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Author Topic: What makes a good Kicker?  (Read 10289 times)
Ian O'Rourke
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« on: January 26, 2002, 07:17:45 AM »

Well, the question above really - what makes a good kicker?

I want to introduce the idea as part of character creation in my Adventure game.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2002, 08:10:51 AM »

Quote from: Ian O'Rourke

Well, the question above really - what makes a good kicker?

I want to introduce the idea as part of character creation in my Adventure game.


Good choice. Pulp characters need a lot of emotional commitment to feel like real people, rather than cardboard cutouts, bouncing from one adventure to the next.

I'd say Kickers should (at least in this case) involve other people. It wouldn't be enough to have an amazing realisation, they should pull in associates, lovers, rivals or what have you. Indy's kicker in the third movie involves his dad. O'Connell does what he does in the first Mummy movie because of a mixture of greed and love; his kicker might be 'I just found a tomb containing riches beyond compare' and in play, that kicker is contrasted with his emerging feelings for, er, the chick, whatever her name was.

And if possible, they should take an assumption about the character, and twist it. It's one thing to have a Dark Avenger who can't love, but their Kicker could involve someone they care for. The Millionaire Playboy might be feeling the need to settle down. The Gadgeteer might have run out of cash, and taken up with loan sharks to bankroll his projects.

Joe.
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2002, 08:36:11 AM »

An example
------------------------
Background Capsule
Marcus Hallam is a Cambridge Scholar, gifted with languages; he has travelled extensively on archaeological digs.  A collector of antique writings especially those of mysticism, prophecy and astrology. His he prefers studying from the source. On one expedition a few years ago he had a run in with a Colonel Stromburg, a German Mercenary, who represented a competing 'collector'. This encounter resulted in both Markus and Stromburg being bathed in energy from a strange artefact within a sunken temple. In the resulting chaos both of you escaped. Marcus soon discovered the artefact had affected him somehow, he found it hard to control his anger, and at times he faded from peoples perceptions. This lead him to an mysterious temple in Tibet where he learned to control his powers to Cloud Men's Minds, and project his anger as a palpable force. Markus now lives in his country house on the outskirts of London, complete with his library securely located in the basement full of artefacts and books. He uses his powers to seek what he sort before, and foiling the plans of those who wish to use them for nefarious ends. He has nearly encountered Stromburg on numerous occasions.

Imagery
Marcus usually wears suits (navy/black/grey) that always look crisp and smart. He often sports a red bow tie, which he views as his one extravagant feature. He still teaches at University and is a feature on the lecture circuit with respect to his more esoteric studies.

When in a more active role, he wears a dark grey suit, with a deep burgundy, collarless shirt and shaded glasses. His modified pistols (smaller, more accurate and quicker to load than typical 1911's) are holstered in the small of his back. He will often combine this with a dark trench coat and fedora (the band on the fedora matching the colour of his shirt).

Kicker
Markus wants to find out more about the artefact that provided him with his powers, where it came from and what it has done. His powers are dangerous to him, and only the constant mental disciplines provided by the Tulku keep him from fading from view and sinking into a dark pit of anger. He has yet to find any answers, though he longs to know what effect the artefact had on Stromburg, and whom he is working for.
----------------------

Obviously some of the chaarcter sheet info is missing from this, but that's not really important to the discussion. I'm trying to get the oommph provided by a kicker, but I'm not really in a kicker friendly game. As an example, I can't structure the game as the 'resolving of the kicker' - due to the way the pulp (I know it's not a genre, but let's not get into that now) genre.

As a result I'm wanting one that drives the character on, and gives that emotional element but lasts the course of the campaign (which does have an end) and may be the odd mini-series that has nothing to do with the kicker.

What do you think of the above - is that enough oomph - enough drive to give that element above and beyond the gun battles, exotic locations, and so on? I'm not looking at 'in depth sorcerer' here, just something to give it a narrative spin.

