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Author Topic: How do you reduce Sim prep  (Read 21556 times)
CSBone
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« on: January 19, 2006, 07:44:17 AM »

I was following the thread on [D20 Eberron] Lost that Spark, a Lost Gm seeks advice. And realized that I feel very strongly that people keep asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong things. While many people have put forth that the experience system as written for D&D does not assist coherent play, you can use D&D for fantastic Sim play…if all parties buy into the process.

I’m not talking about obfuscated illusionism, but the real deal “Live the Dream” engaged play…without changing the rules!

The problem is that the amount of personal investment and prep time for a GM in such a game is absolutely staggering…and then the GM has to be able to let go of vast swaths of created material that were simply there to build verisimilitude.

Example: I ran Keep on the Borderlands not as a entry level dungeon crawl but as a multicultural political hotbed. The first and last piece of railroading I did was to tell the group they had been called in to clean up the nasty local humanoid problem. In typical D&D adventurer style they went out and kicked in the door…at which point in non-typical D&D style they got their butts handed to them by tactically savvy tribal warriors (yeah THOSE humanoids) who then proceeded to forge an extremely shaky alliance and started a guerilla war that ended with them laying siege to the Keep. A summer of reactionary Sim play in which the Players would do something and I’d respond ended with the final battle for the Keep a betrayal from within (remember that damn evil cleric?) and a final battle at the gates of the inner bailey that would have made a good movie (LotR anyone?). The players finished by becoming the local lords of the keep (yeah, all guys) and being knighted by the Lords of Greyhawk. Started at first level finished at 6th and not a single railroad in sight.

The cost, however was that I prepped an average of 8-12 hours a week and used perhaps a third of what I prepped. The rest was simply the background material and the dealing and double dealing that kept the humanoid alliance a bubbling, kept my timeline making sense and kept the game going as the body count mounted.

And therein is the rub. Unfortunately to have that kind of a game you have to prep far enough and wide enough that when the Players take their characters off the beaten path they find themselves on other paths to other places and other adventures…and the GM has to keep at a dead run ahead of them. Also the details need to be created with an eye to increasing the verisimilitude. Barmaids have names, and so does the potboy. NPCs are more than numbers, they are Characters! Backgrounds, goals, feelings and quirks same as Player Characters but not central to the story you are creating. Magic sword? Why is it there? Whose was it? Might they want it back? Potion, scroll, who made them? Where is the rest of their stuff if their not using it? Gems, jewelry where did they come from? Who wants them back? Orcs? Whay are they there? Wolves? Where is the rest of the pack? And every one of those answers creates more people you have to make and more places you have to build. But little of it gets used directly. Indirectly it allows you to add to your Player’s immersion when they do Legends and Lore an item and realize the there is probably an elf who’d like it back or maybe someone shows up looking for their family heirloom.

Without these things I find my worlds have the effect of a Hollywood movie set. Open the wrong door and you’ll see two guys sitting on folding chairs eating donuts from the buffet. Or you get railroading and illusionism.

The Player investment is significantly smaller but not insignificant. Backgrounds MEAN something…or should.

The questions I have are:

Number one – Is there a way to get that level of verisimilitude without that level of prep?
Number two – What happened to make people not realize that this is what needed to be done to make the kinds of games that G. Gygax and D. Arneson were playing when they started?

Being as I am working on a more Forge like game of my own I would like to see if there are any answers I can use in my own design to either explain what is required so that the game does not end up flat OR how to build a game that doesn’t require that level of prep but gives back that level of Sim play.

C. S. Bone
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2006, 08:13:19 AM »

If you have the temperament for it and the right system, genuine Live the Dream, "virtual nonfiction" Sim can be done with a lot of GM improvisation. It's simply a matter of whether the value controlling the improvisation is "I'll put this there because it makes the richest, truest tapestry" or "I'll put this there because it makes a nice test of the party's abilities" or "I'll put this there because it plays to X's ethical concerns (or "passions" or whateve)." Improv for the first reason is Sim. See old rgfa threads on the "IC with the world" concept for accounts by GMs who play this way.

