Saturday, June 09, 2012

I think we're getting Dissociated Mechanics wrong

Justin Alexander recently updated his work on Dissociated Mechanics.  I suggest you go read that right now, because I think it's great work in the rewarding field of Trying to Figure Out Why Us Grumpy Oldsters Didn't Dig 4e and also because the rest of the post won't make sense without proper background.

Okay, let's get into this.  When Justin first rolled out this stuff I thought he was doing a pretty good job of describing one of the things bugging me about 4e when I tried it.  At the time I said "People have accused D&D of being a minis game or a video game in RPG drag. To me, it looks a little bit like a Euro style boardgame: an exquisitely balanced abstract game about nothing in particular with a whitewash to give it a little context."

But here's the thing: The more I think about it, the more I realize that our reading of this phenomena needs to be more nuanced than "4e has dissociated mechanics, and therefore it sucks".

Dissociated Mechanics aren't inherently wrong.  Like I implied above, Eurogames make use of a crapload of them.  I think a lot of popular crazy hippy indie RPGs employ them all over the place. And older versions of D&D probably have some dissociated mechanics that are invisible to me because I've been trained by decades of play to make connections that aren't really there.  Even my own house rules have some dissociation, as pointed out by Spawn of Edra at this Lands of Ara post:
Okay so Mr. Big Purple d30 Jeff Rients says a healing surge is a bogus abstraction, and you say it has no game-world logic, then what's the difference between a healing surge and a once per session d30 roll where you can have a damage surge once per session? And that's once per session, not once per game day? How dissociated is that?
The answer is because the d30 rule is awesome. But why is it awesome and the healing surge sucks?
I agree that both the abstracted heal surge rules bite the donkey's ass and that my own d30 house rule is pretty keen.   I also agree that both seem to be dissociated.

So what's happening here?  I think there are at least three important vectors at work:

  1. RPGs of the type I like to play need to lean towards associated mechanics.  For a good associated mechanic to work player intent, character intent, player action and character action need to be analogous.  You can map "I need to kill this fucking wizard" with your PC's thought "Damn, I hate this wizard. I think I'll stick my sword in his belly." and your action (roll to-hit) with the PC's action (poke wizard with sword).
  2. Dissociated mechanics can be incorporated provided they are infrequent, low priority and/or they give the players a fun special advantage.  One of the reasons players love my d30 rule is that they feel they are getting away with something other D&D players aren't able to do.
  3. A well-established play community will not take new dissociated mechanics sitting down, especially in the D&D community, where old dissociated mechanics can be tolerated or explained away with long, boring blog posts about Jack Vance.  Innovative dissociated mechanics are not tolerated, because they innovate away from that analogous play experience outlined in #1.
So I think I'm not against dissociated mechanics per se, I'm against dissociating things that were associated in previous editions.


  1. I think the d30 rule doesn't grate on my nerves because it doesn't apply to a specific action/power/what-have-you.

    "Once per session you have a shot at being extra lucky" isn't the same as "once per day your PC can try to do something he/she should be able to attempt every time they get in a fight."

    Ah. The d30 rule is about the player, not the PC!

    1. I think I'm about to agree with you, in a sense.

      The d30 rule is no more and no less disassociated than rolling the normal dice, for the given action. It's part of the player's out of game perspective, as opposed to the player imagining the PC's point of view.

      4e style disassociated mechanics erode the latter.

    2. Agreed, the d30 rule is an extremely special case that is really about the player only. It does not even pretend to be tied to the PC(s) in any specific way. I think that is why it works and doesn't create the kind of dissonance that healing surges do.

    3. The D30 rule is equally dissociated, and in a similar fashion, to a 4e daily martial power. You're still saying "I attack" but you as a player are in effect manufacturing the opportunity for the PC's attack to be unusually effective in a way the PC can's control or understand.

    4. Something I posted in the comments to the Primer that seems pertinent to this discussion. Someone was asking about Force points from Star Wars D6 (which are very similar to the Big Purple D30 in terms of usage at the table):

      Re: Force/Character/Action/Fate points. In Star Wars D6 we often played the use of these points as someone using the Force to “nudge” the results. In retrospect, I recognize this as being an instinctual desire to associate the mechanic.

