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Author Topic: Protagonism and Troupe-style play  (Read 5515 times)
lumpley
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« on: January 30, 2002, 10:42:13 AM »

Hey everybody.

First off:

Is Protagonism something that a player has, or something that a character has?  

Next off:

Anybody thought about what it might mean to Protagonism to play more than one character?

Would each character be an instrument of the player's one Protagonism?  Would each character have her own unique Protagonism, which the player would then have to balance?

Finally, aside to Paul:

Hey, I hope I'm not deprotagonizing you by bringing it to the Forge without giving you a chance to reply to me in [semi]private.  I think the question is interesting enough to deserve wide discussion.  

(But if they agree with me, hoo boy, look out.)

(Just kidding.  I don't even think that I agree with me.)

-Vincent
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2002, 11:13:48 AM »

Hey Vincent,

Funny how you bring this up right now.  Just had a discussion with a friend the other evening.  He's a big DnD player, running characters in a couple of games and also serving as GM in his own game.  He remarked that his characters felt different; the fighter felt like a hero, but the mage felt like a supporting character.  We tossed his impressions around and reached the tentative conclusion that the fighter had more incentive and wherewithal to take risks (given the combat-centric DnD system focus) than the mage.  Fighters have higher hit points/plot immunity, their feats allow them to enhance their effectiveness more rapidly than other classes, and their entire raison d'etre drives at ass-kicking deeds, which the d20 system is optimized to support.

An interesting thought about protagonism involves this risk-taking element and how it fits into the design mechanics.  What other components (1) make up an effective protagonist and (2) give the player the feel of being a protagonist?  Different games may suggest different answers, but I'll suggest that one's capacity to play a pivotal role in the core conflict offers an important starting point.  Obviously, that's a really, really general definition.  Let's break that into Risk-taking and Effectiveness as two more specific parts.

Risk-taking in this context refers to the system's mechanical encouragement or discouragement of players putting their characters at risk.  Effectiveness has been touched on in other threads, and I haven't followed enough of that discussion to want to step into that here.  Anyone care to summarize what constitutes "Effectiveness"?

Best,

Blake
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2002, 02:13:23 PM »

Hey Vincent,

Just to clarify for folks, the email conversation that provoked this thread wasn't so much about players having multiple characters, but about player control of "support characters". The assertion I made in that email is that control of a "support character" is a fundamentally different task than control of a protagonist. I think that protagonism in a narrativist game is a feature of the character. It is a conspiracy of in-game and metagame forces focused on the character that make it possible for the character to deliver a thematic statement about the game's premise. "Support" characters are different in that they're part of the forces that drive setting and adversity, and engage protagonists, making it possible for the protagonists to make their thematic statements. I've played games where players occasionally control NPC's, but I've not seen player handling of NPC's in a GM-less game, where all NPC's are controlled by players, work well to deliver protagonism to characters of other players. It might seem like I'm saying "GM controls world, player controls PC," but I'm not. It's about the player not being forced to shift gears to protagonize other player characters. Perhaps it's only a skill gap, but requiring a player to shift from a focus on the thematic statement they're working up with their character protagonist, perhaps even by seizing occasional control of an NPC like Scott did during the second session of the scenario I ran for The Pool, to using NPC's to deliver protagonism to other player characters, is not something I've seen work...well...really at all.

Paul
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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
Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2002, 03:10:06 PM »

VERY well-put, sir.  I totally spaced the previous discussion on troupe-style and supporting characters.  Ah well.

Question:  For players to contribute to their group's protagonist's thematic statement, does that require the protagonist's thematic direction to open its hood to the entire group?  I see no problem with that, other than that a character's theme typically develops during play following interaction with the premise.  Seems like you'd have to have an ongoing discussion about character details and thematic progression among the entire group.

Best,

Blake
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Bankuei
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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2002, 03:11:53 PM »

I'd say in the case of D&D, the mechanics limit how often either class is useful.  In most D&D games, most threats can be fought, allowing a fighter to always be able to do something.  Whereas a mage only gets so many spells, and then he's spent.  It's a case of empowering the character to be useful or able to participate in more of the game that creates protagonists.  

