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Using Kickers & Bangs

Started by contracycle, January 03, 2002, 06:54:00 AM

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Question: do kickers strinctlyn have to occor BEFORE PLAY BEGINS?  Is the kicker necessarily the fist instance of play?

I would say not.  Working on an experimental scenario, I was trying to pre-write some "generic" kickers for integrating the scenario with existing campaigns.  Rather than writing an actual scene, dilogue and the like, I am trying to frame types of kickers; the kinds of things that GM's may exploit in order to foreshadow, frame, or make relevant the conflict in the rest of the scenario.  This leads to an interesting opportunity - different characters by their nature will probably respond to different prompts.  It may be that not all kickers are temporally coordinated in the game world; I think you could begin play WITHOUT a kicker and then get "kicked" later (although still early, I think.  Possible exception is the revealed birthmark I mentioned under the R-maps thread).

This is based on the idea that the kicker is really there to engage the player rather than start actual play.  Not to say it could not or should not, but in the context of trying to write kickers for existing by unknowable games, I think you could use delayed kickers as a kind of bait-and-switch technique.

So far  I am finding it actually quite easy to frame out a bunch of "generic kickers", especially if you already know where you are going.  Comments?

[ This Message was edited by: contracycle on 2002-01-03 07:55 ]
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


I've doubled this thread up 'cos I think Kickers are really mini, personalised bangs.

Has anyone tried writing bangs explicitly for their games?  To what extent are bangs pre-prepared?  If you had to write bangs for others, how would you arrange the information?  What sort of information would you want to convey?  Ta.

[ This Message was edited by: contracycle on 2002-01-03 07:57 ]
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Paul Czege

Hey Gareth,

Very good questions. I hope my response is good. I'm fighting off a wicked cold, so if I'm incoherent, it's the fever speaking.

Question: do kickers strinctlyn have to occor BEFORE PLAY BEGINS? Is the kicker necessarily the fist instance of play?....I think you could begin play WITHOUT a kicker and then get "kicked" later

A Kicker is supposed to be something to which the character must respond, and its purpose is to get the story moving for the character. I would have each character's opening scene be either immediately after the Kicker event, or sometime after the Kicker event in a situation that intensifies the conflict of the Kicker. I'm not sure there's any good reason to wait to have the Kicker scene, and there are lots of reasons not to. Primary among them is that if you wait, then you pretty much have to railroad the character to get him to the Kicker. And since it's the Kicker that really gives the character his reason for existence, that starts him making decisions that challenge and reveal what he's truly made of, all the stuff you might roleplay leading up to it is just so much exposition without conflict. Or it's pseudo-conflict, akin to the characterizing and verbal one-upmanship you see in LARP play; it's pretend conflict because it's not about the character's real issues.

This is based on the idea that the kicker is really there to engage the player rather than start actual play....I think you could use delayed kickers as a kind of bait-and-switch technique.

I think this would be fairly presumptuous on the part of a GM. It's like saying, "I know what motivates you, the player, better than you do." It's misperceiving that the reason Kickers work is because they're a character mechanic, part of character creation, and intimately knotted into the player's concept of the character. I actually think the bait-and-switch would have the opposite effect than what you want. I think it would more likely dismotivate the player than create increased engagement through its cleverness.


[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2002-01-03 11:37 ]
My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans



First of all I'd like to say that I agree with Paul 100% but while we're on alternative uses for Kickers I thought I'd share one insight I've learned along the way.  I've noticed that a Kicker-like element, no matter how it is used, goes a LONG LONG way in making the game engaging for the player on any level.

In Deadlands there is a spot on the character sheet labeled, "Your Worst Nightmare."  I make players fill that section out.  There are really two ways this information can be used.

1) It can be used as an implicit kicker.  That is, the information doesn't describe an actual kicker but the GM can just start the game off with the player being confronted by an element of his worst nightmare.

2) It can be used as an inverse kicker which is what I've been experimenting with.  That is, the information doesn't serve as an initial motivating conflict but rather as an indication of what the player would like as his character's high point of climatic resolution.  This is tricky to do with out railroading and it doesn't always work.  The result is a very strange blend of Narrativism and Illusionism.  It works something like this:

So you have all these bangs that you drop in front of the player.  The idea being of course that you do not know how the player will deal with these bangs and you have not in anyway predetermined an outcome.  One of the hardest things I find with this technique is that I design pretty powerful bangs and I end up with what I think of as a wall in the plot.  That is, I can't think of any more bangs because I need to know the outcomes of the first set of bangs before I can go any further.  This usually means that I come to the table with only one or two bangs per player and have to develop the rest on the fly.