      But in general, yes, those are dissociated mechanics. And they’re a great example, because they seem to be a dissociated mechanic that a lot of people who otherwise have problems with dissociated mechanics don’t have a problem with (including myself). I suspect there are several reasons for that: First, they are a flexible tool that can be used by many different creative agendas to alleviate moments of disappointment created by the random chance of the dice.

      Second, the decision to use them is not only dissociated from your character, but in fact completely separate from them. The mechanic offers the player a method of influencing the game world without acting through their character, but it is clearly completely separate from their character. By contrast, if such mechanics require the character to take an action in order to use the Action Point, people start to find the mechanic more problematic.

      Third, the influence on the game world is not so severe that it creates cognitive dissonance between the experience of the character and the experience of the player. (The easiest way to understand this, in my opinion, is to look at the act of exploration in the game world: If mechanics give me the ability to create or control what my character is discovering, then my experience is of a radically different qualitative nature from the character’s.)

      I think these can be valuable criteria to use in assessing whether or not a dissociated mechanic is worth the price (by either raising its value or minimizing its cost):

      1) Does it allow the player to satisfy a creative agenda or other goal in a way that an associated mechanic could not?

      2) Is the player’s decision to use the dissociated mechanic clearly separated from the decisions the player makes while playing their character?

      3) Can the effect of the dissociated mechanic be limited so that the player’s relationship with the game world isn’t fundamentally different than the character’s relationship with the game world?

  2. With the healing surge, for example, it's a dissociated mechanic that becomes a vital and constant part of play. I think you're right that this is one big reason why I find it so annoying.

  3. The thing with 4E is also that it *can* mostly be played completely without referencing the imaginary situation/fiction/made up stuff. You can just move minis around and roll dice and check numbers on paper and it still works fine. That doesn't mean you can't improvise, use the fiction to your advantage etc. But you _don't have to_. I think this actually ties more into the Combat as Sport vs Combat as War dichotomy rather than simply disassociated mechanics (with which there's nothing inherently wrong, as you point out above).

    Another factor is simply "I'm used to this stuff so it's good, and new stuff bugs me out". It's a natural human response for the most part. Humans hate change in most contexts.

  4. Telecanter put this very succinctly in a comment:

    "One thing to keep in mind about the big d30 rule is that it always piggybacks on an associated mechanic.

    "I think 'every once in a while you do something you can normally do, but give it everything you've got' is a lot easier for players to grok then completely disallowing [or allowing] certain abilities."

  5. I agree with Telecanter as quoted by Carter. Most of the time the big d30 rule corresponds perfectly well with what the character can be thinking about putting effort into it and being desperate to succeed. "From hell's heart I stab at thee! For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!"

    The dissociated part is that it's exactly once a session, but I view that more as a compromise between the ideal and the practical. It needs to be infrequent enough that it doesn't become the typical way encounters end, but frequent enough that players actually remember they can do it in a pinch, and it can't involve too much book-keeping. It might be better if the player/character wasn't absolutely sure whether he can rely on it at any given moment, but again, bookkeeping plus the fact it's already random weighs against that.

  6. I look at the comments and immediatley see what you mean about "But I LIKE this dissociated mechanic"

    Yes, you really want someone to die when you stab with a d30, or you really want to live when you roll a d30 for a saving throw. But don't you always want the person you are stabbing with a sword to die? Don't you always want to live when you make a saving throw?

    Using it for a save is EXACTLY the same mindset for a PC. "I can't die here, I need to regain my composure and keep fighting while people chant get up Roc..", BAM, Healing Surge explained.

    A healing surge is just saying "this person has more HP than the sheet shows, they just cant be used all at once"

    That said, totally cool that you don't like them. But I think its pretty apt (if I can paraphrase) that people do secretly like dis-associative mechanics, they don't like the addition of new dis-associative mechanics because they have learned to glaze over the old ones in their mind and a new addition is jarring.

    Old players I bring into my game have issues with some dis-associative mechanics, but new players don't even notice them anymore than D&D players notice HP (ie, not unless you look at them long and hard)

  7. I love the definition given in the link, and there's clearly a lot of heavy thought going on about this issue. I'm still not sure I buy that older editions are somehow less disassociated in their mechanics than 4e. I admit ignorance to playing any of the OSR clones, so I'm not familiar with what innovations have been made to D&D and 1e ADD, but I would be curious to see a breakdown of similar rules from both systems to see what exactly can be said to lean towards the associated and the disassociated.