My old Amber GM, Mike Jacobs, was a master of this kind of Sim GMing.

IMHO, the system is the rub. It needs to support creating NPCs and places on the fly. Also, don't sell short the value of handy lists - names especially. Something like the proto-NPC concept from Dogs in the Vineyard could be very helpful too.

Anyway, I think valuing this kind of prep is why some GMs buy and use the kinds of fat, expensive setting books that the Forge community tends to abhor. Because they think it will provide, rightly or wrongly, the level of prep you're talking about. Some people aren't comfortable with doing improv-heavy sim; some don't believe it's possible. (There were plenty of skeptics on rgfa, but I have seen the thing with my own eyes.)

Best,


Jim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2006, 08:25:04 AM »

Hiya,

I think Jim is right on the money. In this, my post, I want to emphasize to you, Chris, that any advice or ideas given to person X in Actual Play, is not supposed to be transferred into any other person's play, lock stock and barrel.

That goes double when we're talking about D&D, of any edition or version. For all sorts of reasons, people are incredibly protective of the game, including the game text, and hyper-sensitive to anything which (a) paraphrases or interprets textual goals and (b) doesn't match what the listener or reader has done with the game. On-line fights about this seem to escalate to Jerry Springer level very, very fast. It's like watching a bunch of people in the same subcommittee of the same political party, gathered to discuss some issue, suddenly have a disagreement over the table arrangements and start stabbing one another to death with the salad forks.

For the record, in the thread you're spawning this one from, I think all the discussion of what "D&D rewards" and "Kill Things and Take Their Stuff" was tailor-made for provoking such an event. I watched that thread carefully with full intent to spray it down with cold jet-stream moderation if necessary, which fortunately wasn't the case.

Why don't you help avoid this grim fate simply by talking about, and celebrating, what you have done with the game? Never mind what "that guy said!" and trying to refute it. What actually happened in that Keep on the Borderlands game? (which, incidentally, by your account so far, featured absolutely no railroading, especially not the starting-conditions you describe) Talk about the events of play, the people of play - hell, man, I'm even interested in the characters, as in race, class, level, and weapons.

Did you end up using the bad guy, the evil cleric who (if I recall correctly) is hiding out in the ruined fortress?

Best,
Ron
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2006, 08:58:05 AM »

If you have the temperament for it and the right system, genuine Live the Dream, "virtual nonfiction" Sim can be done with a lot of GM improvisation. It's simply a matter of whether the value controlling the improvisation is "I'll put this there because it makes the richest, truest tapestry" or "I'll put this there because it makes a nice test of the party's abilities" or "I'll put this there because it plays to X's ethical concerns (or "passions" or whateve)." Improv for the first reason is Sim. See old rgfa threads on the "IC with the world" concept for accounts by GMs who play this way.

Actually, Ben Lehman coined the term Virtuality for this facet of play, and its been unclear whether it is Simulationist or not.  This was the original rgfa definition of Simulationism (renamed "Virtualism" since the term Simulationism was used differently), and an answer which several people gave was that Virtuality is a Technique which doesn't specify Creative Agenda.  I talk more about Virtuality (aka rgfa Simulationism) in an essay, "Simulationism Explained"  I also have an article in Jonathan Walton's upcoming journal PUSH on world-based preparation and gaming. 

Anyhow, as to how to reduce the work: there's a lot of tricks.  Certainly using a system which can easily generate NPC stats is useful.  The HERO System or D&D3 are terrible to do by hand (though software may make this easier); compared to simpler systems like Unisystem or Savage Worlds.  Keeping a list of random names is invaluable. 

I don't know anything personally about Gygax and Arneson's early games, so I don't know whether they did anything like this.  There are games which have catered to this sort of super-high-detail play -- I'm thinking in particular of Tekumel, RuneQuest Glorantha, and Harn. 
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- John
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« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2006, 09:11:43 AM »

If you have the temperament for it and the right system, genuine Live the Dream, "virtual nonfiction" Sim can be done with a lot of GM improvisation. It's simply a matter of whether the value controlling the improvisation is "I'll put this there because it makes the richest, truest tapestry" or "I'll put this there because it makes a nice test of the party's abilities" or "I'll put this there because it plays to X's ethical concerns (or "passions" or whateve)." Improv for the first reason is Sim. See old rgfa threads on the "IC with the world" concept for accounts by GMs who play this way.

