Authority and context: time well spent

I’m hoping that this post will provide something of an answer, or at least point toward one, to the concerns that were raised regarding yesterday’s post.  We’ll see if it helps.

I take it to be the case that one of the constants in context accumulation is time.  Simply stated: the more play time a given fictional component gets, the more context it will accumulate.  All else being equal, a component with more time spent on it will have more context.  It’s a pretty simple thing to follow.

This is why PCs tend to (always?) have more context than NPCs.  It’s a very rare game in which any single NPC will have as much screen time as even the lowest screen presence PC.  No matter how recurring an NPC or other fictional element (like a place or nation or whatever) is, it just can’t get as much screen time, and thus as much context, as PCs get.

Of course the time element is one of those ‘all else being equal’ things.  And it turns out that all things are not equal.  There are some techniques that accumulate context more effeciently.  A player using a technique that is twice as effecient can accumulate just as much context as someone else, but in half the time.

What those techniques look like, I’m not sure.  But I bet there’s a lot of potential in studying them.  Anyone got any thoughts on the subject?

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5 Responses to “Authority and context: time well spent”

  1. Fred says:

    I think this question would be easier to answer if your posts hadn’t talked about context without ever really describing what it IS.

    It seems simple but I think it needs to be stated:

    Context, in the context of power, consists of facts that have been introduced and established in play about a character. These facts can be simple things (Okhfels is strong) or complex relationships (Okfhels loves Isadora in spite of her homicidal tendencies). What distinguishes context from what you see on a character sheet is that by having been played out, these facts have been validated by the group.

    Of course, I could be wrong about this.

    Anyways, once this definition is in place, it becomes fairly easy to devise strategies for accumulating context.

    Whenever an NPC comes along, either establish a new relationship, or introduce an existing one. I call this method, “Luke, I am your father.” Similarly, whenever a new concept, influence, or other impersonal force in the gameworld is introduced, have your PC voice an opinion on the matter, and play it. Avoid being tepid in reactions to anyone or anything. Not only does it get you no context, but it’s boring.

  2. Thomas Robertson says:


    It’s interesting that you bring this up. The reason I’ve not provided a strong definition of ‘context’ so far is that I’m finding it pretty hard to articulate it.

    I do think your definition is useful, but I also think that it fails to completely get at what I’m interested in. I’m pretty sure that context is tied up in what, not why. That is, the idea that Okhfels loves Isadora in spite of her quirks isn’t context to me. The fact that Okhfels says or does certain things is.

    I think the dividing line may be interpretation. I can’t really interpret a statement like ‘Okhfels is X’ to construct my model of who and what Okhfels is. But I can interpret a statement like ‘Okhfels does Y’. In this second case I can assign my own motivations to him.

    Of course I’m not actually sure that all of this is really what I mean by ‘context’ either. It’s possible that this is just stuff that’s entangled with the idea in my head.


  3. Rahvin says:

    I would like to suggest one alteration to Fred’s definition above. It is not only pre-established concept and opinion, but also the importance of that concept or opinion — that is, the concept or opinion must influence the game (and the players). If we have the “Luke, I am your father” situation, but no one really cares or it never really comes up in the game, than it is a concept without context. On the other hand, if it had a strong context, our minds should already be boggling with how this concept is going to interact with our rich game. No?

    That’s the only merit I see in Thomas’s do/say argument regarding context. If a player DOES something, we can use that as a basis for judging what he’s going to do therefore his action (or rather, his decision to act) has influenced the game and provided context, interacting with decisions and ideas that haven’t even been introduced yet for an indeterminate period of time. Whereas simpyl SAYING something doesn’t necessarily promise that the concept will ever come up in the game again.

    Thus, any action or idea backed up (or invoked) by game mechanics is going to have even more context because it’s more likely to influence the game, to come up, than simply a prior statement or previous action alone.

  4. Thomas Robertson says:

    I probably need to think about this more in-depth, but my initial reaction is ‘that can’t be right’. It seems odd to me to say that context includes investment.

    More when I’ve had some time to consider it :)


  5. Ian Burton-Oakes says:

    I wonder if we might say that “Okfhels loves Isadora in spite of her homicidal tendencies” is already an interpretation of a set of context-driven actions: Isadora tries to kill off Okfhels’ friend, Okfhels discovers or witnesses this, Okhfels saves Isadora from his friend’s wrath.

    Now, as a player, I may form the opinion that Okhfels still loves Isadora and act accordingly, but that opinion may change when Okhfels turns Isadora over to the proper authorities for punishment. This seems very contextual. But the nifty thing is that my opinion of Okhfels is not ‘telling’–it can be overturned and modified by future showings, just like any other piece of the context.

    Which makes me wonder if we might say something a little like this: context is defined only relationally, only when the element in question becomes *part* of a larger element by its association with another element.

    Now, ‘association’ says too little, because it is key to it being contextual that those elements are seen as being in active dialogue with each other–in other words, that their interaction causes both to be seen in a new light. It is what we might call dialogic (a la Mikhal Bakhtin, whose work really calls out for application to rpg).

    I think any ability to maximize context is going to rest on techniques that make these sort of ‘dialogue’ between elements more intense. I suspect a somewhat counter-intuitive method is to have fewer elements involved in a game session–the fewer the elements, the more intensely we work to make them fit together, the more they speak to each other rather than drifting off ‘on their own.’

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