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Author Topic: Star Wars d20: Is this Sim vs. Gamism?  (Read 13617 times)
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« on: August 23, 2005, 05:37:38 PM »

Our group’s just started a d20 Star Wars game, which’ll probably run 4 or 5 eps (face to face). It's set about 80 years after the end of Return of the Jedi and our mission is to track down a Jedi Master who's gone missing. This is with my regular indie-gaming group; we’ve been together about 2 years.

Because I know the GM pretty well, I asked him a few questions during our group character generation session.  Would we've all be working as a party, D&D style, and not separating very much?  Yes.  Did he have a specific storyline in mind that we'd be going through?  Yes.

At the end of char-gen, we played the first session for about 30 minutes.  People settled into the game; I adjusted my characterisation so that I could contribute more*.  After the game the GM asked what we would like to see in future episodes.  Based on those 30 minutes, I requested one action scene (a fight, a chase, whatever) to every two scenes of talking.

Basically, I think I’d wrapped my head around the idea that we would be playing Sim.  I had designed a character I thought could contribute to that, accepted that this was going to be a rail-roading or 'all roads lead to Rome' type of story and made a suggestion to improve my experience.

Session 2 started really well: two fight scenes that (in some respects) felt like PlayStation levels.  Really fun.

Then the game stalled for about an hour, hour and a half, as we followed up lead after lead for where the Jedi Master could have gone, brainstormed possibilities and basically investigated a mystery without an obvious answer.  At the end of a fruitless aerial scout of part of the planet, the GM (and in context, this was completely reasonable) expressed bafflement at our actions and said he was wondering why we had decided to do that.

I lost my temper.  Said it was because we didn't have a frickin’ clue about what we were supposed to do and we were completely out of options.

Soon after, the group made a unilateral decision to head to a possible location and the Star Wars vibe resumed.

After the game, the GM indicated that he'd had no particular preference for where we were heading to next. He had set up 2 options (which we did know about through our investigations), and he was actually surprised we ended up heading for a 3rd location. Also, there may have been some issues in how the situation was presented: I know I was expecting to pick up the Jedi Master's trail and figure out where they were going, but all the clues seemed to lead us back to where the Jedi Master had been.

Points:
1) I don't normally lose my temper.
2) Going in, I really wanted to ID (to my satisfaction) the creative agenda and the GM’s expectations from players.
3) Our group isn’t Big Model theory-heavy. For instance, although we’ve had a conversation about our most satisfying play experiences, we’ve never sat down and discussed Creative Agenda.
4) I think I was being frustrated by an unacknowledged switch from Sim to Gamism.

The game went from ‘be cool in the Star Wars universe' to 'figure out what to do next from a bunch of non-obvious options'.  I think I found this particularly frustrating because we had all read this article by Steve Darlington. In particular, I thought the section entitled "The Big Narrative Push" would apply.

BTW: by the end of the session, things had gone back to ‘be cool in the Star Wars universe' .

* My character was originally going to be suffering from self-esteem issues, now it's that he is perceived to be evil.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2005, 07:54:13 PM »

Hiya,

I'm kind of puzzled. I don't see any Gamism. Perhaps you can clarify?

Best,
Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2005, 08:14:11 PM »

Steve's thinking that the puzzle of finding the master is challenge to be met.

Steve: that's not gamism, because not one of you seem to be expecting anything even remotely like Step on Up. Think about it:
GM? No, he's just supplying a narrative for you. Unfortunately the rules he's set himself up with say that you have to figure the next step yourself. But it's clearly because he doesn't have any tools for characters-play-detective-players-do-not, so he's forced to make players play detective to simulate characters doing the same.
Players? No, they are just interested in getting to the next step. At least you don't indicate that you were particularly trying to overcome a challenge, rather than just playing your part as detectives.

If I may offer a suggestion, your frustated hour and half seem to stem from the GM not realizing that he could give you OOC information. A pretty functional technique for that kind of play is to simply tell the answer to the puzzle (where the jedi master is) to the players, and ask them to come up with the way their characters find it out. A kind of reverse deduction where the answer is already known. It's also very pleasurable and natural to figure out the procedure that gets the character to the goal. Is he the kind of hero who gets by on luck? Or encyclopedic knowledge? Or keen awareness? Just pick something, throw out some pittoresque images, and get on with the game.