More, less?
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Ian O'Rourke
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2002, 10:45:16 AM »

Thanks for the more indepth post, Ian.

I'm still not seeing a lot of narrative 'oomph' in the character, though. There's a couple of reasons.

First of all, IMHO, Kickers should be entertain the audience, perhaps to show the audience some sort of inner turmoil, a decision to be made, or a complication. Now, to entertain, Kickers should intrigue and surprise the audience. It's perfectly reasonable to have a character who wants to investigate his origin, but there's nothing surprising about it.

Kickers should provide an extra level of emotion or drama for the audience to appreciate. Not only is the hero trying to save the city from biological horror, but his wife just got pregnant and is nearby (cf: 'The Rock').

As an example, I ran a superhero game where one character had a lot of depth that didn't appear in the game - he didn't really roleplay it, and it didn't come out in play. Thus, his character was perceived as relatively boring. If we had used Kickers, I would have pushed him to have external matters to resolve, which would demonstrate to the audience his inner turmoil. (In a narrativist game, what's the point of having depth we don't see?)

To return to your character (and I like him so far), he's got some quite simple drives. As he's something of a 'tomb raider', here's an example from that movie. Lara has all sorts of altruistic motivations, and fairly simple drives which have been established 'before the movie'. That is, the character has been written as a kick-ass heroine. As the movie opens, we see some interesting conflict between her motivations and her perception of her father. She's trying to live up to his memory. Then her enemy uses her memory of him to confuse her - maybe dad was one of the bad guys? Her father's previous work not only sets her on the mission, but it also colors everything she does. Her memory drives her, but might be her undoing. Y'know?

Also, what is it about the pulp genre that you feel doesn't support resolution of kickers? I could provide counter-examples right now, if you like. =)

Best,

Joe.
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2002, 12:58:15 PM »

Kickers tend to come into play in a certain style of game - in which the resolution of that kicker is almost the sole purpose of that game. The kicker almost is the story. Once that is resolved everything ends.

What happens when you are running on on-going campaign? The characters are going to be involved in numerous mini-series: The Talons of Wang Chiang for a number of weeks and then the Revenge of Doctor Destroyer (to name some random lurid titles the first one I may keep). How dod kickers work with that?

You'd almost need a different kicker each mini-series. To go back to your Tomb Raider example - she resolved the issues with her father in the movie, what happens for the sequel?

Normally, in a game with kickers, chances are there would no sequel, you'd be playing a different game with different characters (or same game with a totally different dynamic).

On your other points - I think it's true, he lacks a bit of emotional oomph, but I'm new at this, so I'm having trouble helping them out. The genre is not helping.

I had another idea in mind (we provided the players with a list of three) but this one won out - but that's a side issue that I won't bore you with :)
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Ian O'Rourke
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
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« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2002, 01:44:47 PM »

Quote from: Ian O'Rourke

Kickers tend to come into play in a certain style of game - in which the resolution of that kicker is almost the sole purpose of that game. The kicker almost is the story. Once that is resolved everything ends.

What happens when you are running on on-going campaign? The characters are going to be involved in numerous mini-series: The Talons of Wang Chiang for a number of weeks and then the Revenge of Doctor Destroyer (to name some random lurid titles the first one I may keep). How dod kickers work with that?



There's an example in the book of this. I think it might be in the 'experience' section? Simple rewrite the kicker, or write a new one, when you change episodes. Characters can change their kickers.

Here's how it would work. Frederick Dashing, man about town, has a Kicker involving his misfortune in love - perhaps his fiancee just left him. During 'Talons', Fred spends a lot of time with Bob, the handsome reporter, and develops feelings for him. This Kicker is resolved - Fred realises he's gay. For the next episode, 'Revenge', Fred has a kicker involving, say, an occult artifact his uncle left to him in his will. The next kicker may or may not relate to the previous kicker.

