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Emergent Techniques: Genre Expectations

Started by Le Joueur, May 01, 2002, 10:24:57 PM

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Le Joueur

Okay, next Emergent Technique time!  This time let's visit the Genre Expectations concepts.

Previously I briefly covered the idea, here and referred to it, here, but I haven't really gone into much detail about what it means.  As I mentioned in Emergent Techniques: Sine Qua Non, one way to look at Scattershot's Genre Expectations Technique is as the Sine Qua Non of the game itself.

As the name implies, this Technique has do with what you can expect going into a game.  Ron has condemned certain named genres on occasion for reasons I largely agree with; different people ascribe different aspects making them anything except clear.  Long before I even heard of the Forge, I coined the idea of Genre Expectations.  I had planned to list all the elements a person could have expected within any of the 'published genres,' but here I need to discuss what they're for and what to expect.  I'd also like to suggest what might go into one homemade.  (A rather ambitious list and I don't really think I'll get all that in here, so feel free to jump in with anything you want to add.)

Figuratively the Genre Expectations deal explicitly with the identity of a game you want to play.  It's a 'no-surprises' approach to playing in a shared world meant to 'get everyone on the same page' at the start and maintain consistency along the way.  What it's not about is 'what the gamemaster tells the players;' this is a more a Technique of compromise.  (Or in a few cases of dictation, but certainly that can flow both ways can't it?  Players to gamemaster rather than just gamemaster to players.)

Another concept I'll have to detail soon is the Portable Elements in Scattershot.  The reason I've named them 'portable' has to do with how Scattershot features the ability to create your own genre by combining known key elements or their treatments as an abstraction.  (Each of the speculated products was meant to deliver a different slice of genre such that, had you owned the entire collection, you could practically 'tab A, slot B' your own genre in a matter of minutes.  While I appreciate that I won't be putting these projects together anymore, there's no reason I can't offer a page on the web site offering 'packaged Genre Expectations.')

While you can create your own genre from scratch, in my experience most people rather liked 'customizing' those 'close enough.'  That's where Scattershot's Portable Elements comes in.  Pick any known Genre Expectation and then import Characters, Backgrounds, Circumstances, Sequences, Mechanics, Props, or Relationships into it, as you see fit.  With the Genre Fusion Techniques this should be pretty straightforward.  These also form the basis of what aspects of genre you want to address in creating or using a Genre Expectation (much like Sine Qua Non).  You don't have to cover everything (also as with Sine Qua Non) but it really should have a really solid 'footprint;' if some of the other participants are going, "Huh?" you need to try again.

Genre Expectations provide the firm basis or the 'edges of the canvas' on which the game will be created.  It should detail any significant or indispensable component of the genre (at least as far as gaming within it goes).  This can include how the long-term story might escalate in tension leading to a climactic confrontation, a focus on what 'gizmos' do for their characters, the role culture might play, or even how much focus is placed on character and persona emotional interaction.  Like the Sine Qua Non, it's about the most important elements and the last elements that you could give up and still call it the genre of its name.  It doesn't script the ending, but in a Noir-ish genre, you have to expect at least one major betrayal, don't you?  That expectation of betrayal is right in line with the Genre Expectation I could write for a Noir genre.  (It's important to note that it is quite possible to not know who will be the betrayer right up until it's revealed, in a well-practiced Genre Expectation.)

Before I go on much, at length, I think I'll cut to an example.  Let's do the cheap 80's fantasy novel!

Okay, let's start with Sequence; these usually start with a character of no apparent value.  These stories first 'gets them into big trouble,' and then will force them to quest to 'find a solution.'  Along the way, they assemble a strange band of helpers who seem to exist simply to be 'used up' at the end.  During the quest, it goes from him looking for a solution, to ducking minions of the bad guy, to being on the run from the same.  Finally, the original quest leads them right into the hands of the big bad guy and in different ways the helpers are 'sacrificed' to bring the main character closer and closer to the original goal.  At the point of achieving what the story began looking for, the main character combats and 'defeats' the big bad guy.  (Many different riffs can be done off this central Sequence, but if all know it going in, their participation is expected; that way it doesn't turn into railroading.)