So if there's any trouble, it's in the techniques the GM is applying, and in you not speaking up sooner. Why not just ask the GM what you're supposed to be doing when the game grounded to halt? Am I wrong here?
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hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2005, 09:10:54 PM »

Ron, Eero's dead-on about where I thought the Gamist challenge might be. And of course there's no Step On Up - the players were all co-operating to try and find a solution; the GM wanted us to find a lead and take a next step in the story. There's no Gamism there because there's no real competition or challenge, right?

Quote from: Eero
A pretty functional technique for that kind of play is to simply tell the answer to the puzzle (where the jedi master is) to the players, and ask them to come up with the way their characters find it out.

Eero, that's a really nifty suggestion for progressing a puzzle.

As for why I didn't speak up (OOC), I felt like it'd be breaking some sort of social norm. Which is weird, given that we've played Sorcerer and Uni & that we talk about the stakes and events surrounding a game at least some of the time. Anyway, I think I can raise points like this (that I'm feeling frustrated or that I'm uncertain about the next step) tactfully, if issues like this come up again.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2005, 11:02:22 PM »

Hi Steve,

Man, there's just something about d20 that encourages this sort of CA schizophrenia. Everything's rolling along smooth, and then BAM! no fun. I suppose it comes from trying to be all things to all players.

I think it's a little dissapointing the GM didn't just take the avenue of investigation the players were following and run with it, making it successful and cool and leading to the next bit of plot he had worked out. But it sounds like you already understand that this is a kink to be worked out socially between the players, above the matter of the game system. Better to lose your temper a bit than sit there and suffer in silence.

It sounds like you're making the assumption that the game will automatically be a coherent member of one of the three CAs and it's just a matter of figuring out which one. It seems more likely in this case that play just drifted between fun parts and zilchplay due to CA incoherence.
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gsoylent
Member

Posts: 62


« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2005, 11:57:30 PM »

Quote from: Eero
A pretty functional technique for that kind of play is to simply tell the answer to the puzzle (where the jedi master is) to the players, and ask them to come up with the way their characters find it out.

Wow. Forgive a Forge newbie's newbieness, but wow. That approach had never occurred to me, and now my head is spinning with the possibilites.

Can you expand on this technique (or is there an example in Actual Play). If they know ooc the solution to the puzzle, is there a presumption that the characters will figure out the solution too, or could the players through, say for example repeated failed hacking and streetwise roles, fail to solve it?
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Rob Carriere
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2005, 02:26:44 AM »

Can you expand on this technique (or is there an example in Actual Play). If they know ooc the solution to the puzzle, is there a presumption that the characters will figure out the solution too, or could the players through, say for example repeated failed hacking and streetwise roles, fail to solve it?

The answer should be: the characters can fail or succeed as the players want. That may involve tweaking difficulties or even selecting a different rule system altogether.

As for an example, I don't know any Actual Play ones of the top of my head, but here's one lifted from a theory discussion:
The best example of an illusionist technique with positive value is The Moving Clue. In a mystery campaign, the player characters must collect the clues to solve the mystery. The referee knows that they need certain information to get the answer. Let us suppose one of the "facts" they must discover is that the master of the house left the grounds alone at three o'clock. In a "standard" design, there would be one character who knew that. Let's say, for example, that it was the chauffer--"I asked if he wanted me to drive, but he said he just wanted to take the Jaguar for a spin, and left." Now, if the players ask the chauffer, they get that clue, and they can solve the mystery. However, if they never question the chauffer, they never solve the mystery--the entire game is derailed by their decision (whether affirmative or by omission) to talk to the chauffer. Using The Moving Clue technique, however, the referee has decided that someone the player characters question will give them that information--it doesn't matter who. It will be, for example, the third person questioned. The information will be couched in a way that fits that character--the cook saw him drive by from the kitchen window, or the scullery made saw him head for the garage with his briefcase, or the gardener saw him pull out onto the highway. Suddenly the game can't be derailed by player choice. It's an illusionist technique that preserves player power by removing the impact or meaning of a decision.

Hope that helps,
SR
--
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epweissengruber
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I like games! and theory! and The Forge!


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« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2005, 05:56:55 AM »

The players could propose a "cool way to find the Jedi master" in keeping with the "being cool in the Star Wars universe" agenda.

That doesn't mean traditional resolution methods go out the window.  The GM could ask for a number of skill checks that would impact the condition of the PC's before they find the master.

I am thinking of Donjon here, or the rules for follow-up conflicts from Dogs in the Vineyard or Sorceror.

