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Author Topic: Pitching rules for narrativism  (Read 6670 times)
TonyLB
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« on: April 18, 2004, 06:08:09 PM »

So I'm running an Amber game with heavy mechanics of narrativism added in.  And people like the idea of having a lot of input into the story their characters are telling.  Yay!

Now some of them feel that the obvious next step of that sort of "story-telling play" is that we should discard the rules... that attributes and character sheets are unnecessarily restrictive.

Personally, I like the rules.  Rules save me lots of headaches.  And, more to the point, I know that narrativism and rules-light are not the same thing, or even necessarily a good combination.  

Still, I could go either way, so long as I'm convinced that we were all talking about the same thing.  But the discussion isn't being framed in Forge-speak... and trying to reframe it would be a discussion in itself, and might lead the players to think I had more of an emotional stake in the question than I do.

Has anyone figured out a successful metaphor, or phrasing, for describing the distinction between light rules and narrative agenda to folks starting from a practical roleplaying background?  I'd be ever so glad to benefit from the experience of others.
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greyorm
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2004, 07:53:35 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
So I'm running an Amber game with heavy mechanics of narrativism added in.

What mechanics would those be, specifically?

Quote
describing the distinction between light rules and narrative agenda

Start off by saying you aren't talking about 1) rules light play or 2) storytelling. Then you can tell them: players address a central moral question and discover its answer(s) through the choices/actions of their characters. Choices and actions are undertaken according to their relation to the question -- meaning making choices "in character" or "to win" isn't as important as making sure the decisions deal with the question in some way.

{insert standard disclaimers about singular Premises and narrativist play here before anyone jumps me}

So, there you have it: Narrativism in a nutshell. Described clearly, and as something that has nothing at all to do with the rules being used.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2004, 08:55:21 PM »

Hi Tony,

I ran a one-shot of Heroquest last year, and in each character description, I dropped a thematic question, such as, "Will revenge cost her humanity?", "Is justice carved from rules and laws, or is it greater?", etc.  While I never explained to the players that they HAD to focus play on these questions, by including them as a part of the character description, the players went right for it.

I tend to focus on giving the question, and basically saying to the players, "Show me!" during play itself.

Chris
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2004, 03:45:32 AM »

Well those are both terrific ways to pitch narrativism.  But I don't have to pitch narrativism.  They're eating up narrativism with a spoon.

I'd like to pitch the value of a rules system, so that they understand that they can have one and it's distinct from the other questions.

As for the mechanics I've grafted on, it's pretty much this:
    [*]Players are encouraged to author and director stances[*]Scenes are framed according to player agendas of what they want to show, not character agendas of what they want to do[/list:u]
    That's not a lot, and it's not necessarily narrativist, but that's how we've turned out to be using it, I think.  Players are coming to me saying things like "My character's got loneliness issues, can I have a scene with NPC X where I have to decide whether he's willing to take advantage of her on the rebound?"
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #4 on: April 19, 2004, 03:51:08 AM »

    Ah... I re-read the subject heading that I wrote for this, and I realize now that it doesn't do a very good job of actually describing my problem.

    It's more "Pitching rules.... in a narrativist game"...

    ... than "Pitching rules to help make a game narrativist".

    Oy... my bad :-(

    These guys aren't talking about pitching the game mechanics we've added on for scene framing and such.  They just want to throw away the rest of the ADRPG system, and have everything resolved by consensus and storytelling necessity.
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    greyorm
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    « Reply #5 on: April 19, 2004, 05:30:34 AM »

    Tony, keep in mind there's a difference between Techniques and Mechanics. I'm not certain which you are talking about here...from your statements about what is being utilized, I'd say Techniques (Scene-framing, Stance).

    Ok, that said, it sounds like you've got a great start there with your group. Your concern is that they want to throw out the mechanics because they believe the mechanics will interfere with their goals of producing a story?

    Well...will they? I mean, I don't know anything about ADRPG (other than, "it's diceless!"), so I can't say if it's mechanics facilitate Narrativist play, and reward or focus play on the addressing of Premise.

    Without that knowledge, my only suggestion is to try something else, because trying to get your feet wet otherwise may not work if the game is incoherent, or structured for a different mode. Play TROS or Sorcerer, or get copies of them, and say "Both of these games are Narrativist." TROS especially ought to blow their minds in terms of preconceptions about what is and isn't Narrativist (ie: "But...but...it's got all sorts of rules!").
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    Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #6 on: April 19, 2004, 06:13:45 AM »

    Thanks... I'm still coming up to speed on Forge-speak.  I agree with your assessment of what I was saying.

    I'm not sure that my group believes the mechanics will interfere with their goals of producing a story.  So far it's been phrased more like "If our concern is to tell a story then we shouldn't have any rules, because then we're playing a game instead."

    They may well have thought it through more completely than I have, but because we don't have a common basis for communication I'm not finding myself confident on that score.
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    Alan
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    « Reply #7 on: April 19, 2004, 07:01:26 AM »

    Hi Tony,

    Well, you might counter with this: when a writer creates a story, they start with a set of rules and build on them.  

    But the real issue is the group process. Good rules both mediate group collaboration and help generate narrativist moments.  (If you can strip some rules that don't support the creative agenda, well, that's an improvement.)

    You might also want to search "free form" here at the Forge for opinions on why ruleless play is a poor choice.
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    - Alan

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    « Reply #8 on: April 19, 2004, 07:10:55 AM »

    Hi Tony,

    A key point about rules in general:

    When they do not clearly promote the desired play, people tend to ignor them.

