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Author Topic: [nameless homebaked] bouncing player feedback off the illuminated crew  (Read 4562 times)
Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« on: August 17, 2005, 08:26:27 AM »

I recently ran an early playtest of what I consider to be a Narrativist game that uses conflict resolution.  Up until recently, our group has been firmly entrenched in Task res systems that flitter around the GNS spectrum, with some emphasis on Sim, from a "staying in character" perspective.


the big setup

1) everyone went in with eyes wide open as to what we were playing in terms of system
2) everyone knew that there was no preordained plot (on my part)
3) everyone knew the same info about the setting (which was sketchy, but was no more complete for me than it was for anyone else)
4) the only pregenerated info was the premise: "you are all associated with a smuggler ship in such a way as to find yourselves travelling on it while it is engaged in smuggling"
5) the system essentially looked like:
  • Player or GM frame conflict (with mechanical motivation for players to seize the initiative)
  • Fortune-based resolution
  • Victor narrates results as limited by framing, but with complete authority within those limits


the outcome

generally, an unsatisfying (in terms of fun had) session that revealed that my dice mechanics were too intricate (which was a good lesson).

however, several days later one of my players expressed an opinion (which I'm paraphrasing) to me that really resonated, and I was wondering what other people thought of it:

"This whole player authority to narrate anything just doesn't work when you don't have a context <aka setting> to work from.  I need some sort of reality to found my narration on."

I think that I see some truth in this sentiment, but I'm also thinking that it isn't the whole story.  Well, wise men & women of the Forge mountain, what do you say?
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2005, 09:09:09 AM »

Terminology: what you call premise in your write-up is generally called "scenario". Premise, especially at the Forge and talking about narrativist play is something else altogether.

That nitpick aside, my take on what your friend said: for player narration to work, the player has to have a clear motivation for the narration. This player expects that such a motivation comes from intimate knowledge of the game world, but that's not necessarily the only option: if you give the players systematic reasons for narrating certain things, certain ways, then they can base their motivation on that.

Incidentally, the same applies to GMs: a GM has to have some inkling of what he wants to do when he opens his mouth. Luckily nobody ever gamemasters without clear vision of what he'd like to have happen.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2005, 09:12:22 AM »

When I play a new game, I need to know quickly the Big Two: What do players do (and why)? What do characters do (and why)?  I can't tell from your write-up what the answers to that are.  If the players couldn't, either, perhaps their eyes weren't wide open in terms of system.

I see some Setting (a smuggler ship on the sea) and Exploration of Situation (you're on it while it's engaged in smuggling). As Eero says, it's not (Nar) "Premise."

Can you give us some more details about the actual play? I'd like to see an example of a complete instance of play, including rewards.

If it's a Nar game as you say, what in the system leads players to Address Premise? Did any of that kind of thing happen during play?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
xenopulse
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« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2005, 09:27:02 AM »

Your player points out that: a) s/he can narrate anything s/he wants; and b) there's no setting (yet) to tie things into.

The solution is to make it up as you go.

That's intimidating for many people. But if it's your turn to narrate, and you only have a vague idea that your character is some knight from some order, you can just make up the order's name, history details, relationships to existing elements, etc., as you narrate. Imagine someone who wants to write a story asking the same question: "Gee, my character is supposed to act here, but I really don't know what her background is. What would fit here? What would be cool?" Then they either make it up and fill in the details as they go, or stop writing and do a bunch of research/world building.

In the game, you don't want to stop the flow to have a world building session in the middle of an in-game situation. So you go with the making-things-up, and then flesh out details later, if necessary.

I can understand that people need something to tie their ideas into if they're not used to making stuff up on their own, on the fly. So, recognize that that's an issue and sit down with the players next time, before play, and hammer out the setting elements they need. Universalis has a good system for doing this, I hear, and FH8 has a working system for that as well.
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Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2005, 09:47:46 AM »

I've had a similar experience with the homebrew Amber game I'm running (the general system structure is almost the same). Some people feel very differently about making things up versus exploring an imagined landscape, even though I hardly see a difference.

What happened in our case was that the first player who provided heavy setting detail ended up being a pseudo-GM to the players who wandered about in that "set". That was interesting, but it wasn't at all what I expected. (They later told me they weren't all that engaged by some of the details, so it seems sometimes any structure at all is preferable to none.)

What I've asked them to do for future sessions is to bring a strong direction for their character, and if they'd like I'll provide setting details to match. It seems like it's working. Really all I'll be doing is asking them what they're aiming for, and describing it for them, but for some people that's more legitimate than describing it themselves.

