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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Using Baseline Assumptions In Solo Roleplaying

This is partly based on things I've written in #WritingWithDice, parallel concepts I later found in the Location Crafter, and ideas that I read in The Writer's Journey. As I find better ways elucidating on it, the document will evolve.

Feel free to leave feedback, ideas, etc in the comments, or anonymously if you prefer. I very much appreciate it since I'm interested in finding ways in which tools can incorporate this.

Defining Baseline Assumptions

I define baseline assumptions as details that ones expect to be a normal aspect of a particular “thing” (i.e. a situation, a location, an entity, a setting, etc). These details would not be remarkable in the context that this “thing” would normally exists. In terms of solo play, these things might merit a passing mention at best, if at all.

For example, in most game situations, you wouldn’t remark that an NPC has two legs as that would probably be a given. If you’re describing a dance club, the thumping music might merit a passing mention here and there, but you would not likely place your focus on it.

A Digression: The Observer Effect

According to Wikipedia, “In science, the term observer effect means that the act of observing will influence the phenomenon being observed”. In solo roleplay, you could say that a similar  principle is at play: things only become relevant to your adventure when your attention is on them.  The corollary is that what you ignore in a solo roleplaying game rarely becomes significant (barring some outside influence that brings those things into your  focus).

Because baseline assumptions are mostly non-remarkable  details in a particular context,  they are likely to be ignored in overarching movement of an adventure. This means that they are probably not going to figure prominently or be pivotal to your adventure.

Still, Baseline Assumptions Are Useful
Without baseline Assumptions to guide your imaginings about these “mundane” details, you would likely feel like the your actual play lacks ambience.  They help guide your use of solo roleplay tools to create ambience such as when you interpret an abstract image, or when you frame a question to an Oracle. You may even forego the use of Oracles when you are using them as your guide to mundane details about something or someone.

One of the most effective uses of this that I’ve seen is the ‘Expected’ category used in Location Crafter. When you get a result of ‘Expected’ for a location, that location simply is what you would expect such a location to be like. You hardly need a tool to tell you what your expectations are, so you are free to visualize based on your assumptions.

That's the beauty of that concept to me.When things are at their ‘baseline’, they fall within your expectations. Those expectations then become boundaries for your imagination so that you are not lost in an infinite amount of possibilities.

Another useful aspect of baseline assumptions is that they are essential to creating contrast to the unusual. When something stands out, it’s usually because it does not conform to expectations. However, without a  baseline, there would be nothing to stand out from.

This contrast might have a number of effects in your play, from enhancing the ambience to creating feelings of surprise, wonder and intrigue. It might also change the course of your adventure if you find out during actual play that this difference from the baseline has some sort of significance to the adventure.

Solo Tools To The Rescue!
In addition to answering the things that your character needs to know *now*, the role of solo tools can also be to tell you when something is more remarkable than you would expect. This may be because it does not conform to the baseline assumptions, or because even though it appears to be mundane, it still draws your attention.

There are probably a number of ways tools can do this, such as leveraging Mythic's Random Events framework. You could interpret the  Events in terms to how much they stand out from your context’s baseline, or how they highlight something seemingly mundane, for example.This  obviously needs refinement but I hope I'm getting the general idea across.

When Things Are Unfamiliar Or Completely Alien
Even things that are unfamiliar are subject to your expectations of what they *might* be like. However, because they are  speculative, how can you be sure that they’re true? For me, at least, the answer is I can only be sure when my character is also sure-- and my character can only be sure when he or she is in a position to find out the truth. At that moment, and only at that moment, do I grab an Oracle or other tool to give me the information necessary to form a baseline assumption/expectation about this thing that is unfamiliar to me.  
Once I have a suggested set of baseline assumptions from my tool(s), I proceed to use them as my guideline when imagining the details of something that is unfamiliar or alien. That is, until such a time that my tool(s) tell me that something is different from the expectations that have been set.

Can Baseline Assumptions Evolve?
Sure, why not! Our expectations can be challenged by new data, so it would be logical to update them based on new learnings. It would be like realizing that there is a new normal.

I think that I would want it to be informed as much as possible by actual play and what my character is experiencing (i.e. my expectations are being challenged to such a frequency that it suddenly makes sense to update them—almost organically).

What Baseline Assumptions Are Not (For Me)
Baseline assumptions are there to inform the ambience and the window dressing, but not to answer questions about your character goals, or his/her success or failure. They might, however, influence what questions you have.

In short:

  • Use baseline assumptions to guide your imagination regarding mundane details
  • Use them to guide your imagination regarding details of unfamiliar things that you've just encountered (based on the expectations you've just formed)
  • Use them as contrast to things that stand out from the normal state of things.
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