    Take leveling up, for example. You slay x number of monsters or gain y number of silver coins and suddenly you gain competency in some way (perhaps even in skills that you never exercised during your adventures). It is a fact that most people can perform the same task over and over again and gain a basic level of competency, but never improve past that point even after years of experience.

    Now obviously D&D is not about realism, and I'm probably letting the whole discussion of what a disassociated mechanic fly right over my head, but I'd still be curious to see a more in depth analysis of mechanics from older editions and mechanics from 4e and really break down whether one is, in fact, more disassociated than the other. I'm not necessarily disagreeing, nor am I volunteering for such a project, but I am skeptical as to whether this (admitted elegant) explanation is really more than just a rationalization for preference.

    That said, I have played 1e through 4e, and I've never stuck religiously to any rule set in its entirety. I like your idea of players feeling they're 'getting away with something' and to me that feeling is the crux to maintaining a satisfying campaign for all involved.

  8. As I said back when this came up on G+, the important thing is not the rule, it's the kind of thinking it tends to engender in whoever's using it. And you, Jeff, prefer diegetic thinking to extradiegetic thinking.

    The rule itself is not the problem, it's the way that a given player is or is not used to describing it to him or herself that makes a rule "feel" dissociated.

    As usual: what one needs is what ever gets the player you actually have thinking in the place they want to think. My personal experience is having too many abilities written the way 4e tended abilities happen to be written makes the players I happen to have constantly weigh the options of one set of math and geometry against the next.

    I also noticed that, when we all played that every-edition-PC-together game, my ability to explain WHY my 4e warlord was able to switch places with the giant spider was not really demanded by the procedures of the game which--for you but not for me--made it seem like the spider and i just magically switched places.

    In 4e, there is a handful of "no explanation demanded" mechanics like that each round--some people will be pushed into thinking extradiegetically by this, some people won't, some people will but will not care.

  9. Jeff, I read Justin's stuff and absorbed it when it first came out. And I really think that my read is that while all game mechanics are partially dissociated, in almost all game design situations, a more associated rule leads to better immersion.

    Because that is the point of Justin's stuff(or at least as I read it and how I see it), and a point that you don't mention above. No rule can be perfectly associated; but Associated mechanics directly translate to increased immersion, since they better reflect the in-game logic.

    The point is immersion. Not realism. And so to translate some of your OP, a great many of us grumpy oldsters were trained in games where immersion was an unspoken goal, where 'roleplaying' or taking on a role, was made easier by the amount of rules that represented in-game logic.

    A great example was 'wishlists'. In the older games, a GM placed the treasures in an adventure (hopefully) based on in-game logic, normally with some randomization sprinkled in. You know, in a dwarven mine one would find more magic axes and dwarven sized items, maybe in a smithy that sold to the outside world a few other pieces, some '+ orcs' items...since that is in-game logic and helps the players think 'in character'. Wishlists, by contrast, have the determinent for item placment to be driven by 'out-of-game' dynamics, and so the rule is more dissociatated.

    1. I don't believe the problem to be dissociated rules, but TOO MANY freaking rules. In that regard, 1st ED has the same problems as 4th ED, the game is too complicated and top-heavy with rules. A simpler, rules lite game leads to improvisation and better immersion, IMHO.

  10. Zzarchov, the problem is that healing surges *can't* really be explained by "I can't die here! Not yet!" because the mechanic means that you know exactly how many times that will work, whether you have any left, and exactly what you have to do to make it work again. In 4e you're supposed to be able to say "Don't waste that healing potion on me, bro, I'm out of surges...wait 'til we've had a rest." Whereas I strongly suspect that the moment a player says "Let's end the session here, I want to be able to use my big30 if we run into trouble" is the moment that the GM chucks the rule.

  11. they don't like the addition of new dis-associative mechanics because they have learned to glaze over the old ones

    An old saying of user interface designers: "don't make me think." The interface should get out of the way so the user can do the task they came to do, not spend time interacting with your program/site/tool. When a user is used to being able to do something without thinking - when they've "black boxed" the process and can just say to themselves "this is the output I want" and get it without more conscious engagement, then they can operate at a more strategic level. If they are used to doing this and you change the interface so they have to think at a lower level again, it universally causes frustration and often rage.

    This is a cost you always pay regardless of whether your new interface might be better in some way than the old one.

    Appealing to naturalism/simulation/genre helps explain a rule, but I think even more than that, it works as a mnemonic. It helps to get that rule into the unconscious use category quicker.

