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Author Topic: How to describe my play style  (Read 5347 times)
ffilz
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« on: August 27, 2004, 09:34:44 AM »

I'm not sure if this is the right forum for this...If it isn't and a moderator wants to move it, or whatever, please feel free to do so...

I've been starting to read through things, motivated by the fact that I am looking to recruit some new players.

The biggest problem I have with recruiting new players is communicating my play style. I'm also trying to decide what system to run (currently primarily considering Fudge, but The Riddle of Steel has some appealing points).

I think from what I understand of GNS so far is that I am primarily Simulationist but with a strong desire for Narativism. I mostly reject Gamism (though I can enjoy Gamism sometimes). Of course as a GM, I have to work with my players also.

I like to run games in a rich setting that has room for players to explore and find their own interests. I also enjoy running tactical combats. I don't tend to enjoy running political intrigue (I'm thinking I'm turned off by apparent Gamist attudes in politics). I don't want to drive a story all by myself. Since I don't have the time, I tend to like using other people's settings (with Glorantha being one of my long time favorites, but currently I'm looking at Tekumel).

One thing I really want to experiment with is some explicit mechanics for giving the players more authority. I wish I had been more persistent in looking for a Universalis demo at GenCon. I'm intrigued by the possibilities of using Universalis as a tool to establish player interests.

I'm also struggling some with how to put trust in my players so that giving them more authority will be successeful. One of the reasons I GM is that I hate being on the losing side of Gamism which has so dominated my previous play experience. I have also had Gamist players trample games I've run (in fact, our most recent campaign, a D20 campaign collapsed when Gamism reared it's head).

Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of D20 Gamism, but there must be plenty of players out there looking for something different...

Thanks for any thoughts and encouragement...

Frank
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Frank Filz
TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2004, 09:53:10 AM »

I've wrestled with (and still wrestle with) the same questions.  And folks have gifted me with a lot of advice.  So I'll try to paraphrase some of it back:  What you want to play has nothing to do with what Creative Agenda you're playing in.  If everybody at the table intensely wants to play Narrativist, and to tell stories centering around themes, but somehow week after week they end up doing meaningless dungeon crawls and killing bunches of orcs then they are playing a Gamist Creative Agenda?

How can you tell?  Because when the unconsidered decision of "Do we follow story or maintain our tactics?" comes up, they answer for tactics every time.  Not because they consciously want to, but because they believe, or have been trained, on some level that tactics trumps story.  That story gets to happen only after tactical concerns have been addressed.

The rules system can seriously influence those unconsidered decisions.  Ignore it at your peril.  I tried (indeed am still trying) to run Narrativist Amber, for instance, with a group that intensely wants to do it... but somehow, whenever I look back at what has actually been decided, it's all a mix of Sim and Gamist, without a Premise (much less the addressing of one) in sight.  And that's with everybody consciously on-board with the process.  You've already pointed out how one or two people who are in synch with the game system (i.e. deliberate gamists in D20) get disproportionate power to dictate what is important.

So... don't know whether that will provide insight or confusion.  But it's the advice I've got, right here, today.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2004, 09:54:53 AM »

Hi Frank,

Welcome to the Forge!

I'd like to keep this thread here in Actual Play, which will do best if you post a bit about the games that you've played most recently, and how they did or didn't satsify you.

As food for thought, consider that the "fear of Gamism" is actually largely unnecessary unless there are people you're playing with who are committed to it - in which case no rules-based "defense" is going to work. I think that many Simulationist-leaning habits are practiced, by some people, as an attempt at anti-Gamist defense, and that such an effort is largely futile. (This is distinct from a dedicated Simulationist approach, which by contrast has many joyous qualities.)

Instead, the solution is to be in play with folks who are on-board, up-front, with your Creative Agenda (and you with theirs), of whatever stripe.

So again, what game systems and scope of play are we talking about? Lots of players, or a few? Related to one another, or any romantic connections among them? Basic age range? Have you played a single game for a long time, or bounced around a bit?

Best,
Ron
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ffilz
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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2004, 01:21:39 PM »

Ok, to start to try and answer the questions...

My most recent campaign was D20 using Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed which I ran for about 9 months. Players averaged 7 per session. Ages ranged from 2 kids aged 10ish to the oldest at 44 or so. The two most committed players are a young couple (in their 20s). I think the wife is there mostly to allow her husband to play. She is very hard to engage in play, in part due to psychological issues (I'm not sure what here condition is and haven't really delved into it). One of the kids has been very unengaged and shows up with her father. I'm not sure what her agenda is (I fear it's mostly daddy's agenda, but she also isn't exhibiting "I don't want to be here" behaviors - mostly I think she's intimidated by the adults). Daddy is one of the most Gamist players. The other kid is very engaged and tends to play Gamist at some level. He has also been nicknamed "the character of the week player" for his frequent character changes (either showing up with a new character and abandoning an old one, or letting an old character die). His mother is probably a Narativist with Similationist overtones but has become way less available (she's very politically active). The next player has played Gamist, playing the primary spell caster, but expressed frustration at having to do so (so here's where System is coming into play in part, plus I'm sure my style hasn't helped even if some of my style is defensive). The last player has only played a few sessions and started off with a "let's play a piss everyone off character" followed by a rather Gamist character.