The GM has to define the opposition that adds conflict to the "cool way to find the Jedi master."  In DitV there is a "general threat level" of 4d6 + Demonic Influence that the GM can throw into any unopposed challenge.  The "Levels" of Donjon serve in a similar capacity.

Perhaps your GM can create a "Lords of the Sith" threat level that can float in whenver the PCs are undertaking an action with no obvious opponent.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2005, 01:41:44 PM »

To step back from actually making any helpful practical suggestions and reiterate the basic theoretical point for a moment:

As others have said, this problem has nothing to do with Creative Agenda; it's far more basic an issue of human communications. Fumbling blindly for a specific solution with no opportunity to show cleverness or daring is not Gamism; refusing to step out of character to talk, as real people, about something that's not working and not fun is not Simulationism. There's this strange fetish of traditional roleplaying that we, as real people, should never say how we want the game to go, because it's either "cheating" (insanity masquerading as Gamism) or "breaking character" (insanity masquerading as Simulationism), but not talking about what you want is a great way to ensure you never get it. (Think about any unhappily married couple that communicates only through glares, dangled half-sentences, and resentful silences). If you want something, and it involves other people, and those other people do not have psychic mind-reading powers, you have to tell them.

And that was a rant, wasn't it?
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2005, 01:46:36 PM »

P.S.: Steve (Hix), I'm not ranting at you personally. But there are so many examples of this same phenomenon in Actual Play threads I kinda snapped:

Players: Well, we could do A, or B, or C.
GM: Only one of those will result in anything interesting, and the others will result in hours of boredom and frustration.
Players: Of course, we could never ask you which is the interesting one.
GM: No! That would be wrong with bad wrongess!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2005, 04:59:49 PM »

That was no rant, Sydney. That was a reasoned, fair, and accurate statement.

Steve (hix), is this making any sense to you at all?

Best,
Ron
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hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2005, 06:08:01 PM »

Quote from: Sydney
If you want something, and it involves other people, and those other people do not have psychic mind-reading powers, you have to tell them.

Sydney, no worries. That looks like pretty solid advice to me.

Quote from: Ron
Steve, is this making any sense to you at all?

It is.

The surface problem: I couldn't come up with a 'right' answer for this puzzle.

The underlying problem: At the moment our group doesn’t have a mechanism for calling time-out. Therefore I “couldn’t” talk to the other players and sound them out about how they were feeling … or to the GM, to see whether he was getting frustrated with our lack of progress.

I think that brings up a bunch of related stuff.  That criticising the game (even constructive criticism) implies criticism of the person running the game. That speaking up means ruining other players’ suspension of disbelief.

Guess the next step’s to make sure everyone in the group has had a chance to read this. There's a whole bunch of stuff we need to discuss …

  • If someone in the group (player or GM) isn’t having fun, is it better to stay silent (so they don’t spoil anyone else’s fun) or to speak up?
  • If you’re not having fun, how do you find out if you’re alone in that? (And – worst case - if you’re alone in that, what happens then?)
  • How do you speak up? Do you wait for a break in the game? Do you call a time out?
  • When’s appropriate to speak up? For instance, I like solving puzzles. So for a long time I was actually engaged with the issue – and then gradually became aware I wasn’t getting anywhere. Should I have spoken up right at that point? Should I wait an arbitrary amount of time to see if the situation resolves itself (5 minutes? 20 minutes?)

The point is if we have an understanding about how and why we speak up, we can sort the situation out reasonably among friends (rather than in a petulant outburst).

And BTW, our group has a lot of fun play under its belt (including an enjoyable MLwM game run by this GM). That fact that this is unusual is probably the reason I’m drawing attention to it. All I want is more of the cool Star Wars action we’ve been having while exploring this nasty epic plot he’s developed.

That's what I've taken from this so far, anyway ...
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2005, 06:13:15 PM »

IOW

You play to have fun.

If you're not having fun, you should be able to tell the friends you're playing with (and it shouldn't be a big deal).

Then your friends can help you have fun.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Seraph
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« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2005, 09:42:21 PM »

I can see, in retrospect, why the players may have felt at a loss and frustrated - though this must be said :

- The whole thrust of the adventure is to find the missing Jedi Master, who seems to have something to do with the current emerging menace.
- PC's investigate last place she was at. Find that she and apprentice met there and left. They find clues that the Master has been having SOME kind of connection / contact with Sith. Also that she was extremely upset - certain contacts on another planet have been turning up dead.
- Further clues point out that the last place she was at was said planet. Find out that her apprentice was at different planet.
- PC's find NO other evidence or clues.