Having an inverse-kicker really helps and it works particularly well for the horror genre.  The idea is that once a player has resolved a bang I have to determine the reprocussions of that resolution.  So, I look down at my relationship map and I follow the chain reaction of events with idea that these reactions should move the player one step closer to an INSTANCE of his 'worst nightmare.'  The word 'instance' is key.  I don't have a particular scene or form of conflict in mind. I just know what the nature of the conflict is.

This prevents the stories from wandering as I nervously just throw the first thing that comes off the top of my head onto the table.  It also works well for the horror genre as you end up taking about 75% of what the players percieve to be heroic and just actions and turning it back on them with horrific and tragic outcomes.  One final note is that it doesn't always work.  There's a least one character's 'Worst Nightmare' that I've had to abandon in favor of more appropriate conflicts in terms of Premise and that character's Theme.


Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I agree that the Kicker is the first Bang (that's in the Sorcerer text somewhere), and so I think a delayed or in-game Kicker is possible ... but maybe this discussion so far has missed the most important element of the concept - that it is written by the player of that character.

Jesse's notion of the Worst Nightmare in Deadlands therefore makes sense, that the player has generated a climactic scene or issue that "someday" will be addressed. The same idea applies to games in which player-characters have stated goals (e.g. Hero Wars).

However, I think this technique suffers from the "someday" problem, in which, sure, my Orlanthi warrior has the goal of freeing his clan from Lunar domination, but that might have nothing to do whatsoever with the first scenario at stake - and thus the player has little or no explicit investment in that first scenario.

The goal of the Kicker (as written) is to enlist the player into getting a character into directed, committed motion prior to play, specifically because so many players/GMs are used to the idea of the player waiting on the GM in order to "know what to do." Reversing that default notion was the whole point of the Kicker.

So to address Gareth's basic point, I think that if that reversal can be preserved, any variation on when the Kicker occurs is acceptable. But delaying the Kicker does introduce the potential of losing the reversal.


Ben Morgan

QuoteHowever, I think this technique suffers from the "someday" problem, in which, sure, my Orlanthi warrior has the goal of freeing his clan from Lunar domination, but that might have nothing to do whatsoever with the first scenario at stake - and thus the player has little or no explicit investment in that first scenario.

This is why, if you're planning on running a long, connected series of stories, it's good to have players delineate their character's long-term goals and short-term goals, and make sure they know the difference between the two.

I'd say that resolution of the Kicker a short-term goal (probably not the only one, maybe the most important one, maybe not, but certainly the most immediate one).

Long-term goals are something that, if the character is run through, say, four or five, stories, the player (and the GM) will be working toward resolving that goal. If you don't get there, no sweat, it doubles as color for the character. And you can always come back to it. If you're more interested in the long-term goal than how the character gets there, that's what out-of-sequence stories are for.

It's likely that I'm not writing anything that everyone here doesn't already know, but putting it down in black and white is as much for my benefit as anyone else's. It helps that I am totally sure that I understand these concepts when I attempt to present them to anyone else (ie: the rest of my gaming group). Later...

-----[Ben Morgan]-----[]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light


Hey guys,

Maybe I'm thinking out my ass here, but the word "goal" doesn't quite jive with me when talking about Kickers.  Yeah, you are talking about resolving something, which somehow implies a sort of goal I guess, but Kickers seem like so much more to me.  This became blatantly obvious to me in my group's most recent four-game stretch.

We were playing Mage, and the GM wanted to have a Kicker-like mechanic.  I suggested making everyone take a Driving Goal (which is a Flaw by the normal rules).  So everyone wrote up these Driving Goals, and just like Ron said, almost no one had any investment in them when the game began.  Except for me, because I didn't write up a Driving Goal, I wrote up something more like a Kicker.  My character's deal was that he had just discovered the goldfish his newly wedded wife gave him as a present was actually a mind control device, and from that he surmised that she was an alien attempting to breed with him.  Despite the GM's prodding, I could provide no real goal, except to say that I wanted to deal with the issues that it raised.  

So I guess my problem with "goal" relates to the idea that goals are things you set up with a definite conclusion in mind - you hope to achieve that thing.  That's far too linear for me, and for what I think Kickers are supposed to be.  As the Sorcerer text suggests, Kickers are supposed to provide motion to the character, but not delineate any specific course of action (or, in my mind, resolution).

Take care,

[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2002-01-04 00:07 ]


Heres a thought on using bangs that I have been experimenting with, and I appear to be getting good results.  At the very least I can see my design developing in a qualitatively different way from my previous results, which were more "adventure" rather than "story" oriented.