  12. Phrases like "where old dissociated mechanics can be tolerated or explained away with long, boring blog posts about Jack Vance" are why I keep reading you, Jeff! Hilarious.

    To the topic at hand, I think it's a gradient and there is a point where the disassociation becomes too great for the player to feel a part of the world. On top of that, there is a subset of players who really don't care at all about being a part of the world (I suspect Magic players are like this). The problem with 4e is that Wizards thought those players were the majority (and I suspect the designers were of that population) and they built it from the direction of mechanics first and then tried to connect their beautiful mechanics to the world. In doing so, they left out most tabletop gamers.

    So to go back to your point, we will tolerate disassociated mechanics to a degree (Savage Worlds has a few, for instance), but the foundation of the game needs to be about immersion and being in that world, not the other way around.

    1. The Recursion King10:10 AM

      Actually, I think that Wizards had this tabletop game and when they got the rights to D&D they 'skinned' it with D&Disms and thought, job done.

  13. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I am against dissociated mechanics per se. This clinches it.

    I don't mean to be a party pooper but I've never been a big fan of the D30 rule. It has upsides and downsides but I disliked it immediately because it was dissociated (didn't know the terminology for that back then, it was just a feeling).

    I like gonzo house rules, D30s and free power, but it shouldn't be losing us philosophical ground against the 4e crowd.

    Maybe it could be salvaged as an alternative crit rule? Instead of double damage you roll a D30. That's less fun, isn't it?

    1. No party looping here. I don't expect my crappy houserules to have universal appeal.

    2. losing us philosophical ground against the 4e crowd

      This sounds like tribal thinking to me. Once we start have "us and them" we stop thinking about the actual issues (I'm not just saying that, there are plenty of social psychology and history examples; look up "negational identity" and "nationalism").

      There's really nothing to win or lose here anyways.

    3. "This sounds like tribal thinking to me."

      Your point being? You make it sound like tribal thinking is a bad thing. Tribal thinking gave us the OSR and our wonderful old-school blog and forum communities.

      "There's really nothing to win or lose here anyways."

      Except the most important resource of all: players. Expanding the demographics of gamers that play the same game(s) you do at the detriments of others

      And if you don't think that is worth "winning" try living in a community were people *only* play Vampire and 4th Ed and then tell me how much fun it is.

    4. The Recursion King10:16 AM

      'there are plenty of social psychology and history examples; look up "negational identity" and "nationalism"' ... said like someone who has no pride in their heritage and/or doesn't know much about who they are or where they have come from. You should be proud of your heritage, go look at your history and go find out who your ancestors were. Only then will you be rooted. This is a big problem today (especially among the young), many people feel like they have no identity, that they are adrift in an uncaring world, because they are not connecting with the past. A national identity is necessary to be strong: if you are invaded you will need it to repel the invaders and stay alive. So do not be so quick to attack such things and instead learn about your own heritage and get a better understanding of the world - and your place within it.

    5. @Recursion King

      This is not really the place for this discussion, but I failed my internet comment save.

      My philosophy is heavily informed by history. Nationalism as understood today is a relatively recent historical phenomena. Probably from around the time of the French Revolution, depending on how you draw your definitions. It is an extremely potent and potentially destructive force.

      My genetics say Czech, German, and English (in roughly descending proportions). Both of my families have been in North America for at least three generations. Why should I privilege this bit of genetic flotsam and jetsam? Why should this be an important part of identity? There are many more important aspects of identity. Political philosophy, aesthetics, sexuality.

      Also, there is plenty of heritage that is not worth pride. There is also much that is, but it's silly to value your own overmuch; by the numbers, for any given individual, most past advances will belong to other civilizations.

      I agree that solidarity is necessary for defence agains agression sometimes. But what has been the source of that aggression, more cases than not, in the past century? National pride. And this solidarity against agression instinct is so strongly wired into our brains that it needs no support. Very subtle framing in social science experiments can dramatically affect how people react to agression.

      Political allegiance did not used to be primarily about nations (we can thank President Wilson and the aftermath of World War I for solidifying that). It used to be primarily organized by multinational empires, which had both benefits and downsides. Is the lack of a state for a particular people enough of a drawback for the cosmopolitanism and stability made possible by an empire? These are not black and white things, as much as the "soccer cheerleader" nationalists would like to see them as such.

