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Dice Philosophy
We could also subtitle this the Praxeology of RPGs, or Logic vs Models.

There's been a good volume of work on RPG theory. The problem is it's so couched in jargon and models that it's 1) difficult to get up to speed to take part in the discussion, 2) the existing models and lexicons have banked-in assumptions that is fundamental to the theory but not fundamental to RPGs.

In the reading I've done to analyze difficult, real-life, non-RPG topics, there are schools of thought that prefer logical deduction and plain English over models and jargon. Some of these sources do translate well over into RPGs. I long thought Richard Cantillon's essay on economics in general make a great basis not only for RPG economies, but its opening chapters almost read like it could be some sort of world-builder guide.

The most fundamental fact about RPGs is that they are games. Players do make choices. And they make choices for the fictional characters they play. Thus it only seems natural that praxeology, the study of human action in the real world, could have something to say about actions in RPGs and can translate over nicely. I've begun writing a short essay, "The Anatomy of Action" that leads directly into two contributions I've recently made on this forum, the ones on Persuasion and Initiative.

The overview is I break down action into 5 essential parts. Means, Ends, Opportunity, Uncertainty, and Time (ME-OUT). The former two, the means-ends relationship, deals mainly with inner space (ME), thoughts, motives, intentions, and so forth. This is the focus of the sort of actions that involve persuasion and cooperation. The latter three deal with the constraints of the outside world on action, the availability of opportunity, the fact of uncertainty, and the taking of time (OUT). This is the focus of combat, interaction with the physical world, and conflict.

One distinct advantage I'm noticing by doing things this way is the theory is more descriptive than prescriptive. Whereas something like GNS theory will tell you you're "incoherent" by trying to satisfy all three corners of the triangle simultaneously, implying from the theory a right and wrong way to play, what I'm doing is making it clear how RPGs with radically different systems compare.

I don't know if anyone is familiar with Dark Conspiracy. In that game, the Initiative stat is all-important. It's not that hard to build a character who begins with a 6, who will have 6 times as many attacks per round than one who only has 1. The way it does it is a little sloppy, though, requiring exceptions for low initiative people who are doing nothing but moving throughout the entire round. The initiative system that flows naturally from analysis of action, on the other hand, would handle Dark Conspiracy's system more consistently, but also understanding a Dark Conspiracy character and one from Dungeons & Dragons using the same language. 

What I'm wondering is this. People who are interested in theory are already invested in a body of RPG theory, even though it's crappy. I don't know many would be open to something that throws all that out in the garbage. That would leave everybody else. And many of "everybody else" are completely turned off by theorizing. But perhaps that's only because theory is so disconnected from reality that it proves of little worth to people who just want to play. Would people be interested in a new game theory paradigm?
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There are three books in particular I have in mind that translate well to RPGs. And they can all be found for free in pdf format.

Essai Sur La Nature Du Commerce En General  by Richard Cantillon. The great thing about this book, it's the first full treatment of economic theory ever created. It was written before the industrial revolution, pre-dating Adam Smith, so it has clear applications to a middle ages fantasy world. The opening chapters almost feel like it's a fantasy RPG world builders guide. The book wasn't just the theoretical work of an academic. Cantillon was a banker who made a vast fortune speculating on John Law's Mississippi Company on the way up. And another vast fortune speculating on its demise. Perhaps most amazingly, is in the later chapters, it has some advanced theory on things such as trade cycles which hold up in modern times as superior to the macroeconomics taught in universities. Look for the 2010 translation, the one edited by Mark Thornton, as its aim was to preserve Cantillon's ideas more than his dated language.

The Secret of Selling Anything  by Harry Browne. The first half of this book reads more like philosophy and debunks many of the sales myths that dominate the profession, fitting in the theme of transitioning from what's merely accepted theory to the way the real world actually works. This is complemented by the latter half which outlines his 5-step selling system, which is very similar to the one I generalized for use in RPGs as contests of social skills.

A Short History of Man  by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. When I read this book, it reminded me a lot of the World of Greyhawk boxed set where it details the ancient migration patterns of the different human races. Although Hoppe's book is specifically about real Earth pre-history, he spells out the principles of human action that apply and his reasoning process rather than merely rattling off the facts. If the first thing you do is create a world map for your campaign, the next step should be following the patterns laid out in this book to help you plot out in broad strokes the outline of your world's prehistory so the way it is populated in the present is both consistent and varied.

As you may or may not have noticed, my particular focus is on the human element of RPGs. For historical artifacts, geographies, ancient mysteries, there are already an overwhelming number of easily accessible resources for that. For fantasy worlds, I also like quasi-conspiratorial stuff like the mystery of Frisland, hollow Earth theory, or Neal Adams' Growing Earth theory. (I should note, some actual geologists do agree that the evidence points to a growing Earth, but what makes Neal Adams' work so great is the quality of his animations are good for sparking the imagination to give you ideas for creating your own world maps.) But speaking specifically of human action, that brings me to a fourth book that may not translate to RPGs without a lot of effort, but nonetheless lays down some great philosophy that gives a lot of insight.

Human Action  by Ludwig von Mises. This is the book where you really get deep into the means-ends relationship of human action. It holds a different view of what is meant by "rational action"--namely a broader view, so that unlike neo-classic view of what it means to be "rational", Misesian rationality is more applicable to the real world. One thing this book will definitely head off is arguments that begin when someone says "Your character wouldn't have done that. He would have done this instead." As human action is willed, not deterministic, there is no "correct" answer to what your character would do. Yet at the same time, human action is also not un-caused, so playing characters consistently does still have some meaning.
Yesterday, Slashdot had the following story:

My take away is now Prefer Game Science dice and stay away from stylish oblongs.

The Slashhdot item was here:
Tracy Johnson



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