So, here is A Game In Six Bangs.  The idea is, working from the dramatic situations, you identify 6 bangs in order from beggining to end; the moments of critical decision - enemies manifest, a crime is committed, new information appears.  Working through these develops a sense of developement over time; you have momentum.  The bangs are differentiated by type and attributes: they can be Implosive or Explosive, and are delineated with a Description, a Function, and some comemnts on Staging.

The idea of Implosive and Explosive bangs was shamelessly stolen from the 3-act play model, as are some ideas about timing (see later).  In the 3-act play the pace is dictated by the midpoint, plot turns and pinches.  The midpoint and turns serve to open out options for the characters; I call these Kinks (I found Indid not like "turns; it implies too dramatic a shift to me).  The piches are Implosive bangs which contract options and direct the characters toward an established element, set them up for future bangs.  By alternating these much as you would in the 3-act play, you get a sequence of open options and compelled responses, I hope, and its organised like this:

Bang -- Type -- Timing
0 -- Kickers -- Session 1
1 -- Setup (explosive) -- Session 1
2 -- Pinch -- Session 2
3 -- Kink -- Session 2
4 -- Pinch -- Session 3
5 -- Kink -- Session 3
6 -- Resolution (implosive) -- Session 3

Timing is organised based on the thumb-sucked priniciple that the 3-act play corresponds to a 3-session game.  There is one preparatory session for character/kicker design and integration.  The pace steadily picks up as we rush toward the climax at the resolution over 4 actual sessions.

Each Bang is outlined in terms of three paragraphs: Description, Function, Staging.  Description discusses what the bang is in general terms; a dark vigilante appears in town, a character is assaulted, whatever.  It's not too precise to cater for customisation.  Function discusses the bang in terms of order and timing, how it is intended to impact the characters, how it relates and prefigures other, later bangs, how it drives the resolution of the Dramatic Situation, and ensures the GM knows why this bang is here and what its purpose is.  Staging discusses how to enact the bang in the game world; what sort of setting considerations to whach for, how they can use the opportunity to bring out NPC's from the background and perhaps ways to foreshadow future events, plant pointers, etc.

So, put this all together after an introduction and some discussion of setting-supported kickers, and I reckon you can write a story, know how its going to flow, and yet still not script anything too deterministically.  It almost totally solves, it appears in my experiment so far, the requirement of knowing what the characters ACTUALLY have on their sheets or their play history to date; instead of giving stage directions (streng verboten) you are writing "intent", for want of a better word.  Rather than staging explicit scenes, you are advising the run-time GM on the purpose of a bang and why its here; the details are then filled by the actual GM running the game.  But, knowing that, say Bang 4 is a Pinch (Implosive) and detailed as "The Slayer Revealed", accompanied by disussion of how to implement them in the setting, means you know what you are doing and why you are doing it; your eye is always on the ball and you just need to run a scene which actually carries out those functions in the game itself.  The hope is that the combination of vagueness at compile-time with free customisation at run-time, yet still preserving a dramatic structure and dynamic, which drives itself toward climax.

So far, my experiment is going well.  I decided to tackle the Bold Leader problem I mentioned head on - I wanted to do the Daring Enterprise and see if I could solve the problem of making one of the players the bold leader, or closely committed to the bold leader, as well as seeing whether the structure made sense.  I am producing a totally different kind of "script"; I thumb-sucked six sort of prim "climactic events" which became the bangs and inserted them into the ladder above.  Writing Kicker guidleines seemed remarkably easy; knowing that I want the players to take large amounts of initiative and responsibility, you can start tasckling this at the start by discussing setting options, things people care about in this world, the social duynamic and pressures of relationships.  Moving on to the bangs themselves, in 3 paragraphs, also looks good: I still seem able to retain clear direction, there still seem to be many, many ways to stage the bang itself

It's been an interesting exercise; is not yet complete, and I'm sure I'm doing things wrong.  I do note that character relationships emerge implicitly here because of the need to find ways to enagage players and characters, even though the scenario itself does not strictly require a relationship map.  I see myself making more, well, dramatic changes than before; in order to give the scenes sufficient impact.  I can see myself killing off more NP{C's than usual (not spear-carriers) and I note that none of the bangs, with the possible exception of the last, is a fight (although there is fighting in several scenes, they are not the bit that explodes) despite the fact that its a superficially direct, combat type adventure.  And fundamentally, I'm finding that speculating on ways thatb other Gm;s might actually implement particualr banfgs, and discussing these, is much more rewarding and looks more promising than trying to script anything.

Anyway, the little scenario I'm writing is based on HeroWars and won't be that little; I'm committing one page to each bang, I expect to finish in under 15 pages all told.  I'll probably try to find a way to post it once I'm done, so that people can tell me if it makes sense, if they can see both the core story and a way to implement it themselves.  We shall see whether it works.