  14. If it's any help, I hate the d30 rule for exactly the same reason I hate the healing surges - it breaks the gameworld and dumps me, the player, back at the table. If I liked the table that much I would be polishing it, not spilling drinks and crisp crumbs all over it and covering it with little dice dimples.

  15. People who play "crazy hippy indie RPGs" are, arguably, interested in playing the role of an author rather than that of a character in the game world. So you'd expect them to have a higher tolerance for mechanics that are disassociated from the character (but not necessarily disassociated from a hypothetical author of a story).

  16. I'm not big on the whole assoc/dissoc thing because, to me, it has no predictive power regarding whether I will like a game or not. Mechanics are mechanics. Like Jeff says, a lot of folks are used to old mechanics and resist new mechanics. Others are "early adopters." Others do find something meaningful in the assoc/dissoc distinction; apparently, some folks can use it to critique or predict enjoyment of a game...but I can't. Maybe I'm one of these "storyteller" people who are somewhat insensitive to mechanics, but I don't think so. I think I'm just old, and have played a lot of games. Ultimately, they're just a bunch of statistics...what makes the RPG remarkable is you don't have to be bound by the statistics. The game can shift in and out of varying degrees of purely non-numerical mental exercise. My favorite part of gaming is problem-solving and just messing around with stuff in the setting. I could spend a whole hour just re-arranging the objects in a wizard's study. You don't need mechanics for that. In fact, no matter how "associated" they are, mechanics always 'take me out of the game world' to an equal degree. It's something I realized the other day playing a retro-clone after having played Gamma World 4E and someone's homebrew RPG in the preceding weeks - there was no difference in my play experience due to mechanics. The only experiential difference was when mechanics of any type were involved or not. That said, I often enjoy reading rule books even if I never play the game just to see how the authors modeled the world, so go figure.

  17. Rules that are related to imaginary things-- magic, psionics-- are by definition dissociated-- because there is no reality to associate the rule to. Heck, you could pick from any number of models in literature for how your magic system should work. So, yes, Vancian spells-as-ammo is dissociated.

    It doesn't bother me the way healing surges, marking, and other martial encounter powers do, because we have healing and combat in our world and they don't work that way.

    One of the assets players bring to the table is their knowledge of the world. People know that you can be tripped, they know how long cuts take to heal, they know how the longer you run the more tired you get. If you make a rule that ignores this asset, I think you're making a mistake.

    There is enough fantastic stuff in rpgs that players have to learn- how magic works, whether there are gods and what they do, monsters- don't make them relearn what they thought they knew too.

    You probably have a very clear reason for making that design decision, but I would cringe every time a player asked "Wait, how many times can I trip today?"

    1. I disagree. Rules that are related to imaginary things that are real to the character's reality are still associated. So if magic in the character's world follows a Vancey "you memorize it" procedure, spell memorization and casting can be considered associated because the character's decision making process goes "today I put these five spells in my brain. I will use one of them." If the character ostensibly just "does magic" by will, yet the player can only use each spell once per day because of the rules, that becomes dissociated from the character's decision making.

  18. No, mechanics related to imaginary things are not by definition dissocated. At least according to the person who wrote the initial and later exposition on it. That has notbing to do with it.
    The Mechanic is dissociated, at least in terms of the OP and the original articles cited, when it has no bearing on 'in-game/'within-setting' logic.

    Which is why healing surges and marking and martial encounter powers are considered more dissociated...they have no logical bearing in reality or within the setting logic. When the setting assumes that Mages literally burn the spell into their brain per memorization and that is why they have to memorize them, and that once theat one version of that spell is cast it cannot be used again, that is the in-game logic being supported by the Vancian Mechanics (which I actually don't like, but that does not mean I cannot see them as associated).

    1. I got no problem with Vancian magic, I think it's probably the most elegant way to model a spell system in an rpg. I was just sympathizing with people who don't like it because it doesn't seem to make sense "in-game." If you never read Vance and grew up watching Sinbad movies I doubt you'd ever think to make a world where the "within-setting" logic for spells was to make them like bullets in the caster's mind.

    2. Yeah but the associaton/dissociation distinction isn't really about whether it "makes sense" or whether the player's first choice to make the in-setting logic for magic use work in a Vancian way. The text says, and assumes, magic works in a bullet-in-the-caster's mind way.