My approach to the game was to try and present balanced encounters (which I think D20 actually helps far more than any previous incarnation of D&D), but the efforts of encounter prep sucked so much of my energy that I had little to spare on developing the world etc. An uninspiring [to me] setting contributed to this (I used the Diamond Throne setting that is default for Arcana Unearthed). The biggest frustration beyond the prep time was the acknowledgement that the primary spell caster dominated the tactical encounters. I tried to find out character motivations but had trouble getting them. The spell caster had an interesting background that I just couldn't get into. The final session he suddenly decided it was time to force his background to come into play which resulted in a serious butting of heads (he had not even indicated availability for the session until the last minute, so I had prepared something entirely different) as he decided to teleport back to town (I hate teleportation...) to pursue his agenda. Daddy, who had stonewalled on the previous adventure joined him in this 90 degree turn. In a system where I felt comfortable winging things, I would have been very willing to accodate them (so one of my biggest demands on a system is that it be a lot more open to winging encounters - however it might accomplish that). Fortunately daddy did finally suggest a compromise that I send the spell caster back to the planned adventure as an information source. That final session was frustrating in a lot of ways (as I had tried hard to counter the dominance of the spell caster - and failed) though the newest player did shine in the end by taking the final encounter which required use of a robe and another item previously and convincing some natives that he was their king returned.

My ideal group size is 6 people, but I end up recruiting more players to maintain a decent number of players at sessions. I have yet to run a campaign that was so enthralling that I didn't have to worry about folks not showing up. I often steal modules from other games to use as a basis for adventure settings, though I also run some less structured sessions.

My previous campaign was running a college friend's home brew (which is probably a fantasy heartbreaker). It ran for about 5 months though never with very good attendance. I used the Talislanta setting and started with a couple Talislanta fans but they left after two or three sessionscomplaining about the hack 'n' slash (but also were driving quite a distance to get there) and lack of Talislanta focus. The spell caster from the D20 campaign and one other player were the only consistent players throughout the 5 or 6 sessions we managed. The system was certainly a Simulationist defense against Gameism (and probably succeeded better than many due to being developed in a very demanding environment). Unfortunately, while there is a lot that I like about the system, it also is  very weak in character development (it's basically a combat system and a magic system, with a skill system added on by me). I also found the Talislanta setting very shallow though with a lot of potential, but I never really had a chance to develop the setting (I think there is enough there for me to take and run with). Sometime I'd love to talk to other game designers about the system (but now is not the time) and see where folks might run with some of the best aspects of it - there's some seeds that deserve proper planting and nurture.

Digging into my past, one of my favorite campaigns was a Glorantha/RuneQuest campaign with 2 very dedicated players and several less dedicated players. One of the two dedicated players was a Glorantha fan and the other dedicated player really enjoyed digging into the setting. We had some very enjoyable unstructured sessions where they dealt with random encounters (talking to, escaping from, or fighting). Most of the "role play" was between the PCs (as the Humakt chided the "tomb robbing" Lankhor Mhy for example). The players and I shared responsibilty for deciding where to go next once we got rolling (I would present them with adventure opportunities some times, and sometimes they would say "I want to investigate X").

Before the homebrew/Talislanta game, I tried a GURPS Talislanta game, and abandoned that after a single session. Several years before that I had tried GURPS another time and wasn't very successeful. I've also played some Everway and really like the character generation, or at least the art driven back story development, though the setting and play mechanics just didn't do it for me. The character development may also be too open ended, though I am attracted to the idea that players are more equal in developing the campaign (but how do you corral things into a consistent setting?). I tried to run Everway combat round by round. I don't lilk Karmic resolution (as a general mechanism - Karmic resolution is fine for non-important tasks though), and the Everway Fortune resolution is way too subjective for my tastes (I really wish I had found the time to play Everway with Jonathan Tweet at Origins to see how he envisioned the game).

I hope that's enough of a start to get everyone asking the right questions and me providing the right answers.

Frank
(who wishes there was a good GNS "test" for whatever it would be worth)
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Frank Filz
TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2004, 01:49:29 PM »

Quote from: Frank
(T)he efforts of encounter prep sucked so much of my energy that I had little to spare on developing the world etc.

This sounds, to me, as if you've got a Gamist CA.  You are consistently spending most (if not all) of your time making sure that the combats and encounters are well balanced and provide your players the chance to address Challenge through their characters.

And it sounds like you're pretty good at it.  If anything, perhaps you need to make it more explicit, so that folks understand that abandoning the Challenge in order to (for example) teleport into town and engage in activities that don't put the character at risk, is unacceptable behavior.
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ffilz
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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2004, 02:22:29 PM »

But I didn't really enjoy that aspect, or at least not as much as other aspects. I think mostly I'm good at it because I've had to adapt to Gamist groups. I know I don't like playing Gamist (which is why I really don't enjoy playing most of the time). Part of why I don't like it also comes to how easy it is for me to see through the system. In D&D (and Arcana Unearthed is basically D&D with the serial numbers filed off, and in fact, the way I used it, it was a fantasy heartbreaker), when the spell casters get enough uses of Fireball, they dominate the game. When they run out of fireballs, the party rests. The fighters purpose is to keep the enemies off the mage, and perhaps to herd them into being more efficiently slain by the fireballs.

The games and sessions I have enjoyed the most were not all about the challenge.

At least that's the way I read my interests. I guess I could be horribly wrong.

I wanted to accomodate the player who wanted to teleport back to town, but I also didn't want to flush all that prep down the drain.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2004, 02:30:22 PM »

Hiya,

I'm taking you at your word that you have accommodated Gamist expectations during play, without being inclined to do so and without enjoying it a whole lot. So yeah, let's set aside the Gamist stuff.

But let's set aside the others too. I think we should not focus on labelling you, but rather on really finding what you have enjoyed, and why and how.