I had thought ( possibly naively ) that exploring the LAST place either of them had been at would have been a good move, but I am reminded that PC's will not necessarily think along the same lines.

I would have had NO problems with players saying "What is going on ? I can't see where we're going..." or "Given what we have found out - what would be a good next step?" - or possibly even "Fess up Moretto!! Freaking what are we supposed to do ???" - as you're right, the RP is SUPPOSED to be fun. BUT - I would also like to think that if the players had been told "Look - this game is going to have a lot of kick-arse action in it ... but it's ALSO going to be a mystery-horror story too" that they might expect not to find a clue in the opening chapters of the story which says "The Jedi Master who has been missing for weeks is at these galactic coordinates".

Y'know ?

Like I say - I had thought the situation was pretty clear - "There is no further information here. Missing person had been HERE last. Her partner had been HERE last."
There was NO correct next step. Or rather - the correct next step was "go somewhere".
I WAS surprised when the characters decided to go to a different place ( though it wasn't a wrong thing to do - the plot continued, though in a slightly different form ) but it was still good.

I think that sometimes, probably as a result of overly linear plot lines and overly critical GM's ( "No ! Why are you doing that ? You're running the story you idiots !! You're supposed to do this !" ), that players agonize over what the "right" response to a problem is. My players spent ages picking over a place that ( I thought obviously ) had nothing more to reveal - rather than going "She went to X, and he went to Y?? Cool - let's ship out to ...X !" - diagonal wipe - Right, when you dock in the main starport in X ...
Like I said - though Yavin 4 was a surprise to me in terms of a location ( A ship that had been mentioned in the Masters files which had been involved in covert missions for the Jedi council in the rise of the Empire era had been known to have been there - once, and the sketchs of a unknown tomb bore striking similarities to the Sith buildings on Yavin ) BUT the plot continued.

Should I have intervened earlier ?

I guess I should have.

Did I actually NOTICE frustration and anger ?

Honestly - no. When Hix called me up a day or two later and said "Hey - I'm sorry I lost my temper", my answer was "... You lost you're temper ? With me ? When ???"
And this is a group ( myself included ) which can get lost in side details - and that CAN be fun.

Would I have been ruining their "fun" by pushing them unnecessarily on ?
Would I have freaked out and been upset if my players told me they had no real idea what they were supposed to do next ?

Can't imagine why I would have. It's more important that the players have fun.

Sure - I want the players to actually work out the mystery by themselves as much as possible, but sometimes they might have to go out on a limb and experiment. Will I let them wind up on a planet / location / whatever and say "Nah - this is totally wrong ! Try again dumbass !" ? Jeez - I hope not. But sometimes it can be slightly frustrating to try and re-jig things to fit what the characters end up doing. Case in point - the end of the last chapter : PC's had discovered that their ship had been infiltrated by remote spider drones - all taking images of the ( rather rare ) droid PC. They slice into the drones programming and find they have linked with their hyperspace comms - and are transmitting data back to Corusant ( the LAST place the Master was at, and who had said, in the holo-log that her droid contacts had been turning up dead/wiped/blown-up/whatever ). They open a line to Corusant - though a deactivated drone, and keep the line pen long enough to get a pretty close fix on where the signal was being relayed to ( a rather seedy nightclub area in the lower levels - not that the PC's actually bothered to check ). So the they have a pretty strong damn lead here ( well - I think anyway ) - it relates to their mission ( Master was there, signal leads to there ), it relates to them personally ( someone / something is snooping on them in a pretty sinister kind of way ) and there are cross-information points ( PC being scanned is a droid - droids have been getting rubbed out - droids getting rubbed out were known by Master ) and they have a pretty tight fix on WHERE all that is happening now.

So - what is the VERY first thing they say on getting that location info ?

"Hey - we have people on Corusant ! We'll contact them and tell them all this and they can deal with it. Right ... what do we do now?"

"Damn it!" I wail desperately to myself "This ISN'T going to happen again !" - so a rather large war-ship jumps out of hyperspace to deal them sereval degrees of hurt and inject some much needed action.

I don't wish to sound defensive here ( although I'm conscious that I probably HAVE through this entire post ) - but please don't just leap up and down on the ole GM.