In the case of players running secondary characters to protagonize other players, you have to remember that as long as the "death threat" of having your character eliminated from play(or the story really) hangs over player's heads, survival becomes paramount.  The secondary threat of losing all your xp/power(ability to alter the story) makes it even worse.  No one has time to worry about other things than ultimately personal survival compared to the story, so all characters are run for the survival of your primary character, not for the story, much less protagonizing other players.
Chris
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2002, 08:07:21 PM »

Hey Blake,

I think I completely agree, but the "group's protagonist" thing is confusing me a bit, so how about if I tell you what I think and you can tell me if that's what you were saying.

Question: For players to contribute to their group's protagonist's thematic statement,...

In the typical narrativist game, each player character is a protagonist, so as long as there's more than one player, there's more than one protagonist active in the game. And I think that's what we're talking about here. I don't think we're talking about a game where one player gets to be the sole protagonist in the scenario and the other players are handling only non-protagonist "supporting characters."

...does that require the protagonist's thematic direction to open its hood to the entire group? I see no problem with that, other than that a character's theme typically develops during play following interaction with the premise.

I think that in general, the thematic issues for a player character in a typical narrativist game are very much out in the open. They're the things that make the character interesting to the "audience." In Matt's recently completed Mage scenario for our group, my character was a formerly female, southeast-Asian sex slave transgendered to male during her awakening, and carrying some real misogynistic attitudes from her experiences. I created her during a group character session with specific embedded conflicts, to be interesting to the audience for those conflicts. She was built to have her misogyny challenged. And the audience, the other players, were very much "in on" what was up with her and interested in seeing how it played out.

So the nature of the conflict with her was very much apparent to all the players. It was the details of the outcome, the specific thematic statement that would be developed during play. That isn't revealed up front because it doesn't exist up front. It's the development of it through play that keeps the audience interested in the character.

Seems like you'd have to have an ongoing discussion about character details and thematic progression among the entire group.

And the ramifications of this is what I was initially planning to hash through in email with Vincent.

When I played Theatrix last Summer, I found myself doing very real between-session prep. I developed details about my character's long lost love interest, and thoughts on how I'd reveal those details in play. I developed a whole scheme to "Dr. Manhattan" my character back to life that I'd implement if he got killed. It was an experience unlike any I'd previously had as a player. And it's something I'm very much interested in experiencing in games I play and facilitating in games I run. It's an investment in the game beyond character creation and the hours devoted to actual play. And unlike superficially similar "write a journal for experience points" work a player might do between game sessions, attempting to establish significance in retrospect, or earn opportunity for it in the future, it's motivated entirely by the joy of handling a character whose protagonism is presumed. I'm very tired personally of the "show up and play" type of player. And I'm nearly rendered apoplectic by the "the GM should keep my character sheet" type of player.

I wouldn't have gone into the issue if Vincent hadn't started the thread, because I'm not really interested in publicly piling blankets on his GM-less (GM-full?) design objectives out of what might amount to just my personal bias. But the idea of players controlling "supporting cast" NPC's is problematic for me. In my experience, narrativism is most effective when scenes are framed aggressively, right to the drama, and when there's been some prep done by the person who's going to be doing the scene framing. Who's going to do that if there's no GM and the other players are controlling NPC's with an admitted mandate to use them on behalf of the protagonism of the other player characters? Will all the players prep? How do you keep them from prepping at cross purposes? How do you determine who frames and cuts the scenes?

And maybe this is where my bias is fogging over my vision for how this would work, but how do you keep all of this prepping and controlling of stuff from eclipsing the player prep I want to see more of?

Paul
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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
lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2002, 07:18:06 AM »

Paul!  I'd love to talk more about my game, if you want to.  Shall we take it to Actual Play?

(Particularly, my game is an attempt to answer some of those exact questions, like what do you do about co-GMs at cross purposes and how do you handle scene framing, and then how do you get the GMs the hell out of the way so the PCs can shine.)

Theory-wise, though, I don't understand.  Why would a GM be more capable of planning, framing scenes, and playing supporting cast in a Protagonism-supporting way than any other player?  Just because she doesn't have a Protagonized character of her own (so it's not switching gears, it's just her sad lot in life)?

Sorry for editorializing.  The question's genuine.

Is there a selfish-Protagonism that parallels the old selfish-Immersion?

The between-play planning and identification with your characters you describe is something I love too.  I have no idea how to push that in a game text.  Were you the player or the GM at the time?  (Player, I think I gather?)

It may be that good co-GMed narrativism is impossible.  

-Vincent
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