In fact, that's my question. Please let me know about a single session, in your entire history of role-playing, which was 100% satisfactory to you, especially in terms of everyone else at the table and your interactions with them, with the imaginary events of play being considered in that context.

Best,
Ron
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ffilz
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« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2004, 02:54:44 PM »

Hmm, very fair question, now to dig deeply into my gaming history... I'm not sure if I've ever had a session that was 100% satisfactory (though I guess it gets a little easier if we discount my worying about one or two players who might not have been engaged by the session).

The first session that comes to mind was in an SF (Traveler based) game. The players had a contact with aliens. We spent most of the session working out how to establish communications from the ground up. I don't remember many details (mostly because I'm not sure we ever had to roll dice), but I remember a very engaging several hours of discussion (of course one of my questions is if this really was roleplay). I think one thing that was part of my sasisfaction was the cooperation between the players and me in coming up with the solution.

Hnmm, one thing I think I get from this thought exericise is that what I really want is two or three totally engaged players. I tend to surround myself with lots of players, but I'm thinking that all my best sessions have been with just a few players.

I'm trying to think if I've had a more recent AHA! session... (I really haven't had that much gaming in the past 15 years since I got out of college).

Frank
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Frank Filz
Christopher Weeks
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2004, 05:52:07 AM »

The bit about the long collaborative problem solving got me really thinking about my past gaming.  I think that prior to coming to the Forge, I never really questioned that the purpose of RPGs was to have a GM present problems that the players could hopefully solve.  It was really just a puzzle solving medium.  Sadly, the times that we couldn't figure out any elegant solution and we either just resorted to inflicting mass damage or the games fell apart, pretty substantially outnumber the successes.

I think that at least some of my fellows in these games believe(d) that it was about a story being told or a role being played, but I think that's a misunderstanding of what we were doing.

Since I've been focussing on "Forge" games this focus has shifted pretty substantially toward trying cool new ideas and building cool stories.

Frank, saving your previous best experiences for later, and ignoring what you think RPGs can or should deliver, can you isolate what a perfect RP experience would be like -- even if you have never had such an experience?  Try to reference your past experiences as little as possible.

Separate question: In this discussion (and in other discussions that we've had in person) trust has come up as an issue.  What is it that someone would do to break or violate your trust?  If you're keeping them in a sense at arm's length, what slight are you protecting yourself from?  I suggested Universalis as a good trust-building exercise for you, but that might actually not be right if I missed the point previously.

Chris
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ffilz
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2004, 08:18:41 AM »

Quote

The bit about the long collaborative problem solving got me really thinking about my past gaming. I think that prior to coming to the Forge, I never really questioned that the purpose of RPGs was to have a GM present problems that the players could hopefully solve. It was really just a puzzle solving medium. Sadly, the times that we couldn't figure out any elegant solution and we either just resorted to inflicting mass damage or the games fell apart, pretty substantially outnumber the successes.

Good point about the puzzle solving. I think puzzle solving can be a fun part of the game, but the puzzles need to be things that are part of the game universe, not something tacked on because the GM thinks the PCs should have to solve a puzzle to get to the treasure. It is an easy trap to fall into. The success also depends on the players, and the GM's presentation. One thing that can help is if the players and GM are on a more equal footing, so the players feel they have permission to say "we can't solve this puzzle, move things along." and the GM doesn't feel the players MUST solve the puzzle, so he notices their frustration before it comes to a head in the first place (on Saturday, I ran "Another Fine Mess" a Fudge scenario - the PCs got stuck on a puzzle with a bridge. I probably let them go a little too long, but I pointed out there was possibly another path - they tried the other way, and two PCs were able to continue that way while the rest were able to get across the bridge).

Quote

I think that at least some of my fellows in these games believe(d) that it was about a story being told or a role being played, but I think that's a misunderstanding of what we were doing.

Yea, I can see that. I have largely rejected most types of puzzles, partly because of this.  Why does the tomb have a puzzle that if you solve it you get the treasure? Also, I'm not good at coming up with crafty puzzles (though coming up with things that require puzzle/problem solving that are more tied to the game are easier for me to do). I should also note that in some sense, I see combat as a puzzle solving thing (of course that sense probably is a Gamist agenda - so I guess I do get something from the Gamist agenda - but I want more than just that).

Quote

Frank, saving your previous best experiences for later, and ignoring what you think RPGs can or should deliver, can you isolate what a perfect RP experience would be like -- even if you have never had such an experience? Try to reference your past experiences as little as possible.

Hmm, part of my problem has been figuring out what it really is that I like about RPGs. One thing I do know is that I have yet to find another medium that comes close to fulfilling my needs the way RPGs do. Building things with LEGO satisfies some of my creative needs, but it doesn't satisfy other needs. Hanging out with people at church satisfies my social needs, and sometimes satisfies creative needs, but not other needs. Certainly a big part of RPGs for me is the thought exercise (which is partly, but not completely satisfied by my programming job). I think it's a combination of socialization, creativity, and cooperative problem solving.

I know that the cooperative part is a big thing for me, and I think one reason I don't like playing as much. As a player, I have seen too many competitive games and GM power plays (not that I never pull GM power plays myself - that's an area I'd like to improve on) to trust that I will have a good experience. The last time I played was a few weeks ago playtesting a Fudge scenario. We got bogged down in some sewers without light and insufficient information to proceed, compounded by one PC finding a way out through a hole in the ceiling (basically by teleporting up to it - the rest of us weren't going to get up). We ground to a halt, waiting for that PC to return with a rope, with another player (one of my regulars) really starting to go off on how that one PC was betraying us. The GM let us stay stuck for over an hour.