    Now, vaguely recalling the Amber rules, they weren't really Nar promoting, and I could see how the players might just want to chuck them entirely.  What would probably be a good option is to run a one-shot using the Pool or Inspectres to show the players how a solid set of rules, in conjunction with Nar focused play work together.  In fact, I'd probably just run the game using one of those systems.

    A more complex option, after you've convinced them that rules CAN help Nar play, would be to re-tool the Amber system.  Instead of rating abilities such as combat abilities, strength, etc, change ratings to something like SA's, such as Destiny, Love, Enemy, etc.  So when you end up comparing who spent more points on what, it's a matter of thematic strength, not comparing "realistic" capabilities.

    Chris
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #9 on: April 19, 2004, 08:14:34 AM »

    Hi Tony,

    As a grizzled Amber veteran, I suggest that your group can make the existing rules work well for their purposes (as you've described them), by "kicking the tires" a little. By that I mean ramping up your attention to certain rules, interpreting others a bit differently from their text, and ignoring or diminishing yet others - in other words, Drift. You're probably doing it already anyway. Here are some notions about one way to Drift that particular rules-set.

    #1: Really apply those Karma resolution rules. A lot of people play Amber as Drama-bullying, i.e., if I say "I do X" before someone else gets in a word edgewise, then X happens. However, the rules are explicit: better guy wins, modified as GM-interpreted based on local conditions and Good/Bad Stuff. Enforcing these rules is a big deal; when confronted by Benedict, a player cannot ejaculate "I hit him!" and expect him to be defeated. He's got Warfare up the wazoo ("more than you") and the character walks into his fist. That "role-play better" advice in the rules is extremely vague and lends itself to Drama bullying (which is itself Drift if it replaces the Karma comparison, as many [mis-]read it); set standards for it as actual in-game tactics rather than OOC shoving-about.

    The converse of enforcing these rules is also important: make Attribute use rely on announcement. That means (a) players have to be given lots of information to react to and (b) they must be given time to announce reactions ... but also that they do have to announce such things and not rely on "passive" attribute use. Hence, the GM says, "Ten guys run at you with machine guns blazing," and the player must state "I leap and dodge" in order to avoid the bullets. If he says, "OK, I go on opening the safe," then he's shot to pieces. No protests about how high his Warfare is.

    #2: Interpret the Shadow rules in terms of impact on Story Now, rather than in terms of simulating some sort of metaphysics. Instead of being a Zelazny fanboy who wants to know "what if Shadow did this," be a Zelazny-esque author and recognize how he used Shadow-based explanations to set up conflicts and constraints. That "constraint" is especially important; throughout the stories, Shadow's malleability was far outweighed by the limitations it laid on Corwin rather than on his opportunities. Think of how difficult it was to get the Amber-ready gunpowder, how easy it was for the True Amber to stay hidden, how much fuckin' running around he had to do after the jewel based on time-flow differences, and how Brand stayed one step ahead of so many other characters for so long.

    Some Amber players like to announce stuff like, "I shift to a cyberpunk world where they already worship me, and shift back with a trained black ops team, who overwhelm [the player-characters], and we brainwash them to serve me." Uh-huh. Maybe in fanboy-land. That's one way to play, certainly, but I suggest focusing on Shadow as a set of layered barriers full of unsuspected dangers rather than a smorgasbord of Powerz.

    #3: Ignore or diminish the role of parental/canonical Amberites, in terms of "missions" or manipulation that always seems to turn out their way. Treat them mainly as Color and as possible sources of setting complications, and consider the actions of the player-characters to be consequential and pivotal, at least in terms that are important to them and those near to them, and possibly to the setting as a whole as well.

    These are not the only N-Drift possibilities for Amber, and in fact, they might be wholly wrong for your particular N-spin on play, which obviously I'm not very close to. But I hope they give you an idea of how this system can be tweaked at least as our group saw it. Since Drift is typically not a particularly directed/controlled process, it's not a program, but a source for perspective.

    Best,
    Ron
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #10 on: April 19, 2004, 11:35:16 AM »

    FWIW, I agree with Ron that the Amber rules are close enough to promoting narrativism that they can be drifted.  Does that make it an "abashed" system?  Still working on my terminology.

    Anyway, my profound thanks to everyone for providing me with so many alternative viewpoints on the issue, and helping me to examine what I wanted to say.  I ended up posting this to my group:

    Quote
    I think that game mechanics are very good at helping a group of people to collaborate on telling a story.  And I picked Amber because (in addition to being a setting and community that I enjoy) its rules are particularly well suited to creating stories.

    Say, for instance, that a scene involves a player fighting with an NPC.  I like to be able to look at the stats and quickly say "Ah, this is the person who will win the battle".  Because, of course, what's important is the emotional subtext, and what their choices tell us about the characters.  The rules help me to gloss the boring bits (i.e. who wins, who loses) and concentrate on the juicy bits (how they win, what it costs them to lose).
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #11 on: April 19, 2004, 11:41:53 AM »

    Oh, and a side-note that I forgot, in response to Ron's point #3 above (don't tell the story of the Elders, tell the story of the PCs):  I started crafting my Elders right after my first read of My Life With Master... so they've all got Wants (for recognition or validation from some Outside group, seldom/never the PCs) and Needs (things they ask the PCs to do for them in pursuance of their Wants).  It's a very nice insight, and I'm happy to be fiddling with it.

    I'm hoping that it will work out well in the long-term for empowering the PCs while keeping the Elders as a source of sudden, inescapable complications and wild capricious demands.  I'll have to keep people posted, as there haven't been enough PC-Elder encounters to represent a meaningful sample.
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