In a sense (and I'm nervous saying this, and surprised no-one else from the forums have popped in), kickers are a piece of story the players want to see, which relate to their character, rather than 'the GM's plot'. It could be, for example, that a kicker will tie in multiple PCs, or just one, but either way, it's a request straight from the player.

That doesn't mean that resolving the kicker necessarily resolves the plot, or that the climactic scene should focus on the kicker. Kickers can just act as a level of emotional depth that RPGs don't usually get. For example, in Shadowrun, characters go on missions. If they're going on missions to feed their poor ol' momma at home, dying from a bad case of Orkism, then that's more emotional depth. The plot is still about completing the mission. Handing over a wad of nuyen to mom might make a good denouement, but it's not the climax.

Joe.
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2002, 05:08:57 PM »

Okay, I think what I've possibly labelled as a kicker is more a 'motivation for adventure' beyond it just being what heroes do. It's this issue/driver he's looking out for while doing the 'hero thing'. I think i need that, a sort of high level kicker, that provides the same function, but you're right, it's not true, street-level, emotional impact.

I've also noted the character is in extreme danger of writing his story as background? An offhand sentence - he spent time in Tibet to learn to control his powers! What! The character has a whole descent into darkness thing as a spot of background.

Move that out of the background, and propose to the player we log it as something to play through.

Ergo, he has not problems with his powers in the background, and may be his kicker is (but put better, it's a bit brief here): I've started vanishing from peoples perceptions uncontrollably. It's only happened once so far.

What are his powers? Why do they seek to control him? Do they have a link to the person/people Stromburg was working for - and so on.

By the way, just read a previous thread of yours, you seem to be in exact same position I'm in :) I'm using a WW game with some narrativist tools (in the rules) as the first step to a bigger project (I have 2 in mind).
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Ian O'Rourke
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2002, 05:39:05 PM »

Ian and Joe,

With respect, I think this discussion has illustrated some basic misunderstandings. On the one hand, you're making the concept of a Kicker too complicated, and on the other, you're missing its point to some degree.

First, some details. (1) No, "everything" does not "end" when a Kicker is resolved. There may be a meaningful epilogue, a down-time interaction or activity that is plenty of fun, or even an extensive "now we must ..." section of story to create afterward. And nothing stops you from coming up with a new Kicker without losing an instant of continuity. Thus I think that the claim that Kickers somehow go with short-term play, although common among those who have not yet used the technique, is badly mistaken.

(2) Kickers are not motivations. They clarify, illustrate, or present absolutely nothing about the character, in terms of feelings or drives or whatever. They are situations that will, in a moment permit those things to be illustrated, but they themselves do not.

Now for the main points, the too-complex and off-the-mark.

(1) Kickers are simple. They are situations that demand action or decision of any kind.
- "A guy tried to kill me with a hatchet on the bus today."
- "I started having bad dreams and, upon washing my hair this morning, discovered old scars on my head. I'm sure I've never had surgery."
- "My mom tells me I have a twin named Max. The name 'Max' is used to sign the catch-me-if-you-can notes the police have been receiving all week."
- "My house plant called me 'Lovey' today and demanded that I feed it a goldfish. The cat at the bookstore did the same thing."
- "Someone busted into my secret library. Nothing's been taken, but no one knew about that place."

(2) Kickers have one single purpose - to enlist the player into the act of role-playing his or her character, via embroiling the character in some sort of events. It is, if you will, writing the first scene of play, or the beginning of that scene.

Therefore the extent/importance of a Kicker's details may vary widely. It may be "resolved" very early, if other scenario issues are intended to become the focus of play; if this is the case, then we are probably seeing a "secondary" Kicker moving the character deeper into the prepped material. Also, however, it is possible for the Kicker to be the story, as mentioned, insofar as people's interest in the character and that Kicker as such is high. Both of these are perfectly acceptable and clearly the whole range of gradation between them is available.

Hope this cleared some things up.