On the other hand, the session I ran Saturday was pretty good (we did get stalled a bit on the bridge puzzle though). Part of me was annoyed that the horse basically took out every opponent, but the rest of me accepted that as part of the story, because the story wasn't about killing things. The ferret was an absolute hoot, leading the PCs through a maze of caves (I could just picture the ferret being his little ferret self, crawling over and around obstacles in the cave).

I know that when the players are able to contribute to the game, things are the best. That contribution can be through providing plot points, helping everyone imagine the setting, helping the party with tactics, coming up with unexpected solutions to problems, and more.

Quote

Separate question: In this discussion (and in other discussions that we've had in person) trust has come up as an issue. What is it that someone would do to break or violate your trust? If you're keeping them in a sense at arm's length, what slight are you protecting yourself from? I suggested Universalis as a good trust-building exercise for you, but that might actually not be right if I missed the point previously.

Hmm, some things that break trust for me:

- Scheduling issues (not communicating availability and being late)
- Misplaced silliness (I guess this could be generalized to breaking mood - being overly serious in a silly game would be just as bad)
- Forcing competitiveness (I'm having trouble here - I think some competitiveness is valuable, so I don't know what I'm thinking here)
- Taking advantage of freedoms to benefit oneself and not the whole group (selfishness?)

One big one that has totally blown trust in the past is when a group of the players becomes exclusionary and start leaving me out, and perhaps this is one of my biggest fears.

I'm just having a hard time articulating myself.

For Chris, a recent trust example would be running the Pirate Game. I trust Chris to run the players interractions in port whereas I have lost trust in Larry (for gaming - for other things I still grant Larry a lot of trust). Part of it is communication. Chris and I have been talking about gaming for over 4 years and I think we share a lot of opinions (though I know there are differences also).

In thinking about trust issues, it sometimes seems that it takes a long time for me to build trust, but other times it doesn't. I don't think my trust level with Chris has changed much since the first time we got together. One of the players in my D20 campaign suggested the possibility of co-GMing last fall and I gave it quite serious consideration (when in the past I have largely rejected the idea of co-GMs). Similar philosophies of life (and a willingness to share them) is certainly a common factor (hmm, I'm trying to think - is that THE common factor).

Well, I don't know if I've really answered any of the questions...

Frank
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Frank Filz
Christopher Weeks
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2004, 09:09:25 AM »

For the record, I didn't mean formal puzzles.  I meant situations in which a particular series of actions would produce some favorable result.  (e.g. you have to talk to the prostitute to learn about the john to find out that he wasn't the guy you're looking for so that you even look for someone else who turns out to be the night guy at 7-11 who is actually blackmailing the john because he banged his wife and got the goods on him but when you find out where he lives, it turns out that his apartment is full of flamable substances so you can't just go in shooting...only you never thought to tail the john's prostitute.)

Quote from: Frank
I think it's a combination of socialization, creativity, and cooperative problem solving.


So I wonder how much of your issue is play style or focus on GNS placement rather than just hooking up with people you like.  Do you like the folks that you're playing with?  Have you ever gamed with non-gamers?  Is there any opportunity for you to game as part of your church-youth work?

And I'm still pinging on the trust issue in your case.

Quote from: Frank
Scheduling issues (not communicating availability and being late)


If you're having players who consistently don't show or show up late, I'd suggest playing games where that doesn't harm the game or firing them.  I mostly don't have time enough to spend any of it waiting for people to show up.  My mother plays in a group where some people are routinely two hours late she bitches but does nothing.  I think I'd have my pistol out before the two hour mark :-)

Quote from: Frank
Misplaced silliness (I guess this could be generalized to breaking mood - being overly serious in a silly game would be just as bad)


I think this is indicative of the players not all being on the same page about the game.  I'm taking this from my experience in education and child rearing, but it's also, I think, a natural response to being in a situation that you are not invested in through power.  But is it a really common experience?  And how does being GM help negate it for you?  Also, who gets to pick the game's mood?

Quote from: Frank
Forcing competitiveness (I'm having trouble here - I think some competitiveness is valuable, so I don't know what I'm thinking here)


Do you have examples?  Or is this really a subset of the next point?

Quote from: Frank
Taking advantage of freedoms to benefit oneself and not the whole group (selfishness?)


What does benefit mean?  Do you care who gets the magic items more or what gets done with them in the end?  In general, I think the people I play with care about the fun that I have.  Is that not your impression of the games you've been involved with?

Certainly, being isolated socially in a game is unacceptable.  And I guess it's impossible if you're the GM.  But I think I'd rather whack the root cause rather than lose flexibility.  I'd want to know what they thought was going on and why they thought it was OK.  I guess it sounds from your brief description like they're snotty teenagers exerting clique power.  But I'm assuming that's not the case, else you'd just realize hey, we're grownup now -- that's not a problem anymore.

OK, I still think you should play Universalis.  The wonder of a good Uni session comes primarily from your inability to mistrust the other players (in any meaningful way) and seeing how much the outcome rocks.  I like the fact that everyone else is GM all attending to my play (except when that's switched around :-).

Chris
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ffilz
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2004, 10:35:40 AM »

Quote

For the record, I didn't mean formal puzzles. I meant situations in which a particular series of actions would produce some favorable result. (e.g. you have to talk to the prostitute to learn about the john to find out that he wasn't the guy you're looking for so that you even look for someone else who turns out to be the night guy at 7-11 who is actually blackmailing the john because he banged his wife and got the goods on him but when you find out where he lives, it turns out that his apartment is full of flamable substances so you can't just go in shooting...only you never thought to tail the john's prostitute.)