It's interesting. I've taken time to talk with the players after each of our sessions, and push the whole "You can describe whatever you want" thing, and some are still slow to pick up the baton.

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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2005, 11:02:50 AM »

InSpectres is one example of a game which assumes the plot will be made up as you go ('It's not a bug, it's a feature!'). However, the players together set up the franchise their PCs work for (and the rules help you do this), and said franchise also has a clear, if general, goal (think Ghostbusters, i.e. "succeed as a business hunting ghosts"), so there is a context to work from.

Regards

Hal
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2005, 11:48:16 AM »

You can do a lot of setting building during character generation. I've done this a bit in Verge by having players write down allies and enemies and gear. By mentioning "Enemy: Deliria Montage, VP of Marketing at Cybercorps," a player has just created a company named Cybercorps out of thin air without too much stress. Furthermore, Cybercorps has some meaning to the player, as it's the company that employs her character's enemy.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2005, 12:26:53 PM »

"This whole player authority to narrate anything just doesn't work when you don't have a context <aka setting> to work from.  I need some sort of reality to found my narration on."

I have found exactly the opposite is true. Too much setting gets in the way of narration. Stifles creativity. There is, however, such a thing as too open-ended, as I recently experienced. Best, I think, is to work out just a hint of a setting, just enough to really fire up everyone's imagination. Don't just impose a setting either... make sure it clicks with everyone, and incorporate ideas they have for how to make it cooler.

Also, some longtime gamers are uninterested in performing narration tasks that have traditionally belonged to a GM. This may be mere creative inability, or a simple reluctance to try because years of experience have taught them that it's "wrong" for them play this way. More hopefully, they're probably just unaccustomed to shared world-building.

It's hard to discuss this without knowing what system you're using. If your players have never participated in this style of gaming before, you might be better off starting with a well-tested game like Universalis before foisting your playtest on the poor bewildered fellas.

More play details, please.


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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2005, 08:36:01 AM »

apologies all 'round for abandoning my own thread -- RL intervenes on occasion.

so, one week later, here I am again.  I've had an opportunity to butt heads with the player who made that comment again, and tried to wheedle some more insight out of him, but he couldn't put it in terms that I could grasp.  My general impression was that it may be seated firmly in a "but that's the GM's job, I can't do that!  I might screw something up!" mindset.

as for an example of play, it isn't much (and also more than a little fuzzy), but I'll give you what I can:

ME: so, you're all on the planet Mechanus -- it's a big Coruscant-like world, but far grimier and very smoggy.  You've just finished a big job, and are all living pretty high on the hog.  What's the plan?

P1: get loaded.

P2: going to a bar sounds fine.

P3: sure.  I'll look for work while we're there.

P4: I'll tag along too.

ME: Cool.  You're at the Docking Bay, which is a greasy little joint, but it's the place to find the real hotshot smugglers.  You've got yourselves a booth.  What's the plan?

P2: I'm going to grab the remote for the TV and switch over to my game.

--interject: gotta go, will finish this anon.
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Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2005, 09:18:20 AM »

Darcy,

Heh, I think I see where this is going. The old "screw off at the tavern and wait for the GM to throw some cool hook at us" routine?
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Selene Tan
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« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2005, 10:14:49 AM »

ME: so, you're all on the planet Mechanus -- it's a big Coruscant-like world, but far grimier and very smoggy.  You've just finished a big job, and are all living pretty high on the hog.  What's the plan?

P1: get loaded.

P2: going to a bar sounds fine.

P3: sure.  I'll look for work while we're there.

P4: I'll tag along too.

ME: Cool.  You're at the Docking Bay, which is a greasy little joint, but it's the place to find the real hotshot smugglers.  You've got yourselves a booth.  What's the plan?

P2: I'm going to grab the remote for the TV and switch over to my game.

--interject: gotta go, will finish this anon.


I have to admit that, given this situation, I probably wouldn't know what to do either. There aren't any GM hooks, and from the looks of it, there aren't any player-created hooks either. How was the character creation process for the game? Did you (as a GM, or as a group) make sure that every character was someone in motion, and not just someone killing time?
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Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2005, 10:43:41 AM »

I've got a tentative response already, but I'll let Darcy finish before I continue.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2005, 01:36:38 PM »

"This whole player authority to narrate anything just doesn't work when you don't have a context <aka setting> to work from.  I need some sort of reality to found my narration on."

I think that I see some truth in this sentiment, but I'm also thinking that it isn't the whole story.  Well, wise men & women of the Forge mountain, what do you say?