Best,
Ron
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2002, 08:41:03 PM »

To bring things down to a concrete level:

Let's look at The Mummy (the recent one) and see how the same story might look as a game using kickers.

The GM has stated that she wants to run a supernatural-pulp-action game set in 1920s Egypt.

Three players (who we'll call by character names) have made characters, and are presenting kickers:

Rick: "I found the Lost City, but had to wander across the desert since raiders killed the rest of my party.  No sooner do I get back to Cairo then I get thrown in jail."

Freddie: "I found this wierd little box on a shady dig.  I don't know what it is, but I know it's valuable."

Maggie: "My brother Freddie showed me this wierd little box.  I managed to open it, and found a map to the Lost City in it."

So the GM looks at all this, and sees the elements: desert raiders, a lost city, a dingus, and a treasure map.  She decides that the lost city Rick escaped from and the one on the map are the same city, to give the PCs reasons to interact (either as compainons or as rivals).  She decides that the dingus is a key to something in the lost city, and that the desert raiders will be some kind of obstacle later.

The players have just handed the GM most of the major plot elements.  The GM adds in a rival group of explorers and a Big Bad to deal with, and we're off.

We've seen the movie, we know how it turns out.  Kickers are resolved: Rick gets out of jail and returns to loot the Lost City.  Freddie learns what the dingus does and gets to use it.  Maggie loses her map, but getst to visit the Lost City anyway.

Roll the credits.

OK, so the gamers want to go on. The old GM wants to play, so Freddie makes his PC an NPC, and the GM writes up the Ranger (oops, I mean Ardeth, the desert raider guy) NPC as a PC.

Ardeth (the new guy) comes up with a Kicker: A cult is trying to ressurect the Big Bad from the last story, so he tracks them to England.

Rick and Maggie have decided that their characters followed through on the romance from the last story, and got married.   They start with a shared kicker: their son is kidnapped by the cult.

The GM decides that's ok, but that he wants more individual stuff from them.

Rick: I've got this mysterious tatoo.  I mean, I know where I got it, but some mystic has just told me that it has a deeper meaning.

Maggie: I'm having past life flashbacks that link me to the cult that kidnapped my son.

Fine.  We've got a cult, a kid, the previous Big Bad, and intimations of destiny.  Throw in a new Bigger Bad, and we're off again.  You all know how it goes.

That's one way that the continuing adventures of a bunch of characters can be done with Kickers.  Note that the players of Maggie and Rick decided on the time gap between adventures, not the GM.  If they'd come up with different Kickers, the game could have started the day after they got back to civilization.

Lon
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2002, 01:56:01 AM »

Okay, this is all good stuff. One thing that is puzzling me, in all these movie examples people are giving the characters Kickers that fit perfectly with the plot.

In a true RPG example, I may well have devised something along the lines of an ancient mummy but the player come up with an entirely irrelavent kicker? I can no doubt integrate it in, but this may result in it not being that great and not what the player wanted.

Say I'm running the Mummy and the player comes up with a kicker of: I woke up this morning and I'd nailed all my windows shut from the inside.

I can run with that and create something brilliant - but it would not be the mummy episode?

Hence the reason I intended to assume that Kickers became the plot. They seem to work better when they become the focus. If you have players constantly having kickers that get resolved in the first couple of scenes and then you move onto the main plot (ie yours) it seems a bit mean, and a bit pointless?

To be honest I'm wondering what the point of the Kicker is unless it becomes almost the centre of attention. Then I can see the point. This is also why everyone's movie examples do this. Take the Die Hard example everyone uses - it would be like expressing the Kicker about the characters wish to get back with his wife and then ignoring it, or resolving it in the first scene and then getting on with the action.

Not very satisfying.

If Kickers are not the 'centre of attention' then it seems to me to be a fancy, but not that much better method, of discussing character direction via mail between sessions and feeding what they (the players) say into the game?