Actually, Ben Lehman coined the term Virtuality for this facet of play, and its been unclear whether it is Simulationist or not.  This was the original rgfa definition of Simulationism (renamed "Virtualism" since the term Simulationism was used differently), and an answer which several people gave was that Virtuality is a Technique which doesn't specify Creative Agenda.  I talk more about Virtuality (aka rgfa Simulationism) in an essay, "Simulationism Explained"  I also have an article in Jonathan Walton's upcoming journal PUSH on world-based preparation and gaming.

John, I totally agree that there's only overlap, not identity between what we called Sim on rgfa and what we call Sim in Big-Model-land. (Some rgfa Sim gets classed here as Vanilla Nar.) That said:

 * I think at least some of the Sim advocates on rgfa would still count as Big Model Sim-aligned.

 * What I'm calling "virtual nonfiction" is not Virtuality per se. "Virtual nonfiction" as I contemplate it is Virtuality with a pure Big-Mod Sim agenda. In classically polarized GM-PC groups it matches a virtual historian with a bunch of virtual biographers. It's definitely "discovery play." Analogize it to travel literature and other memoirs of especially active lives. Its highest value is the imagined "realness" of the SIS. PCs may face tactical challenges and ethical dilemmas, but in furtherance of, well, the Dream - those things should be part of the game because they are part of life. It's a particular kind of Sim skewer running through Virtuality, if you will.

Best,


Jim
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2006, 09:45:12 AM »

Hiya,

You may want to look into some stuff about "No-Myth" play.

Quote from: Provisional Glossary
No Myth
Intuitive Continuity which includes all Setting features (i.e. more than just Situation). An extreme version of the general principle that the Shared Imagined Space is established by people communicating with one another. Term coined by Fang Langford.

My search-fu is kinda weak, but I also found these two older threads: A demoralising day and Unknown Armies and No Myth role-playing.

My understanding of the principle is that a common assumption for play (in my mind, particularly Sim play) that the "myth of reality" must be sustained - that is, regardless of whether it is encountered or not, there is a whole fictional reality operating behind and around the characters, that would be there anyway, without the characters involvement. Playing No-Myth, on the other hand, involves creating a continuous reality via play itself.

So, mapping out the town that the party will be doing much of their stuff in, detailing all the buildings, drawing maps, establishing timelines, etc, would all be stuff that is establishing the myth for that instance of play. Creating the town as the characters encounter it, through a combination of expectations and creative input, and introducing events as they become appropriate or dramatic for the game in progress, would be more No-Myth.

For some personal experience on this, there's some in this thread: [Timestream] Bricolage In Action. I'm talking about Bricolage there, which I kind of see as the process that underlies No-Myth. From that thread:

Quote from: Nathan P.
The point during play that really "clicked" for me in terms of bricolage was this: Victoria has just saved Daniel's ass from being hauled off by Mafia polookas for an as-yet-unknown reason. Joe is being forced by his Master to track down someone named "Lambetti" in Victoria's timeframe. I cut from a scene with Victoria to Joe walking down the street, still unclear on what his Master wants him to do and trying to be proactive in some manner. I asked myself "What would be cool, right now?" I decided that a car pulled up next to Joe and a Mafia-looking palooka yells "Hey Dan, where the hell you going? We need to get to the meeting!" Over the course of the scene, we determined that (young) Joe looked just like Dan, that Dan was apparentely quite the joker ("Come on Dan, drop the act, this is serious) and that the guys in the car were going to meet Lambetti.

Click, click, click. A connexion was forged. I knew it, and I'm pretty sure the other guys knew it - of course Joe looks like Dan. Of course Dan was going to get Joe in trouble with Lambetti, whoever he was, and Lambetti would send thugs after the real Joe.

The physical resemblence thing was formed, not in prep, but in the course of play, from the input of the players.