Let's say that the tension revolves around a specific Prop, either the acquisition or dispersal of it.  This allows for 'greatness falls into unknowing hands,' 'the curse must be destroyed,' 'find the lost artifact,' or even 'return that which was lost.'  The point is it's about a Prop, a physical item of magical nature.

Characters in this game (other than the main one) are either the faceless minions of the bad guys (or the good guys) or 'freaks.'  I call them 'freaks' because, to a number, they are always unique (displaced representative of a lost race, 'combat master,' or whatever, uniqueness is the point).  The 'freaks' get to either be in the 'helper party' or be lieutenants of the big bad guy.  Ultimately every helper is paired off with a lieutenant who is their thematic opposite; the final clashes of each usually results in the defeat of the helper or the lieutenant.

The Background is 'normal renaissance festival medieval peasantry' under either explicit or hidden thrall of the big bad guy.  Magic is rare, if not feared; yet every village sports a hidden secret magical Circumstance or Character (only a few will be involved by the game or it becomes tedious).

Mechanics involved will be those of spellcasting and enchanted items (especially magic weapons, but not the 'enchanting' of anything).  A 'freak' may employ other mechanics, but only if they are alone in doing so.

The Circumstances begin archetypically humble in appearance.  There must be some kind of secret about the main character they are not privy to until either near the end (and it relates to their ability which the big bad guy feared them for) or at the point that they sally forth.  The party of helpers is constructed one episode at a time (each 'chapter' adds another freak).  The Circumstances of this party is charged with the mission begun at the start even though some of the helpers may not be in it for its stated goal.

Relationships are created, sustained, and improved through small emotional scenes.  Usually where the main character reveals their admirable qualities in little ways.  These serve to establish and explain the willingness for the helpers to make those sacrifices near the end of the 'cycle.'  Another set of relationships involves 'outside help' and the bad guy.  There will always be some kind of relationship with the bad guy (whether secret family connections or otherwise) connecting the main character to him.  'Outside help' is almost always in the form of those beaten previously by the bad guy or whose circumstances was a direct result of 'bad guy action.'  This help is primarily notable because its inability to directly conflict with the bad guy.  (Helpers may appear to belong to this class at first.)

Now from the onset it should be patently clear that this is actually a story about one person, the main character.  While it may seem only functional as a single player campaign, I'd like to suggest a method for converting it to group play.

First of all, it has to be recognized that the Genre Expectation of Sequence follows very closely the activities and evolution of the main character.  For this character I suggest, equally, it be played as either the Auteur or the Avatar.  The Auteur will act in accords the overall Sequence and the Avatar, obeying enough Self-Consciousness of narrative should also easily be able to 'hit his marks.'  (One drives the game by obeying the pace of the Sequence, the other by defining it.)  It's important to remember that the (apparent) internal conflicts and transformation of the main character are the meat of the story.

What about the other persona?  Have each player create two freaks, one as a helper and the other as a lieutenant, diametrically opposed.  When the final confrontations occur whichever they like will win and fall into service of the main character.  The big bad guy can be either portrayed by the gamemaster or, symmetrically, by the player of the main character (if you'd like to put a television 'spin' have scenes in between salvos versus the party of helpers be punctuated with scenes between lieutenants and bad guy).  I suggest that playing the Swashbuckler or Auteur will be most appropriate for the helper/lieutenants.

The gamemaster may take a number of approaches to this game.  There's more than one way to go if they choose to play the Joueur; for example perhaps they are the bad guy and the performance of the lieutenants is their success, however, when it comes to the final battle (or any direct confrontations with the main character not covered by a deus ex machina), this approach should be put aside.  For playing the Auteur, they could spin heavily towards a style.  (Note; gamemasters playing the Auteur are most often concerned with 'spin control.')  Playing the Swashbuckler, within the boundaries of the Genre Expectation of the Sequence, the gamemaster can pretty much flip a coin in choosing the next 'hurdle,' the Sequence will clearly determine the magnitude to amplify it to.  (In fact, this describes one way that this could be played in Gamemasterful sharing without the gamemaster altogether, just be more explicit about the pacing and turn everyone loose.)

For the gamemaster to play the Avatar, almost everyone probably will have to, for the gamemaster will be indulging in 'internal characterization' for many of the characters, which is almost pointless playing off the other approaches.