Of course, may be my example above is not a kicker? If not, may be what I'm looking to introduce cannot be serviced by how Kickers are understood 'officially'. I want to introduce the emotional element into the game, that aspect of Star Trek where the plot is rarely about the mechanics of the mystery, but really something else getting resolved. Is there a tool/mechanic for that, or am I best just staying with the discussion via mail :)

No offence intended, just getting it all clear, etc.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Tim Denee
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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2002, 03:34:48 AM »

You could try oomph... Kickers are happenings which provide emotional oomph, right? You might insist each player defines an emotional problem that exists within that propels them to a life of high adventure and restlessness, leaving the kicker itself to the devices of the GM. Carrying on with the Mummy example, you might find the players, (who chose the character concepts in brackets), gave the following oomphs:
Rick (soldier): I am terribly alone and empty (GM decides this is because his comrades were slaughtered and he's rotting in jail. The player tries to fill this void first with the wealth of the Lost City, and then simply with the love of Maggie)
Freddie (archeologist, gadabout): I feel like a nobody (GM decides this is because he has been largely unsuccesful. Freddie, upon finding the device, thinks it is his key to wealth, and thus success. He later realizes that 'being somebody' involves inner resolve and heroics, not material wealth. And he fufills this at the climax)
Maggie (intellectual): I'm not content with my position in life (GM decides it's because she is in a crummy job with no prospects or excitement. She thinks the Lost City is just the excitement she needs. She later realizes that restlessness was in part due to not having someone significant in her life; she hooks up with Rick).
The switch-around of ideals is common to all of them. So, the players should have that in mind while they play; make an incorrect assumption about their emotions which leads to danger, and then after or while resolving the danger, righting the emotions in a true way.

I really don't know much about kickers, so this is all out of left field. Just a few thoughts.

Keeping it real.
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2002, 07:48:18 AM »

I believe Ian that kickers ARE supposed to be the center of attention.

If I recall Ron's comments on how he designs scenarios I believe he builds connections to the kickers right into the relationship map which drives the plot.

Kickers I think are one of those game tools that don't really work in a traditional structured scenario type of environment.
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2002, 07:51:46 AM »

Valamir

Ron would seem to think differently - but I tend to agree with you, unless they are the focus I tend to loose the reason why they exist? Well, beyond authoring the first scene, but that seems a bit weak for me, considering what their potential is when used as the main focus.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #13 on: January 27, 2002, 11:58:53 AM »

Kickers are how players tell GMs what they want to see in the story.  They aren't nescesarily motivations, but they can be.  Note that in my Mummy examples, I'm showing the story plot as coming after the kickers!  The players provide a list of stuff they want to see, and the GM invented stuff that worked it all together.  The plot came after the kicker.  It was just the general setting ideas and themes that came first.

Lon
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Petter Sandelin
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« Reply #14 on: January 30, 2002, 05:44:23 AM »

Quote
(2) Kickers have one single purpose - to enlist the player into the act of role-playing his or her character, via embroiling the character in some sort of events. It is, if you will, writing the first scene of play, or the beginning of that scene.


I think this is actually the most important part of a kicker.

Let me explain with an almost actaul play example.. I'm setting up a whispering vault game with a lot of director power for players. The focus of the game will be personal relationships between PCs and how they affect the hunt. This is portrayed by each PCs keys(the last remains of their humanity for people who haven't read it) and the differences between them.

I felt like this wasn't enough, the keys will direct the game a lot but it may take some time before everybody sees that. That's why I want to add some kicker like thing at the immidiate beginning so that the players really feel their director power.

To conclude, the "motivation/direction for the game/kickers as the focus of the game" seems like a different thing than the kicker as the beginning of a game.

side note: As the beginning of each hunt is pretty structured giving players becomes a little problem but I guess I will let them set up the call or the navigator. Ideas anyone? Would it work to ask for a group kicker instead?[/quote]
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Petter
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