Ok, good point. I think this type of puzzle is still valuable, but you're right, it is a puzzle, and the GM needs to make sure things move forward.

Quote

So I wonder how much of your issue is play style or focus on GNS placement rather than just hooking up with people you like. Do you like the folks that you're playing with? Have you ever gamed with non-gamers? Is there any opportunity for you to game as part of your church-youth work?

I guess hooking up with people I like is part of it. I do like the players I have, though I certainly have had players I like better.

I haven't had an opportunity to game with non-gamers. Partly that's the fact that my trust issues keep me from being very open with my hobby. As a kid, I used to be subject to a lot of teasing, so I tend to keep oddball interests to myself (never mind that 90% of the time when someone "finds me out" the result is positive - too much negative reinforcement as a child). Heck, even though my players know of my LEGO interests, I still keep the door to the LEGO room closed...

Quote

If you're having players who consistently don't show or show up late, I'd suggest playing games where that doesn't harm the game or firing them. I mostly don't have time enough to spend any of it waiting for people to show up. My mother plays in a group where some people are routinely two hours late she bitches but does nothing. I think I'd have my pistol out before the two hour mark :-)

We don't have too much trouble with lateness with the current group, but there is a lot of trouble getting folks to say "I'll be there." And "I'll be there." isn't the default assumption. It did help some when I added a session database to my Yahoo group where people can indicate their availability (including times if they would have to be late, or leave early). But some folks just don't communicate consistently even with that.

So part of the problem is that we don't have a social contract that people adhere to.

Frank wrote:
Misplaced silliness (I guess this could be generalized to breaking mood - being overly serious in a silly game would be just as bad)


Quote

I think this is indicative of the players not all being on the same page about the game. I'm taking this from my experience in education and child rearing, but it's also, I think, a natural response to being in a situation that you are not invested in through power. But is it a really common experience? And how does being GM help negate it for you? Also, who gets to pick the game's mood?

Good point. I think I tend to like a more serious game, though I do want it to be fun, and I don't like an environment where no jokes are allowed. I don't often have a problem with conflicting mood. I definitely need to work on sharing power better, communicating that I want power sharing better, and being more open to power sharing.

Quote

Frank wrote: Forcing competitiveness (I'm having trouble here - I think some competitiveness is valuable, so I don't know what I'm thinking here)

Do you have examples? Or is this really a subset of the next point?

Probably.

Quote

What does benefit mean? Do you care who gets the magic items more or what gets done with them in the end? In general, I think the people I play with care about the fun that I have. Is that not your impression of the games you've been involved with?

I have definitely played with folks who did not care about the fun of all players. I have seen players try and hog treasure. I have seen players insist on "fair" play even if someone isn't enjoying themself. I have been at fault also.

My most recent new player did a lot to damage trust right out of the starting gate. He immediately started to sabotage the session with the result that the players spent an hour or two dealing with his character. He basically admitted that he liked to shake players up. I was secretly glad when he dropped off the Yahoo list. Of course I also saw the possibility that his behavior was a reaction to another player stonewalling the session by deciding that the offered pay wasn't enough and delaying the start of the game by a couple hours. That sesssion had lots of fault to go around. I chose a scenario that wasn't that appealing to the players. I had also instituted a reward system that basically said everyone got the same xp and treasure, whether they were there or not. This of course reduced the reward for attendance to the reward of the play itself. It also gave the player the false impression that he could just sit on his laurels and collect more treasure than the offered pay for the scenario. I really should have known better, I have been discussing reward systems with people for at least 15 years. Another problem was that in a previous scenario they had come upon some land and a lot of salvage timber. This player had an unreasonable view of the value of the timber (to the tune of millions of gold pieces which would have just blown the game ecominics to hell and seemed wrong even outside of that).

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Certainly, being isolated socially in a game is unacceptable. And I guess it's impossible if you're the GM. But I think I'd rather whack the root cause rather than lose flexibility. I'd want to know what they thought was going on and why they thought it was OK. I guess it sounds from your brief description like they're snotty teenagers exerting clique power. But I'm assuming that's not the case, else you'd just realize hey, we're grownup now -- that's not a problem anymore.

Well, that was an issue back in high school and college. The current group isn't doing that.

All of this said though, there is one issue with the current group. The player who is the wife. She just doesn't participate in a meaningful way. I'm not sure how to bring her out of her shell (and I'm not sure how much it's my responsibility - she clearly has a psychological condition that inteferes with her ability to socialize). In a recent session, I realized she needed to not play the "translator" character. She froze up under the demands of that role. I knew right from the start that she was basically going to be there because of hubby (it was clear from one of the earliest e-mails from the husband).

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OK, I still think you should play Universalis. The wonder of a good Uni session comes primarily from your inability to mistrust the other players (in any meaningful way) and seeing how much the outcome rocks. I like the fact that everyone else is GM all attending to my play (except when that's switched around :-).

Part of me thinks I should collect a bunch of players with the invitation that we will probably use Fudge to play in Tekumel, but that as a group we will do some exploration of what we really want. And then use Universalis to do just that. The result could still be a traditional GMed game, but the ability of the players to contribute at an early stage would be cool, and could blow the doors wide open. My big concern would be the wife, but perhaps it would help solidify her role (and if she can be happy being mostly an observer - that could be ok).

Frank
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Frank Filz
Sean
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« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2004, 11:39:15 AM »

Hi Frank - welcome, again, to the Forge!