[ This Message was edited by: contracycle on 2002-01-04 05:28 ]
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


In terms of delayed kickers, I was thinking of something like this order of play:

- Kicker A "spawns" A
- Kicker B spawns character B
- Bang 1 occurs
- Kicker C and D occur as a direct consequence of Bang 1 and Characters C and D are spawned
- Bang 2 occurs
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Mike Holmes


I think that El Dorado may be in sight, here. I'm almost as sure that the Narrativists aren't going to like it. But then they aren't searching for El Dorado, after all. Keep in mind that Ron codified and introduced to RPGs these particular ideas to enhace Narrativist play. As such, what you have here does not fit those definitions. What you seem to have done here is create Simulationist versions of the same items. Which I personally like, FWIW.

Interestingly, I think that what you describe has been used in the best of Sim scenario creation over the years. I recently mentioned the Traveller adventure Argon Gambit. I believe that this is an early version of exactly what you describe. And since then, there have been other sporadic examples. They are rare, but they exist. I think that your codification of this sort of design could be very useful. I look forward to seeing it ironed out.

Any way you can get all three acts in just one session? Or rather is there a TV episodic version? This would make more sense for some games than resolving over three sessions.

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Hmm, sounds like good Sim-scenario design.

The basic questions of this thread remind me of a L5R campaign I GMd. For what I called the "first season" (the game ran a whole of five seasons, spanning the arc of the L5R meta-plot), the scenarios were pretty straightforwad, I'd say even railroaded (in the Illusionism kind of way) stuff. However, with the character playing underlings of their warlord, it was easy for the GM to exert illusory railroading. My point in those first scenarios was to introduce the players and characters to the setting, to the region I had detailed (in a lot of detail, to) and to introduce them to the NPCs (I'd say insert them into the r-map thee days, but I didn't know them then, even though I've been using similar entities a long time). The point of doing this, was to enable the characters to, in effect, create their own kickers. By the end of the first season, they'd have a) emotional attachement to their characters, b) to NPCs and c) they'd have the in-character resources (rank, status, knowledge) to be more "mature characters", capable to creating their own goals.

From there, the game took off, with the PCs mostly in control of a lot of the decisions (so, there was little railroading involved, except in the way of me introducing certain concerns over others). Their decisions shaped the narrative, as well as allowing me to know what interested the characters in the setting. Did they explore the disappearance of the supply caravan, thus taking them into the whole mess with the ninja? Did they investigate the Oni activity at the ruined temple, thus taking them into a plot which might give them access to a Black Scroll? In the end, they did a little bit of everything, but concentrated on certain things (they got the Black Scroll, ran off to Otosan Uchi harried by a Shadowlands army that sacked their homecastle even as they continued travelling -- talk about conflicts of honor -- to their destination, only to be intercepted by the Fu Leng-as-Hantei Emperor's goons).

In effect, they didn't explore all the r-maps that I had done, only some of them. Some they learned of to some extent, but mysteries still remained. Others they pursued to the ends of the earth, as their characters dictated.

I wouldn't really call the campaign narrativist at all. It was simulationism in my mind, but simulationism where the players had control of their destiny. They didn't have to go to Otosan Uchi, that was totally their own decision, but once they decided that, I ran with it and wanted to make that quest as interesting a story as possible. After the game, for the players it was both an immersive exploration of their character and one hell of a story. Did the game have a premise in the narrativist sense? Yes and no. Everybody had their own take on it -- and I had my own -- and they all pretty much were the same. But the game was about much more than that premise ("the unity of mankind" -- a big premise with a lot of tangents), about the cool world of L5R and equally about the player characters. None of these could exist without the others, however, they were tightly wound.

That was close to El Dorado, I'd say. Indeed, that sameness shared by the premises, the world and the characters is what I currently think of as El Dorado. The current systems and role-playing models are not very supportive of this type of playing. It required from me an immense amount of work on the game (something which makes me very reluctant to run games anymore), on-going cooperative work with the players on their characters and the gamesystem (which I love nonetheless) was not always entirely supportative of it -- or I'd rather say, there could be a better system at creating the style of play I was looking for.

Now back to the thread's concerns. I can't see why Simulationist games couldn't have a mechanic of creating kickers for the players to use. Then the GM would take those and run with them. Where 's the need to ditch good ol' immersion and so on?

Oh, and something lies in those r-maps I was talking about. I'd be loathe to call these those, as they aren't that in the Ronesque manner that folks are used to here. Indeed, I don't know exactly what they are/were, but there's a lot to investigate there.

Heh, sorry for the conquistadors hijacking this thread. Greedy ol' gold hunters. :)