetry riding metaphor tumbling over metaphor, simile over simile, like the Golden Horde astride its horses. In the pursuit of that type of description, I want players to first grasp the hilt of the senses, the somatic experience, not the equivocability of intent.

Philosophically, this is one of the assertions of Name of Bronze that comes from my Jewish background: good and evil are not inherent qualities of one’s heart, but qualities of the outcomes of behaviors — sometimes unavoidable ones. One’s intention is only relevant insofar as it’s an indication of future behaviors, and I want the players to view each other through their actions, not as whether they subscribe to a set of beliefs about the morality of those actions. The game is, after all, inspired by the same world that inspired Hammurabi to describe a set of laws to limit vendetta by giving its power to the city state. There is no premise here of an objective morality, just the impact that actions have on people and the suffering of their existence.

From a game design perspective, it also allows some freedom. By claiming to not care (hint: this is a lie) about the motivations of characters, it also lets me ask a simple question of the players: “Did this character make one of the four moves on this list?” That is far clearer than, “Did the character act in the spirit of one of these four intentions?

Shock: is interested in the players as authors first. But it’s also interested in them as Audience, and is interested in the artist’s expression as much as their intent. So, in Shock:Human Contact, I took a baby step by changing the phrasing a little: When an Antagonist notices that their Protagonist partner wants something, they ask, “What are you doing to get it?”

The player then describes what they’re doing and the Audience decides which Praxis that falls under. It’s a patch, but it’s one that works OK; it gets information passing in the right order, which means that the conversation increases the context and detail of the evolving circumstances of the fiction.’

Looking Forward to Dying on that Space Station

This is one of the main new design points I want to introduce into Shock:2 and is one of the first things I want to introduce in my next series of articles, Space Stations to Die On. In Shock:2, Praxis will, themselves, take input from the characers’ actions and output new circumstances. My intention is for these to work like taking action does in The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze, where the setting determines the possible outcomes of the kinds of action that the setting allows.

The question is how I can design the process modularly so that I can express to players how to do it for themselves.

This is how I see the creative process:

I design several sets of Praxes. They are designed for the kinds of circumstances that I want to play in and therefore will probably be the kinds of circumstances other players will want to play in, too. They will take input from player actions and output opportunities for both Antagonist and Protagonist to influence outcomes, tuned for orthogonal outcomes per the previous article, Irony: An Outcome Converse or Contrary to the Expected.

Sets of these will be in place, ready for players to use them as they will.

While designing those Praxes, I’ll note what my interests are and how I express or compromise them. That process is one that I’ll encourage players to take as they design new ones, ideally pointing toward open areas that I wasn’t interested in exploring. I want to see what other players do with the process.

Whoops, Getting Ahead of Myself

Oh, hey, I’m starting to talk about solutions. That’s not for this series at all! And that means that this is the final article in the Deconstructing the Future series. I’m really looking forward to being able to design solutions as part of Space Stations to Die On! Please share this article as well as links to my Patreon so I can keep working toward Shock:2! I’m excited to share these ideas with you!

The only Solarpunk RPG I've ever seen.
The Fifth World is on my very short list of real science fiction RPGs. It sits with FreeMarket, Paranoia, and Shock: and not much else.

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