A lot of the fun in this Genre Expectation comes out of the Mystery.  It almost has to be about some neat gimmick or gadget of either the main character or the major prop.  If it generates some kind of Mystery deus ex machina, all the better.  (That'll get the game past any 'mistakes.')

The short version in Sine Qua Non form:
    Cheap Fantasy Novel for Scattershot presents: Færie Tales

    Three up, three down:
      [*]It's all about how a single main character goes from gravel to greatness.
      [*]He collects helpers in episodic fashion (which go from freaks to friends).
      [*]It's all about an item, baby.

      [*]'Why me?' gets answered.
      [*]The main character is inextricably linked to big bad guy, the item, or both.
      [*]Magic is spells or enchanted items and is eschewed by the peasants.[/list:u]
      Precipitating Event:
        It starts with off with an 'action scene,' robbing the main character of his home, family, life, or simply his peace of mind.[/list:u]
          Use up the helpers/take down the big bad guy.[/list:u]
            Either why was he charged with this quest
      or what is his connection to the big bad guy (either way, the main character secretly turns out to be a freak too).  This has to be the gimmick that keeps it interesting.  Give it away too soon, and you can forget finishing.[/list:u][/list:u]I'm not sure this is the best example of a Genre Expectation, but I think it's a good start.  It also showcases how the various approaches to play can consciously work together if chosen carefully.  (Although I always suggest that when blending more variety, it becomes more difficult for the gamemaster as primary facilitator, to get things past 'friction points;' more on that later.)

      One of the major complications in presenting this is that all of the Techniques need to function together as a unit.  Not only that, but they also need to both independently, and as a group, to reflect the capability of Transition that is central to Scattershot's design goals.

      Fang Langford

      Next up: maybe Mystery, maybe Portable Elements; what do you think?
      Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

      Walt Freitag

      The question at hand is, how are genre expectations met during play? Identifying the expectations is all well and good, but the payoff is making them happen. This leaves aside that portion of genre expecations that can be met without anything happening, such as the setting (what it does and does not contain) and color. I'm going to talk about this in general terms, and leave it to Fang to make the connections back to Scattershot technique and terminology.

      There are three ways to meet genre expectations -- or rather, I should say, I find it useful to divide up the universe of all the countless ways of meeting (or failing to meet) genre expectations into three general categories. Keep in mind that while many examples can be described that fit neatly into just one category, the categories as a whole overlap and merge into each other. There is also a relationship between these methods and the kinds of genre expectations they can help to meet. When a game fails to meet genre expectations despite a clear intention and obvious effort to do so, it's because it concentrates on one or two of the categories but overlooks the other(s).

      The three categories are:

      1. Meeting genre expectations via the immediate effects of in-game causality during play.

      2. Meeting genre expecations via the cumulative effects of game mechanics during play.

      3. Meeting genre expectations through means other than in-game causality, that is, through various forms of authorial artifice.

      The first category includes all cases where direct application of rules of causality, including rules of character behavior, can meet a genre expectation. This includes those cases where those rules are not written or even consciously acknowledged, as long as their application meets a genre expectation. Let's look at a few examples:

      1a. (genre: superspy) Villains always reveal their plans before attempting to kill a captured hero. This is a behavioral rule that can either be applied or not applied at the moment where it would occur. It's a rule of simulation, even though it is unrealistic.

      1b. (genre: action) Explosions cannot harm action heroes as long as the hero leaps away from the source of the explosion and allows the fireball to push him to safety. In a game in which such events are resolved by mechanics, the mechanics can either meet or break the genre expecations. If applying those mechanics results in a hero suffering permanent deafness and crippling third degree burns as a result of leaping from an explosion, the mechanics have failed to meet the genre expecations. This can be fixed by fixing the mechanics.

      There are several really easy mistakes to make in meeting genre expecations this way. The first is not to do it, out of misplaced concern for realism. This expresses a common belief that genre does not affect the laws of physics. It does. The second is to rely on explicit in-game causality alone to adequately meet all genre expecations. It won't work. Causal rules are too limited. The third is to fail to clarify the genre expectations being met. A genre as conventionally understood is too broad for any one set of causal rules to coherently support.