Your posts communicate a whole bunch of different messages to me. Universalis, while eminently worth playing in general, is not going to solve your problems all by itself. Your idea seems to be that if everyone gets together and gets on the same page to create a world, backstory, and characters, then the high level of engagement you fantasize about will be present.  This may or may not be so though. If people bring the same attitutes to the Universalis game that they bring to the big game, the degree of investment everyone has is going to be varied and different from the start. And if people don't work creatively with other people's content, you may still have fun, but you'll get a setting that a lot of you may never want to play again - psionic samurai hobbits engaged in courtly intrigue with undead pokemon, or the like.

It seems to me that you've spent a lot of time getting good at one kind of 'casual gaming' - big groups, conflicting agendas, varying levels of player interest, a GM-ringmaster who can kind of keep things moving in spite of this - and can provide a decent sort of low-grade (and maybe for one or two people high-grade) entertainment through that. That's a skill not everyone has, so it's cool that you've developed it. But it also strikes me that you're looking for something more out of RPGs which that kind of game ultimately will only provide in rare, tantalizing moments, that hint at something that 'could be so much cooler, if only...' And then you're fishing about for how to get it by putting together pieces of what seemed cool elsewhere and wondering how they'll fit together.

In other words, you're looking to 'take it to the next level.' I believe you're right to look to the Big Model's concept of Creative Agenda to help you do that - but hold off on the CA labels for now, as others have said. The question you have to ask first is: what kind of experiences, what kind of pleasures do you want out of your gaming? Your posts indicate you want a whole lot of things. You may not be able to get them all at once, but you can get some of them up front and all of them over time if you focus (a) your group on a common creative goal which is (b) manageable and coherent. Note that 'your group' can be 'your several groups who do different things.' You don't have to do everything at once.

Your posts likewise suggest that you've tried to do this some already, and you've discovered that it's really hard to do this with a group that has trust issues, that is unreliable, that is all over the board in terms of different play styles and goals, and so on. This is true! The conclusion is: you've got to put some work into changing (which almost certainly means shrinking) your group into a more cohesive unit. You need to provide some leadership, in other words. You may not be able or comfortable to do this yourself; if not, find one or two other players who you do trust and talk things out with them so that you can all get to something you want to do together.

Let me reflect some of your comments back to you with some observations of my own:

----------------

"I like to run games in a rich setting that has room for players to explore and find their own interests." As examples of such settings you mention several of my faves, including Glorantha, Tekumel, Talislanta, and Everway.

The 'rich setting that has room for players to explore' thing, believe it or not, is already setting yourself up for trouble, when combined with the big group with the varying interest levels. You can do it to a limited degree with all the settings you mention, but to really make that approach work, you have to have players who are interested in exploring that setting! If you don't have people who are, then you have a couple of choices. You can try to hook people into a competitive scenario and hope they latch on to the setting elements and color you're grooving on, making a focus on exploration a plausible later goal of the game; or you can try to provide a compelling narrative, getting them hooked into a complicated web of intrigue and momentous individual decisions, ditto. Nothing wrong with that - if, what you really want, at the end of the day, is to explore the imaginative content of the magisterial creations of Barker or Stafford, or engross yourself in the minutia of the Cthulhu mythos, or what have you, and your players want that too. It is unlikely, though, that if you don't set up the exploration of setting as a theme up front, that more than one or two of your players will ever get really, really into it.

I won't say this never happens - it does, sometimes. But to just sort of throw a rich setting out there to explore often confuses people - especially if they're just following their own interests. What are those interests? If they're there to kill monsters and get treasure, the setting winds up being mostly annoying except when it relates directly to the challenge. If they're there to make narrative decisions - two lovers desire your hand in marriage, and you can choose only one, e.g. - again, the setting is only going to become interesting insofar as it informs, enriches, or complicates those choices.

The idea of a world, especially a rich world that is alien from what most of your players are familiar with, as a 'big sandbox' utterly open to any kind of player input does not help people find what they really want out of their game. This is a myth. If you're running dungeons, than a big map with three towns and five dungeons ready to go can be more fun, because the players are getting involved in higher-level decisions about the challenges they're going to face. If it's not clear at all what you're going to do, then the big sandbox just makes things worse. One guy wants to find out what's behind the mountain and research the history when he gets there, another guy wants to find his cousin who betrayed him and get revenge, and a third guy wants to collect heads and treasure.

---------------------

You enjoy running tactical combats, but you don't like being on the losing side of Gamism. Hence you GM a lot. You seem to have figured this out already, but, brother, don't play 3e D&D. Good players in a 3e game will hand you your ass on a regular basis, and you'll constantly have to recalibrate the challenges - as you found yourself spending all your time doing in the AU game you played.

Lots of old school D&D players dislike this element of 3e; the Castles & Crusades folks claim they have the answer, which for all I know they may. But I think that the GM is involved in Step on Up in 3e in a much bigger way than in any previous edition of the game; you can fail at running a combat dramatically, and it reflects poorly on you if you do. GMs have less control over how things go in 3e than they used to. If you like Gamism which leaves the GM out of the competition, where the GM is mostly a kind of facilitator for player challenge, get a different game - there are lots of them from the seventies and eighties which will accomodate your needs. But I'm not sure this is even really what you're looking for...see below...

---------------

I think you're really answering your own question with your accounts of the satisfying Runequest and Traveller games. You need small groups of engaged players, not big groups of less engaged ones. Both of these games sound like they used a fixed goal, or a player choice of different fixed goals, (here's these mysterious places and problems that need solving) to enable long hours of enjoyable Simulationist play (exploration, investigation, in-character problem solving and role-playing, lots of time asking 'how can we accomplish this?' questions).