Did I make mistakes and not see things I should have ? Yup. I will be the first to admit that.

BUT - did the PLAYERS take into consideration the actual GENRE of the game ( and I believe they were told this pretty clearly ) ? Should they have expected to have solved the big mystery STRAIGHT AWAY ? Did they actually DO things and follow a small, but-hell-it's-all-we-have-and-it's-crazy-enough-to-work lead ? Are they taking the secondary ( and naturally, bigger and more pointed ) clues on board ? Are they referring back to the information they HAVE found out and seeing connections and stronger possible leads ? Y'know ... like you would expect to do in a ... say ... mystery ?

I don't know.

Believe me - I WANT to tell a exciting and intense story. And y'know - maybe there IS a certain amount of frustration to be had in ANY mystery. Isn’t that going to be what DRIVES you ? To SOLVE the damn thing. Are you the kind of person who WANTS that bonehead to bumble out "Hey - you should move THAT card THERE ..." when you're playing solitaire ? Or are you the kind of person who would happily wring that bonehead's neck ? Me ? I HATE people who spoil a mystery of puzzle for me. I don't WANT you're help !! I want to work it out myself !!!
But if someone ASKS for aid - I'm not going to laugh and point at them !

Look - my players are smart, intelligent and creative people. All of them. And I'm sure that part of the reason they DIDN'T ask for help is that they DID want to solve it themselves, not that they felt bad or stupid for asking for help. I perhaps think that the sudden gear change from very obvious and immediate choices ( "There are a bunch of crazed dark-troopers right in front of you." "Well - I punch the landspeeder into low gear - jam the accelerator into overdrive, course correct to ram them - and leap out at the last possible second - blowing those scumbags into their component atoms !" "Cool ! Roll !" ) to less pressing and reason based ones caught them like deer in a headlight.
"What ? There's no more clues ?? ... but ... I don't know anything for SURE ! I ... only know where they had BEEN ! Not where they went TO ... must ...go ... forward ! No point ... to ... going ... back ...! Makes ... no ... sense ! Error ! Error ! Does not compute !! You CAN'T expect me to go on a HUNCH !"

And as GM - that's my 2 cents.
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Svend
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2005, 01:57:28 AM »

Well, look at it from another perspective:

In the whole of the Star Wars universe, the players know two places that the person that they're looking almost certainly isn't. (Well, three, counting the place the game started in.)  Now, if the goal is to find the person, why would they go to the places that they think they aren't? :)

I can't speak for the others, and I don't know how much of this is post facto, but I think the reasoning might have been something like -- we're at the beginning, so we should move forward, chasing after the McGuffin until we catch up.  The next step is obviously not where she is now, but wherever she went right after this.  So... where can we find the thing that moves us forward?  Okay, here's some background stuff... doesn't look like the way forward... more background stuff... this is what they've been doing... uh-huh... well, they came here, so there must be something here that tells us where they went next, so we can get to the next step... if we don't find something soon, we'll have to go backward instead; no, there must be something we missed...

(Going back in person to the most densly-populated planet in the setting, where our powerful employer's main base is situated, when they're calling us and saying that what we're doing is important... well, why wouldn't you say, "Could you please ask the network of agents you no doubt have already in position to find out this stuff, since they're probably pretty good at that sort of thing, being professional spy-type guys with contacts and whatnot?"  If we had no other leads, I would have advocated going to the smuggler's moon that was mentioned, since based on my character's background he'd be likely to have an edge; but again, we knew that the person we were looking for almost certainly wasn't there.)

I think that I might have been expecting a slightly more pulpy structure, where the parts of the mystery are revealed as the action moves forward, rather than having the investigation driving the action; and I think that's why I assumed finding the next step in the journey of the person we were tracing must be discoverable from where we were.  Tracing their path backwards seemed like saying, "Okay, let's delay moving forward some more, while we ask some more questions of a larger group."

Now, it's certainly true that we could have said, "How do we go forward?" at the point we were flailing -- but there always seemed to be options that we hadn't yet tried.  On the other hand, since the GM had presented several options, and we still appeared to be searching, they could have asked us why we weren't following any of them up -- not a "clues thataway" type thing, but a "what is your character thinking about this?" dealie.  Having said that, I'm not sure I would think to ask if I were in that position, and even if it did occur to me, I'd probably worry that I'd be perceived as saying "hey, you know this is the solution, right?"

FWIW, the warship at the end of the session didn't seem particularly arbitary. :)
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