      For example, suppose the genre is "old-fashioned Western." A player, thinking of Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger, wants a character whose main skill is shooting the gun out of an opponent's hand. In a somewhat realistic system of gun skills, it would be impossible to meet this expectation. Most likely the required skill would be so high that the character attempting it would frequently fail, with consequences including accidentally killing the intended target. A terrible breaking of genre expectations.

      But suppose the mechanics do allow a character the ability to reliably shoot guns out of the opponents' hands. Problem solved? Not if the genre expecations aren't sufficiently clear. Into the game comes a second player, whose idea of old fashioned Westerns is showdowns at high noon. He and Poncho'd Vilan square off in the dusty streets, staring into each others' eyes, flicking their fingers near their holsters. Tension builds, they make their move, draw... then the local masked lawman shows up and shoots the guns out of their hands! Oops. Broken pieces of genre expectations all over the place.

      And just imagine how much worse things could have gotten if I'd just said "Western" instead of narrowing it down to "old fashioned Western."

      Game systems that try to cover a "whole genre" face such problems constantly, and the result is usually genre incoherence. Do some players want masked lawmen who shoot the guns out of the bad guys' hands, and others want bloody showdowns at high noon? No problem! We'll just create a masked-lawman class with trick shooting skills that can only be used for defense, and a gunslinger class with killing speed and accuracy... This isn't solving the problem, of course; it's embracing it and making it the basis of a new weird hybrid genre. That's what D&D-derived fantasy is. Toss in a paragaph in the rules that advises players to simply not use those specific rules that contradict their own specific genre expectations, and you've got... just about every commercial RPG system out there.

      Okay, let's jump to the third category of genre expecations: those that cannot be met by the action of causal rules. That the villain reveals his plans when confronted can be guaranteed by applying a rule, if necessary. That the villain's revealing his plans leads to his defeat simply cannot. This particular genre expectation is not an expectation of how things happen, it's an expectation of what actually happens. It's an expectation of outcome, meaning that the story that is the outcome of play is expected to have certain characteristics. These are story outcome expectations. (Keep in mind that "story outcome" here means the entire story that results from play, not just the ending of the story.) Put in a causal rule that directly prevents a villain from succeeding and you've made the heroes unnecessary.

      Recent threads in the GNS theory forum have established that play that prioritizes meeting genre expectations of outcome are by definition Narrativism. This makes sense, because it's pretty clear that the known techniques for meeting these expectations are Narrativist ones. Only authorial artifice, not causality, creates the hidden connection between the main hero and the villain in "cheap 80s fantasy" (and BTW, The Wizard of Oz was way earlier than the 80s.) Only authorial artifice can guarantee that each of the special gizmos given to the spy after the mission briefing will become essential at one (and only one) point during the mission.

      If a game system supports player authorship of in-genre protagonism, then it makes sense to ask whether it's still useful or necessary to have a system of causal rules supporting genre expectations. In other words, if authorial artifice in play determines that an appropriate fate befalls the villain, why not also use it to determine whether or not a hero is injured by an explosion? This is certainly an option, and a popular one; it is coherent Narrativism. But the most genre-focused approach is not the most story-focused approach. The most genre-focused approach is "genre in, genre out." It's a transitional approach that begins with in-game causality-based eppression of the genre, and is augmented by authorial play as needed to further support the genre expectations of outcome.

      This can and often should, I believe, be strengthened by using the degree to which a participant is working toward meeting a genre expectation as a control knob on the participant's authorial power. This is, I believe, what's being achieved in practice by mechanisms that allow GMs or players discretion to do such things as award a varying number of gratis extra dice to an attempted result, or give a resource representing future authorial power to a player who does something approved of. The meeting of genre expectations is the most straightforward and most likely basis for meting such rewards, as long as the group's genre expectations are coherent. I think this is what Fang is getting at in this thread's opening essay, so I'll let him take that from here.

      Okay, what about that middle category of genre expectation mechanism? This is meeting (or failing to meet) genre expectation via the emergent results of a whole bunch of game mechanisms applied over time. When this is done deliberately, what we have is a gray area between the two realms outlined so far: it's simulation, by means of game mechanics, of authorial artifice.