Personally, I find that there is no difference in terms of play experience between pre-prepping all the things you mention (background for items and NPCs, relationships, etc) and utilizing player input to answer these questions when they come up during play. The difference is that I haven't wasted time on things that never come up and players are encouraged to contribute to the game fiction.

Does that help at all?
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Nathan P.
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John Kim
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« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2006, 10:59:06 AM »

What I'm calling "virtual nonfiction" is not Virtuality per se. "Virtual nonfiction" as I contemplate it is Virtuality with a pure Big-Mod Sim agenda. In classically polarized GM-PC groups it matches a virtual historian with a bunch of virtual biographers. It's definitely "discovery play." Analogize it to travel literature and other memoirs of especially active lives. Its highest value is the imagined "realness" of the SIS. PCs may face tactical challenges and ethical dilemmas, but in furtherance of, well, the Dream - those things should be part of the game because they are part of life.

Sure, I agree that there is an overlap of Virtuality + GNS Simulationism.  However, I think your term and analogy don't seem to express that skewer very well.  In my experience memoirs are frequently chock-full of meaningful human issues.  For example, I was just reading The Cavalry Maiden, by Nadezhda Durova about her life in the Russian military in the Napoleonic wars, and it is extremely powerful. 

The problem here is that much of what you say is also true of Virtuality.  In the style of Virtuality, we also put things into the game because they are a part of life.  Lives aren't meaningless -- and being true to life generally makes the game more meaningful, not less. 

On the other hand, I can't think of an expressive short-hand term.  Perhaps we should just say "Virtuality + GNS Sim". 
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2006, 11:17:07 AM »

Number one – Is there a way to get that level of verisimilitude without that level of prep?
Number two – What happened to make people not realize that this is what needed to be done to make the kinds of games that G. Gygax and D. Arneson were playing when they started?

Nathan's got it right on the money with No Myth play.  Have you played anything like Capes, where there is no prep, and everything comes up and is developed in play?  It's really pretty astounding how detailed and consistent the resulting play is, and in my experience player investment is always significantly higher in such a structure.

As to your number two, taken superficially (and a bit naively), the problem seems pretty straightforward: the players are going to explore a dungeon and encounter stuff.  Surely, this stuff is "there" in the fiction and they are encountering it.  Therefore it would be prudent to prepare the stuff before hand.  Only thing is, the basic premise is not at all true.  The stuff doesn't exist until it comes up in play, and it is not encountered, it is created in that moment of play and not before.

It's like thinking that when Joss Whedon was writing the first season of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, he was always thinking of the First Evil, the Big Bad of the last season.  Chances are, Mr Whedon might have had a very sketchy outline of Buffy confronting the Master at the end of the First Season, and only that because he'd need the outline to pitch the show to get funding.  There are counter examples, of course, but they're the exception, not the rule.  And I usually point out that while J Michael Strazinsky of Babylon Five fame plotted out the entire five year arc of the series, he didn't get to finish it the way he wanted anyway.
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Supplanter
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« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2006, 11:20:35 AM »

Sure, I agree that there is an overlap of Virtuality + GNS Simulationism.  However, I think your term and analogy don't seem to express that skewer very well.  In my experience memoirs are frequently chock-full of meaningful human issues.  For example, I was just reading The Cavalry Maiden, by Nadezhda Durova about her life in the Russian military in the Napoleonic wars, and it is extremely powerful. 

The problem here is that much of what you say is also true of Virtuality.  In the style of Virtuality, we also put things into the game because they are a part of life.  Lives aren't meaningless -- and being true to life generally makes the game more meaningful, not less. 

On the other hand, I can't think of an expressive short-hand term.  Perhaps we should just say "Virtuality + GNS Sim". 

John, I think we're drifting off into what are, for this thread, terminological side issues. I'm not talked out of "virtual nonfiction" as a term because I don't think anything you've said really undermines it. But my pertinent claim (to CS's situation), is that the CA Sim GM who wants to minimize prep time can learn approaches from the rgfa "IC with the world" threads that can be useful to them. Do you disagree? If so, that could be important.