I think he's right as long as you take out the <aka setting> part.  I don't know if that's your interpretation or something he said.  Any game needs a starting point.  That starting point can be setting (and often is), but it doesn't have to be.  A strongly-defined set of genre conventions can do the job just as well (see: Capes).  What you need is context -- some way in which to judge whether what you are just about to say is acceptable or not.

If your players started off with their characters in front of them and nothing more than "you're on a smuggling ship", they don't have anything to contextualize their charactes on that ship.  They don't know what range of options are available to them or to their characters.  They don't know what kinds of resources will be available to them.  Sure, they could make all that up, but they could also start talking about the invading teddybear army weilding rubber spatulas of doom.  Of course that would be silly, but it's simply an extreme case of a very real problem -- they have no idea what sorts of boundaries they should be working within, so they have no idea what is within those boundaries (acceptable contribution) and outside those boundaries (unacceptable stuffed animal contribution).

As Adam suggested, a good way to set the foundation is to offer the players some first-hand experience, in a structured sort of way, within character creation.  Whether these are character stats that link 'outside' the character, as in Adam's example, or by having the characters communally create something shared (like the smuggling ship), you can get them started on making stuff up if you tell them to do so as part of the 'rules'.  If you want to really go freeform, you can start the adventure/scenario/whatever off by pointing at one player and having him name the planet, point at the next player and have him describe the bar they're in, and point at the third player to describe the people who just kicked in the door with guns blazing.  It's sort of priming the pump.

Later on, you'll have to reinforce things, so when they ask you-the-GM if something is present, or likely, or otherwise acceptable, turn it around and ask them.  I spent an entire campaign of Riverworld answering the question "What's served up for dinner on the grailstone today?" by turning it around and asking the player, "I don't know, what is for dinner today?"  But the players wouldn't have been able to answer that question to start off with, when they didn't know how a grailstone worked or what kind of food came out of it.  They needed context first.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2005, 02:44:06 PM »

There was a great (if long and sometimes rambling) discussion of what is the bare minimum you need to create a usable setting on the fly over at Vincent Baker's blog, Anyway. My bottom-line lesson I took away is that what you need is (a) a few "rules" to generate new setting elements on the fly and (b) a couple of "seed crystals," specific and vivid images which suggest a whole bunch of possibilities.

For example, Star Wars:

Seed Crystals:
a) A really huge wedge-shaped spaceship is chasing a tiny little one! Zap, zap!
b) An old monk-dude and a dude in a mask with a black cape are fighting with laser swords!

Rules:
a) The Evil Galactic Empire relies on overwhelming brute force, not individual skill or courage.
b) The heroic Rebel Alliance makes up for limited resources with skill and courage.
c) A Jedi Order once used "The Force" for cool psychic powers, but using the Force out of anger led some to Evil.
d) There is a Galaxy-spanning civilization with interstellar travel, planet-busting weapons, and sentient robots -- but all of it basically feels like something out of the year 1945.

If everybody at the table agrees on these elements, you should be able to generate specifics as needed pretty fast. E.g. in Star Wars, "does the ship have a teleporter? Well, no, that doesn't feel very 1945 -- but launching lots of fighters does!" or "If the Galactic Empire are mostly such thugs, who'd be a properly scary villain? Ooh, a fallen Jedi!"
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Darcy Burgess
Member

Posts: 476


« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2005, 08:39:44 AM »

Back.  Again.

As Larry intimated, it pretty much descended into "wait for the GM to throw something at us".  I don't really want to relive the details, as they're also inextricably meshed with why the mechanical bits of the system failed as well (separate issue).

So, no continued EoP.  Sorry.

However, some insights on my part, based on a lot of feedback I've read here (and some serious head-slapping moments of my own...)

- doomed to fail: we never established a Premise (the narr. term) before play began.  We were, in essence playing a Sim game in a very-loosely defined world, that incorporated Player-empowered narration as a technique.  It's unreasonable to expect this style of play to work, IMHO.

- I really dig the "setting rules" that Sydney posted.  They're reminiscent in some ways of Paladin's rules for your religious order, which I always thought rocked out.  I like how they're quite liberating -- you've got something to help guide your creativity, but because the rules are sitting there, you have more faith that the result is going to be (somewhat) internally consistent.

- as Xenopulse pointed out, if the buck stops with the player, there is absolutely no reason that they can't make up the "physics" or the "culture" or the "whatever" of the setting with one big old BUT:

you have to have a firmly established WHY before any of this can be done productively.
[/color]

That smacks of Premise to me.

That's where my thinking's at right now.

So, now that the rest of EoP isn't coming, let's hear what Larry's been keeping in the back of his head for, oh, about a week.

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