      Contrary to popular belief, not every authorial decision is a matter of vast intellect requiring deep knowledge and practiced skill. It doesn't take a genius to realize that in many genres if a character has experienced a run of good luck, then bad luck should usually follow, and vice versa. In fact, all it takes to put a phenomenon like that into effect is a mechanism no more sophisticated than a thermostat. And sure enough, there are game systems that utilize a growing and shrinking luck pool, which is augmented when bad luck occurs and can be drawn down to cause good luck to occur. No individual event in which such a system is used is in any way conscious of long-term genre expectations. Yet the net effect of such a system in action is to support certain genre expectations, to wit: no character will succeed long-term by good luck alone, nor suffer total defeat due to an unrelieved run of bad luck.

      Similarly, when a whole bunch of rules end up basically making sure that a character increases in effectiveness, it's neither a simple genre-appropriate causal or behavioral rule, nor a metagame result of authorship (decision-making toward meeting genre outcome expectations). It's the system simulating genre expectations that the main character(s) will grow in competence during the adventure. (Whether those expectations are actually correct ones for the genre is subject to question. Genre incoherency remains a problem whether the system is simulating simple causality or genre authorship. Apprentice spellcasters who grow in skill have long been a valid part of core fantasy genre expectations, but unskilled thieves doing so never were before D&D; literary thief characters are highly competent from the beginning. The "first level thief" who is expected to attempt acts of thivery and usually fail at them is a rather miserable result of juxtaposition of two very different genre expectations.)

      Sanity in Call of Cthulhu and Humanity in Vampire are mechanisms that simulate authorship by enforcing an overall character trajectory similar to what's expected for characters in the genre. Much like experience in D&D, except going in the opposite direction. (We could call these mechanisms "ratchets" in constrast with the luck "thermostat" described earlier.) Developing better emergent mechanisms for more sophisticated genre or story expectations is possible, I believe, and an interesting goal. (It's also a major goal of the Narrative Intelligence community attempting to develop practial interactive storytelling via computer.) It shouldn't be difficult, for example, to develop a mechanism that causes episodic ups and downs in a character's career (an oscillator, which is like a thermostat but with gain and overshoot added), or one that imposes a classical "heroic cycle" of fate upon a character, pushing them toward glory in their youth and toward ruin in their later lives (an oscillator with a period equal to the total length of the story).

      Let me make one more point before turning this back over to Fang. I mentioned before that the three categories overlap. One of the ways they overlap is that in many cases a given genre expectation of outcome can be achieved using any of the three ways. For example, an expectation common to many genres is that heroes will not die halfway through the story. Here are three different ways this can be achieved:

      1. A rule stating that player-characters are not killed, they can only be harmed up to a certain point (e.g. knocked unconscious) and no further. (Toon)

      2. A system of damage that in principle allows death from ordinary causality but includes so many layers of results short of death with so many escape clauses along the way that PC death is all but impossible to achieve without the deliberate acquiescence of the player. (Champions)

      3. Hero points that players can use to give themselves authorial power when needed to avoid player-character death when they do not wish it to occur. (Hero Wars)

      All of these meet the outcome expectation, but that doesn't mean they're all equally good for a given genre and play style. They must mesh with a whole network of other related genre expectations. Batman cannot be seen as immune from death on a causal level, and stll be Batman. Also, I've seen plenty of instances of one type of mechanism masqerading as another. Hackmaster's Dagger of Hindsight, for example, which has the power to rewind time and can be invoked to trigger automatically in the event of the owner's death, is really a #3 in the guise of a #2.

      - Walt
      Wandering in the diasporosphere

      Paul Czege

      Hey Walt,

      Nice post.

      It shouldn't be difficult, for example, to develop a mechanism that...imposes a classical "heroic cycle" of fate upon a character, pushing them toward glory in their youth and toward ruin in their later lives (an oscillator with a period equal to the total length of the story).

      Have you seen Scott Knipe's WYRD? The Ashcan he distributed at GenCon last year is more fully realized than the version he has on his website, but in either case, the game is wholly based around a core mechanic that represents a hero's progress toward his fate. Scott might have an opinion on how difficult it was to achieve.

      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

      Le Joueur

      Thanks Walt, that's a really thought-provoking piece.

      You've certainly helped me organize my thoughts; let me share what I have.  Everyone should realize this is very much a work in progress and any holes (I expect quite a few), mistakes (me?  Perfect? Ha!), or difficult interpretations ('I know who' is writing this, after all), I would greatly appreciate your direction towards these.