      If you had a setting where a warrior studied like The Mystery of Vancian Boxing and had to prepare some kind of mental/chi configuration by doing special katas and that was unraveled each time the move executed, that might seem like weird or atypical situation to many players, but would still be associated.

      You can change dissociated rules to become associated, as long at it's a certain framework the character works within.

    3. This thread's getting time-tangled.
      Brendan's Untimately post (below) raises a great point about 4e combat mechanics and dissociation; such mechanics aren't subject to tactical infinity - they are moves you can pull off in the set circumstances, but not tools the player can always use in surprising ways. I know it's a separate issue, but it seems to me one of the difficulties dissociation is liable to bring in: objects-in-the-world can be used any way you can think of, but special situational rules are more like videogame tokens - only usable in the way envisioned by the designer. AND this makes the game harder to navigate because the player must inhabit 2 imaginary spaces at once: the world of what their character experiences plus the world of the rules and tokens.

      Of course 4e didn't invent this.

    4. d'oh Zak already said that. Sorry.

    5. I don't read Zak's comment as saying anything about tactical infinity (unless you mean on G+ somewhere). It's an interesting and new, to me, aspect of this whole thing.

  19. The simple example glossed over:

    Weapon and Armour restrictions.

    1. It would be interesting to compile a list of all the traditional D&D mechanics that are dissociated. The ones I can think of:

      - Level, XP, and gaining new powers automatically
      - HP
      - Strict weapon and armor restrictions

      The weapon and armor restrictions I do away with often by using damage by hit die and spell casting and skill penalties when wearing armor.

    2. Now that I think of it, look to the biggest disagreements of the past for examples:
      -What hit points represent and the related (and heated) falling damage
      -Demi-human level limits
      -Race as Class
      -Blunt-only clerics

      I think people have always been resistant to these kinds of rules and probably only accepted some canonical ones because no one could think of a better ways to do it (i.e. how do you represent veteran troops having better survival than green troops, or how do you model people getting better at things over time).

      Though, now I'm thinking it isn't a strict binary, probably, like most things, it's more a continuum; some things can sorta be explained in-game. For example, I can see why a thief wanting to sneak and climb probably shouldn't be anywhere near plate mail. But then I've written a post about the nuttiness of the 1e Bard class and how it made little sense in the game world.

    3. Yeah the "you just can't" weapon and armor restrictions are dissociated. Really, many forms of character creation/advancement are.

    4. Having designed my own rules from the ground up a few times, it was interesting to note that the things I changed 10-30 years earlier were, in effect, mving rules down the continuum to be more associated. It is one of the reasons I eventually went skill that I could give experience in a skill that was being used, instead of making a thief a better lockpick because he killed a few more enemies.
      Armor restrictions on certain actions make sense, and sometimes within game logic, like maybe metal affects spell casting...but that never explained why mages could not wear leather...

    5. I always thought of armor restrictions being about freedom of movement, so in that light leather could still cause a small chance of spell failure.

    6. And Brendan, that makes the ruling more associated in a setting. No long as you have % spell failure in your game. But as long as the in-game logic is there, sounds good to me.

  20. I don't think RPGs have ever been about realism. The whole genera is disassociated but in terms of 4e I always assumed healing surges were like quarters people pumped into old arcade games to keep going. I'm not very impressed with the limited use of the idea. Why not spend a "quarter" for other things too like changing class, extra levels, level boosts etc? You could load up on credits and spend them as you wish. Maybe the DM could charge players quarters and make a buck for all his/her hard work? I mean if you're going to go retard you might as well go full retard.

    1. Realism is a different issue. The question here is whether or not there is something in the game world causing the effect rather than an after the fact explanation of the thing.

      Example one. Floating platform upon which is a lectern with two buttons: "up" and "down." Press the up button and the platform rises at a fixed rate. Press the down button and the platform lowers. It's hovering in midair and there are no magnetic fields or anything. It just works like that, you don't know why. Not realistic, but it is associated. You can reason about it diegetically.

      Example two. 4E level 7 fighter power "come and get it": it's a burst 3 power, which means it affects every enemy in a 15' radius (but not your allies). Targets that can shift two and become adjacent to you do so, and then you get to make a weapon vs. AC attack against them. This is realistic (people are moving toward you, you are hitting them) but not associated. Why are they moving toward you? Why do you as a player have the ability to affect the movement of your enemies? You can come up with an after the fact narrative explanation, but the meaning is secondary and the effect is primary.

