Author Topic: [Circle of Hands] No bangs? Tripwires? Damn.  (Read 2491 times)

Tor Erickson

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[Circle of Hands] No bangs? Tripwires? Damn.
« on: September 10, 2017, 02:16:35 PM »
So, we played Circle of Hands again yesterday, and had a great time. And I noticed something that I got a hint at the first time we played, and that this session confirmed.

There's three rules in the game that together combine to produce something unique in my experience.  These are: Tripwires, Charm rolls, and the explicit absence of any sort of pre-planned explosive, or challenging events (in Sorcerer parlance, 'no bangs'). The combined effect of these three rules has, more than anything else in my role-playing history, stripped me of the ability to pre-plan story.

Now, I know that in a game like Sorcerer, or Apocalypse World, you're not supposed to pre-plan story, but I've found that in practice some amount of pre-planning has always occurred.  A big part of this is the "bang" from Sorcerer: a pre-planned event that you can throw at the players to force some sort of a decision on their part. I've used bangs as one of the core techniques in every single game I've run since getting back into role-playing games about a year and a half ago, and I've used them a lot.

I used them heavily in Apocalypse World: Fallen Empires, in Monsterhearts, and most particularly, and perhaps to greatest effect, in both a 1983 version of D&D and in our current, long-running 5e D&D game, and I credit the use of them in both those latter two games as the spice that's kept me engaged in a game that I gave up on in disgust back in 1995. I mean, bangs are great, because if planned right they feel organic (like they just happened naturally, without planning), and because (again, if planned right) they almost guarantee that whatever the player character does, something interesting will happen as a result (as an aside: if you're reading this and are someone interested in the narrative potential of a game like D&D where the rules provide negative support for 'story now', seriously consider using bangs).

But I noticed that there's an insidious side-effect of the bang. It can be almost impossible—once you've planned the first half of the bang—to stop yourself from thinking about what might happen in the second half. In its worst case this can become straight railroading, but there's a lot of gray area as well where a couple of sweet options start to develop in your GM mind before the game starts and you—maybe even subconsciously—encourage your players to head towards one of them.

And the thing is, I KNOW I shouldn't be doing this, and I KNOW that what I want is for the players to address the bang in a way that is surprising and original, and let that evolve out of actual game play, but given the mental combination of "explosive event+an existing character+knowledge about the particular player playing that character" it's proven impossible for me to stop myself from some day dreaming that inevitably makes its way into the game.

Enter Circle of Hands. Played 'by the book'—no bangs, Charm rolls determine the foundation of NPC interactions, and tripwires that go off based on pre-determined criteria, at any time, or don't go off at all (and I could write a lot more about that... The tripwire is one of my favorite rules in the game)—Circle of Hands has proven to be the single most effective tool I've ever experienced to totally crush any sort of pre-planned story whatsoever.

Now, there has been a trade-off in our COH games. That's the moment when we all sit around for a second and go 'uhhh what do we do?' and then everyone turns to the GM to lead the way. But I feel like even that's a learning process, and I wonder if given enough of it, gameplay would start to shift in a truly fundamental way. We may not know, as our COH game was scheduled to be two sessions which we've completed now, but it makes me wish we could keep going down this path and see where it leads.

I'll see if I can get Tony or Tom to chime in from the players point of view (maybe as a leading question: how did play in this game feel from your point of view compared to, say, play in the Fallen Empires game I ran? How did the effects I describe above come across on the other side of the table?).

- Tor

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Circle of Hands] No bangs? Tripwires? Damn.
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2017, 03:35:29 AM »
You've accurately diagnosed my design for play, and also why. I confess I'm pessimistic about the other players' responses given what I've read so far.

Tor Erickson

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Re: [Circle of Hands] No bangs? Tripwires? Damn.
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2017, 01:22:22 PM »
Where's the faith, Ron...

I think they're having a hard time logging in so we'll just have to imagine their responses for now.