If you like this, you should be a pretty happy camper. Lots of the old games facilitate this kind of play well, and there are lots of experienced gamers who like this kind of play out there, and are good at it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try new things, but here you are, saying 'this was fun'!, and then not doing what you need to do to get that kind of fun again! Take the three most engaged players from your current group, get some shared imaginative content you like, lay down the foundation of loose goals, and have fun exploring!

This diagnosis also fits with your taste in settings, BTW, though all of those settings can certainly be used for other kinds of play as well. But if you're really interested in exploring the setting, as opposed to using it to enable, say, clan-versus-religion personal conflicts on Tekumel, or reinterpretation of myths on Glorantha, or whatever, then it seems like this is what you really want to be doing.

Try some new things as well, by all means! But do notice that in the past most of your fun seems to have come from this small-group, jointly engaged Simulationist approach.

---------------

I don't know if that was helpful or not, but if it wasn't, maybe your responses to these questions and reflections will make things clearer.
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ffilz
Member

Posts: 468


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« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2004, 02:17:58 PM »

Quote

Your posts communicate a whole bunch of different messages to me. Universalis, while eminently worth playing in general, is not going to solve your problems all by itself. Your idea seems to be that if everyone gets together and gets on the same page to create a world, backstory, and characters, then the high level of engagement you fantasize about will be present. This may or may not be so though. If people bring the same attitutes to the Universalis game that they bring to the big game, the degree of investment everyone has is going to be varied and different from the start. And if people don't work creatively with other people's content, you may still have fun, but you'll get a setting that a lot of you may never want to play again - psionic samurai hobbits engaged in courtly intrigue with undead pokemon, or the like.

I certainly agree. I think if I was going to use Universalis for game setup, I would actually start with the setting premise, and use Universalis just to create the PCs and their backstory. I agree though that it's pretty chancy. Something I'd like to experiment with, but probably not right now. Most of the benefits of this idea could also be attained by just sitting the players down together and telling them what the premise of the campaign is (setting, exploration, etc.) and telling them: "Ok, now build a group of PCs together. Build reasons to work together into your character." If the system was going to be The Riddle of Steel, which I am very interested in trying out, but not for this campaign, I would tell them to have some common Spiritual Attributes, or to link themselves with SAs (creating a passion for another PC for example [hmm obligatory Lord of the Rings reference, Gimli and Legolas have drive SAs to be better than the other - which of course they get to use in almost every combat...but also bind the two characters]).

Quote

It seems to me that you've spent a lot of time getting good at one kind of 'casual gaming' - big groups, conflicting agendas, varying levels of player interest, a GM-ringmaster who can kind of keep things moving in spite of this - and can provide a decent sort of low-grade (and maybe for one or two people high-grade) entertainment through that. That's a skill not everyone has, so it's cool that you've developed it. But it also strikes me that you're looking for something more out of RPGs which that kind of game ultimately will only provide in rare, tantalizing moments, that hint at something that 'could be so much cooler, if only...' And then you're fishing about for how to get it by putting together pieces of what seemed cool elsewhere and wondering how they'll fit together.

Yea, I can see that. In certain settings, that's a valuable skill. Definitely not the best way to get what I want though. However, I have considered one way to use that skill. Run a casual low investment D&D game (using one of the big canned modules perhaps) as a way to watch for players I might enjoy. But that's a pretty labor intensive way to find the right player. Better to try and tune my recruitment message. Of course being able to juggle the large group can be handy when a potentially interested player also wants to bring his friends. They can all try out the game, and those who fit can stay. But that could also be disruptive once I do find some immersive players.

Quote

In other words, you're looking to 'take it to the next level.' I believe you're right to look to the Big Model's concept of Creative Agenda to help you do that - but hold off on the CA labels for now, as others have said. The question you have to ask first is: what kind of experiences, what kind of pleasures do you want out of your gaming? Your posts indicate you want a whole lot of things. You may not be able to get them all at once, but you can get some of them up front and all of them over time if you focus (a) your group on a common creative goal which is (b) manageable and coherent. Note that 'your group' can be 'your several groups who do different things.' You don't have to do everything at once.

I do tend to be someone who wants it all, and I want it now... I need to relax from that, but not lose sight of my goals (which of course starts with identifying my goals).

Quote

Your posts likewise suggest that you've tried to do this some already, and you've discovered that it's really hard to do this with a group that has trust issues, that is unreliable, that is all over the board in terms of different play styles and goals, and so on. This is true! The conclusion is: you've got to put some work into changing (which almost certainly means shrinking) your group into a more cohesive unit. You need to provide some leadership, in other words. You may not be able or comfortable to do this yourself; if not, find one or two other players who you do trust and talk things out with them so that you can all get to something you want to do together.

The group is shrinking. Unfortunately I'm starting to feel like the two most committed players (the couple) are also the farthest from what I want. The wife is almost totally disengaged (of course she could be managed to not cost much - she likes to play the healer, so cool, the party can have a healer and not have to worry about keeping her entertained, leaving that concern to her husband [who I think needs to step up and deal with the fact that his wife doesn't really enjoy RPGs, at least not in the same way he does, and budget his time so he can play and she can do something else, but ultimately that's his problem and the most I should do is help point it out to him]). The husband is very engaged during play, but he doesn't seem very interested in digging into the campaign world (I offered to loan them some Tekumel books and they declined). I may wind up with an easy out with them though, their schedule isn't meshing with mine very well this year. I probably do need to hunker down and be less accomodating of them. They set of alarm bells immediately with me (the wife situation was apparent from his first or second e-mail to me). Last year, I thought I was saved from them when he had to work Saturdays, then he changed his schedule. This year, their schedule seems inflexible. Oh well (or "Oh goody!" ?).