  21. To me Alexander seems to make a simple point in a long winded way.

    He is saying that when a player makes a choice on behalf of his character which his character could not make, then, if that choice is the selection of a mechanic then it is a dissociated mechanic.

    I don't see how it isn't just an instance of metagaming.

    1. @Kent

      See "come and get it" example above. That is not metagaming, but it is a dissociated mechanic.

    2. Many of the limited use martial powers are fairly meta in that they involve the player being able to "engineer the opportunity" for the character to use the ability.

  22. I think what you guys are complaining about as "dissociated mechanics" is not the same thing as what you've defined the phrase to mean. Thus, Alexander's need to revisit and clarify his thinking, and your objection to the clarification; people keep coming up with stuff that seems like it *should* be "dissociated mechanics", based on the definition.

    I don't like the d30 rule and don't use it. But I think it's really not all that dissociated, the way I (re)define the term. Because it doesn't pull players away from the fictional world, at least not for long. I actually don't think that "encounter powers" as a general concept aren't too dissociated, either, although long lists of such powers with special rules *is*.

    But more on that later. I wrote up a post on this, but scheduled it for tomorrow. Gotta wait for it!

  23. Thanks for the link; it's a pretty good essay (says a lot of the same points I've been trying to get across in a far more eloquent fashion).

    I think your three vectors are good topics of discussion, especially from a design's interesting (to me anyway) that the games I've been working on most recently have mechanics that could be considered strongly disassociated...and yet, the players who have play-tested the game feel MORE connected to their characters from a roleplaying stance (which is, duh, the reason I play RPGs in the first place), and they're not particularly "indie-style," "narratavist agenda" games.

    Food for thought...thanks!
    : )

  24. To me gaining levels is a "not very associated mechanic". It's easy to see what it represents in the game world (at least for fighters and thieves, not so much for magic-users), but the way that you get everything in a big jump isn't how you'd imagine it to work in real life.

    I suppose that's why Basic Roleplaying has (as far as I know) more frequent but more gradual improvement.

  25. I used to find that rolling your attributes and then picking your 'race' felt wrong, because that's not what would happen in real life.

    For some reason I didn't find that picking your race at all felt wrong.

  26. According to "The Alexandrian," a dissociated mechanic is defined thusly:
    "If you are manipulating mechanics which are dissociated from your character – which have no meaning to your character – then you are not engaged in the process of playing a role."

    So dice rolling would be a dissociated mechanic, by his definition, since unless your character is a gambler, would seldom if ever roll dice. So, by his definition, any game mechanic that is not actual role playing would be a dissociated mechanic.

    I don't get it, what's the beef?

  27. I am having trouble understanding what a dissociated mechanic is after reading all the comments here.

    If a "healing surge" that can only be used once per combat is defined as "dissociated" then it seems to me the major component for that definition is not the relationship between Player-PC or something along that line.

    The main defining factor is *time* followed by verisimilitude.

    What does "once per combat" mean? How much does a combat last? From one round to several turns (for a major battle).

    So if a character takes part in major battle that lasts half of a morning he can only use one healing surge? What if he retreats, has a cup of tea and returns to the fray again later, can he re-use it? If no, why so? If yes what prevents him from retreating every other round to "recharge" his healing surge? And how does all this make sense?

    Vancian magic, for instance, does make sense and has a clear time definition, whether you like it or not (I don't, as written). You get X spells per day, must memorize and forget them when you cast them. You poor brain can only handle one bout of re-memorizing spells for each rest period (i.e. sleep cycle) but you get better at it (can memorize more spells) with experience. Deal with it.

    What you *don't* have to deal with is: you get X spells to memorize and use within a random and highly variable interval of time that is defined by something arbitrarily with no correlation to how reality works.

    I can "grok" that a magician can only use a certain amount of magic per day (rest cycle), whether that is expressed in spell slots or spell points, the same way I understand a person can only spend so much time per day calculating differential equations before his brain says "enough! I need rest!".

    I can't grok a magician only using X amount of magic during something akin to a movie scene that has a hugely elastic timeframe.

  28. In many cases it's easy to associate mechanics. Sometimes the rules don't associate them to give each GM something to customize. Healing surges are an easy one for me. I see this as the innate resources of your body and spirit. You call on this when you get your second wind or get magically healed. After a while, the magic still works, but you are too wounded/tired/disheartened to respond to the magic.