Best,


Jim
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Tommi Brander
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« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2006, 11:50:47 AM »

I prefer improvisation, with as much player input as possible (still working on that part).
That way you, as the GM, have something to do while the players run around and kill or do not kill things. You can see what is the best development for any particular scenario, and run with it.

It can be done with 3rd ed of D&D. I can do an NPC of up to third level in my head with no problems. Gets a bit tough at higher levels, but can be done.
Also, not nearly all of the NPCs will be fought. Assume that they have about maximum ranks at whatever they are good at and +1 or +2 from ability and that's it. Other skills as appropriate.
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2006, 12:05:07 PM »

Number one – Is there a way to get that level of verisimilitude without that level of prep?
Number two – What happened to make people not realize that this is what needed to be done to make the kinds of games that G. Gygax and D. Arneson were playing when they started?

As to your number two, taken superficially (and a bit naively), the problem seems pretty straightforward: the players are going to explore a dungeon and encounter stuff.  Surely, this stuff is "there" in the fiction and they are encountering it.  Therefore it would be prudent to prepare the stuff before hand.  Only thing is, the basic premise is not at all true.  The stuff doesn't exist until it comes up in play, and it is not encountered, it is created in that moment of play and not before.

A response to this - consider that the roots of roleplay are coming out of wargaming for mechanics, and science fiction/fantasy...uh...fiction...for fictional content. In wargaming, you generally determine all of the necessary gameplay elements before you actually play - like the composition of your army, the capabilities of each piece, the terrain the game will be played on, etc. In your typical novel, the author is in complete control of the fiction surrounding the characters and plot, and the point of stories like Lord Of The Rings is at least partially to introduce you to a complete world, with all this stuff going on.

With those two as big, big influences on the genre, I think it's not much a leap to see how the assumption that the fictional world needs to be as complete as possible before the characters enter into it was made.
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Nathan P.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2006, 12:13:46 PM »

Nathan, I meant to mention wargaming roots, because that's right on.

As to the source material, that goes back to what I'm saying about Buffy -- we see the finished product which is often the result of a lot of in-the-moment improvisation and polished up with some retroactive editing (something we don't have access to).  That the finished product seems to present a "well-planned" world/setting/whatever is more a testament to improvisation and editing than it is planning.
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Supplanter
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« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2006, 12:21:17 PM »

With those two as big, big influences on the genre, I think it's not much a leap to see how the assumption that the fictional world needs to be as complete as possible before the characters enter into it was made.

Interestingly, the "No Myth" threads and the "IC with the World" threads are both talking about GM improvisation, but from completely different base assumptions. "No Myth" can be liberating or useless depending on how your imagination works and what you want out of RP. Same with acting as if the game world has a stubborn, prior actuality ("Yes! Myth!"). In practice, I suspect "No Myth" is a dial.

Best,


Jim
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John Kim
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« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2006, 12:34:34 PM »

I'm not talked out of "virtual nonfiction" as a term because I don't think anything you've said really undermines it. But my pertinent claim (to CS's situation), is that the CA Sim GM who wants to minimize prep time can learn approaches from the rgfa "IC with the world" threads that can be useful to them. Do you disagree? If so, that could be important.

Sorry about the sidetrack.  I'm looking through the threads now.  It looks like the term was first coined by Irina Rempt, which makes sense.  For one, I'm not sure that Irina's approach will help reduce prep.  She spent a lot of time involved in thinking about the world and her characters.  i.e. Her "Yes! Myth!" approach was fairly prep-heavy, I think.  Second, a possible issue here is that the advice might not help them to achieve their GNS Simulationist CA, if what they really want is GNS Sim and not GNS Nar. 

Anyhow, going back to the original question -- even leaving aside No Myth during actual play, I think that sharing prep time among the players is a great technique.  This can be done even without moving to full Troupe Style play.  The players can help detail background, particularly on the large scale.  Have the dwarf's player write up on the dwarves of the region, for example.  
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2006, 01:36:22 PM »

Hiya,

Christopher, what do you think, so far? Anything you want to develop? Is the primary focus of thread serving its purpose?

Guys, let's allow Christopher to direct us from this point.

Best,
Ron
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