The kid who played the character of the week holds promise. He asked if he could borrow some Tekumel material to read up on. He will need some coaching, but he holds enough promise I think I'm willing to do that coaching. His mother will be an asset to the game when she is available again.

At this point, I'm willing to consider the other players lost causes. None of the other players have really responded to e-mails all summer. One of them is a fun person to spend time with, but I suspect he's looking for Gamist play, which I can accomodate, but don't totally enjoy.

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"I like to run games in a rich setting that has room for players to explore and find their own interests." As examples of such settings you mention several of my faves, including Glorantha, Tekumel, Talislanta, and Everway.

The 'rich setting that has room for players to explore' thing, believe it or not, is already setting yourself up for trouble, when combined with the big group with the varying interest levels. You can do it to a limited degree with all the settings you mention, but to really make that approach work, you have to have players who are interested in exploring that setting!

That definitely is a key. I have sent out a new recruitment e-mail now that I've settled on Fudge Tekumel. I highlighted my goal of encouraging exploration of the setting. I pointed people to some web sites.

I was really disappointed that Guardians of Order weren't ready with their new Tekumel game for GenCon. I think it would be a lot easier to recruit excited players with something that was just published (that certainly worked with Arcana Unearthed). On the other hand, perhaps it leads to too many players.

I need to learn from my Talislanta campaign also. My first Talislanta scenario was a thinly disguised D&D module. Oops. I need to make the first Tekumel scenario something that immediately plunges the characters into Tekumel. They should deal with the religions or the alien creatures immediately. They should be exposed to the lost technology. I also need to make sure that the game rules compliment the setting (which should be possible with Fudge, though it will be some work).

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I won't say this never happens - it does, sometimes. But to just sort of throw a rich setting out there to explore often confuses people - especially if they're just following their own interests. What are those interests? If they're there to kill monsters and get treasure, the setting winds up being mostly annoying except when it relates directly to the challenge. If they're there to make narrative decisions - two lovers desire your hand in marriage, and you can choose only one, e.g. - again, the setting is only going to become interesting insofar as it informs, enriches, or complicates those choices.

Of course these settings could play into that, but you're right, what I want out of the setting is going to run at cross purposes to those interests (though the gal who just wants to kill things can enjoy themselves so long as there's enough things to kill - the trouble of course comes in when they need to be held back from killing...).

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You enjoy running tactical combats, but you don't like being on the losing side of Gamism. Hence you GM a lot. You seem to have figured this out already, but, brother, don't play 3e D&D. Good players in a 3e game will hand you your ass on a regular basis, and you'll constantly have to recalibrate the challenges - as you found yourself spending all your time doing in the AU game you played.

Yea, I figured out that I don't like 3e's combat system. I think I kept my head mostly above water, but it was a PITA. I think I don't mind this style of play if the investment in creating the challenges isn't too much. Creating 3e encounters takes quite a bit of investment though.

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I think you're really answering your own question with your accounts of the satisfying Runequest and Traveller games. You need small groups of engaged players, not big groups of less engaged ones. Both of these games sound like they used a fixed goal, or a player choice of different fixed goals, (here's these mysterious places and problems that need solving) to enable long hours of enjoyable Simulationist play (exploration, investigation, in-character problem solving and role-playing, lots of time asking 'how can we accomplish this?' questions).

Yup. The games did expand once people were settled in, but certainly a key was directing things at the start. The Rune Quest game also really benefited from a like minded player who knew the setting (probably better than I did when I started the campaign). Part of me thinks I should do Rune Quest again because it's got a larger fan base than Tekumel, but I want to do something different (given that my most recent satisfying game was RQ - even if it was several years ago). RQ also holds the danger of the Hero Quest trap (perhaps I would enjoy HQ, but I'm not ready for it yet - I have most of the HQ material, but I just couldn't get excited about it).

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If you like this, you should be a pretty happy camper. Lots of the old games facilitate this kind of play well, and there are lots of experienced gamers who like this kind of play out there, and are good at it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try new things, but here you are, saying 'this was fun'!, and then not doing what you need to do to get that kind of fun again! Take the three most engaged players from your current group, get some shared imaginative content you like, lay down the foundation of loose goals, and have fun exploring!

I wish I was more confident in being able to find those players. I find the dominance of D20 crushing. It seems like people just want to stick with what they know, and what they know is D20. I guess one might still be able to find 1e or 2e players, but I had rejected 1e long ago and never got into 2e.

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Try some new things as well, by all means! But do notice that in the past most of your fun seems to have come from this small-group, jointly engaged Simulationist approach.

Hmm, well there's the CA label... I'm thinking it's the most correct one though.

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I don't know if that was helpful or not, but if it wasn't, maybe your responses to these questions and reflections will make things clearer.

I think it was helpful. Of course like any sort of psych evaluation, ultimately you got me to answer my own question (well, I do still have the sort of mechanical question of how to succinctly communicate my interests).

Thanks

Frank
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Frank Filz
ffilz
Member

Posts: 468


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« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2004, 12:01:49 PM »

Quote

The kid who played the character of the week holds promise. He asked if he could borrow some Tekumel material to read up on. He will need some coaching, but he holds enough promise I think I'm willing to do that coaching. His mother will be an asset to the game when she is available again.

The kid's been doing his homework... The husband always plays thief/rogue/trouble maker characters. I always josh him about his latest character that claims to "not be a thief." The kid has already read enough to respond back to the husband's response to my joshing with points from the background.

Now if only I could find a couple more players like that.

Frank
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Frank Filz
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