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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Sunday
Oct172010

Insert Your Own "But" Joke Here

I am very attuned to my use of the word "but." I took a class last year that pointed out to me that when we heard the word "but" in the middle of a sentence, we throw away whatever came before that. When someone says:

"Your story is very good, but there are a few changes I'd like to make."

what we hear is:

"There are few changes I'd like to make."

Strangely enough, just leaving out the "but" helps.

"Your story is very good. There are a few changes I'd like to make."1

So it's in this context that two weeks ago, my friend Jerry asked if I saw a difference between "yes, and" and "yes, but" in gaming. The reason he asked is that he was considering a design where die rolls give you these possible results:

  • No
  • Yes, but
  • Yes, and
  • Yes

So, I told him, yes, I do see a difference. And, I said that because "but" blunts any statement it comes after, I would change "yes, but" to "no, but."2

As I thought about it later, I realized there's a deeper issue. What designs like this are really trying to do is answer two questions:

  • Do you get what you want?
  • What are the consequences of your actions?

This turns into a 2×3 matrix:

  • You don't get it, and there are additional negative consequences for trying.
  • You don't get it, and there are no additional consequences for trying.
  • You don't get it, and there are positive consequences.
  • You do it get it, and there are negative consequences for trying.
  • You do it get it, and there are no additional consequences for trying.
  • You do get it, and there are additional positive consequences.

If this is what you want, there are plenty of good ways to build it into your system. And if I were doing it, I'd leave "but" out of it.

 

 

 

1 The advanced move is "Your story is very good. Would you considered making these changes?..." Naomi Karten has some great tips for using this technique at work.

2 And yes, this is point where I started thinking about a design where all you have is "yes, and" and "no, but."

Reader Comments (4)

Nice thing about a 2x3 matrix is that it maps well to a six-sided die. :D

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Solis

(Sorry for the second comment, but I am stricken with curiosity.) Where do other clauses fall into traditional improv games?

after
although
as
because
before
even if
even though
if
in order that
once
provided that
rather than
since
so that
than
that
though
unless
until
when
whenever
where
whereas
wherever
whether
while

Any juice there?

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Solis

This is exactly how the most recent Doctor Who RPG works. You can get several possible results:

*No, and...: You fail so catastrophically that something else goes unexpectedly wrong.

*No: You merely fail.

*No, but...: You fail, but there's a silver lining.

*Yes, but...: You succeed, but with complications.

*Yes: You succeed.

*Yes, and...: You succeed so thoroughly that you eke some other advantage out of the situation.

It's intuitive and easy to use in play.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Paul and Company,

It's nice to be on the same wavelength. Check this out: http://ruthlessdiastemagames.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/doctor-who-is-always-dramatic-so-why-not-ask-his-help-for-drama-class/

Pete Figtree

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPete Figtree

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