      Early on, I felt that Genre Expectations should function triple duty; get the participants on 'the same page,' set goals for use of proprietary control and sharing, and work wonderfully as a schedule of rewards, all at the same time.  After reading Walt's article, a lot of vague sensations really crystallized into the following.

      Needs that can be Fulfilled

      As Ron and Walt (and Paul Czege) have pointed out, there are a lot of examples where things can go wrong because people come to the table with wildly different (but no less valid) interpretations of the same genre that their game is based on.

      Quote from: wfreitagFor example, suppose the genre is "old-fashioned Western." A player, thinking of Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger, wants a character whose main skill is shooting the gun out of an opponent's hand.
      This is an example of a persona deus ex machina.  Something potentially restricted by a Genre Expectation, but doesn't 'fit' a broadly applicable Mechanix (except specifically as a deus ex machina) or in many of the John Wayne cycle of films for that matter.

      The 'Western' has always been my prime example of too 'loose' of Genre Expectations to be widely usable as commonly understood.  That's actually where I started thinking about how one could express a genre.

      What is a Genre Expectation?  How do you express it?  How does it work?  What can you do with them?

      Walt gives a familiar example from the past:
      Quote from: wfreitagA system of damage that in principle allows death from ordinary causality but includes so many layers of results short of death with so many escape clauses along the way that PC death is all but impossible to achieve without the deliberate acquiescence of the player. (Champions)
      This was always bizarre to me.  Champions is of the 'comic book superhero' genre; in that genre no one dies.  It's just that simple.  The way the Champions makes this happen tries too hard to incorporate all the ways this can happen and really misses the 'feel' I think appropriate.  At the very least it would be better to simply say, "No one dies, ever (They might look dead, but they only go on hiatus for lack of interest.); you work it out."  Likewise, outside of the 'comics genre,' incorporating this kind of raw mechanic makes it very difficult to kill those 'who need to die' appropriately.

      The most important thing I can say about spelling out a Genre Expectation is that it is almost as important to pay attention to what you leave out, as it is what you put in.

      So, where do we start?

      Let's look at where we should see Genre Expectations in action.  There will be times when they 'interfere' with play, play having to given them some 'right of way.'  There are times that play will need to 'rise to the occasion' of the Genre Expectations, whether explicitly or internally.  Occasionally, you will need to see them 'inject' themselves into play (kind of a 'Genre Now!' statement).

      Walt is right, it's a good idea to have the Mechanix on board that, over the long run, have a 'net result' in line with the Genre Expectations (this has long been the expectation in game design, but I don't think it should be the primary application).  The Genre Expectations should also make strong suggestions and fair limitations to what you can or cannot put into a game.  Eventually they probably will also, in some examples, have a strong 'steering' effect on where the narrative 'goes.'

      I also think that Genre Expectations are a fine way of indicating what the group can assume will occur and what they'll get rewarded for (and possibly punished in absence of too).


      First we need to separate the practice of Genre Expectations from the Techniques for their use to make things a little more clear.  I'd also like to discuss a few examples of the Techniques as well as the areas that they may be applied, how I need to support them with the Scattershot Mechanix, and maybe a bit about creating (new) Genre Expectations.


      Walt identifies three ways you can practice Genre Expectations, but I think there's a fourth.  They certainly directly affect play (such as through genre-specific rules) and give play an 'ideal' to aspire to.  You can't argue that over the long term this comes together to leave that 'genre footprint' in your memory, however unconsciously.  But I think they also come with a requirement of awareness of when and how to use them.

      Now I realize that practicing an awareness of the needs of the Genre Expectations can be distracting from very content-focused play, but once you get used to them they give you the Techniques to act upon that feeling that 'something is going wrong.'  The way Scattershot is supposed to function is you work for a level of refinement where you quickly recognize the needs the Techniques apply to when they come up without having to concentrate on them hardly at all.

      As far as I have considered there are three ways to practice this 'awareness.'  The first, and most obvious, is by the simple act of using the Genre Expectations Techniques in play.  The second has to do with the administration of them; sometimes they'll play off of certain Mechanix and that is a separate need that must be addressed by the group when the Techniques are employed.  Third is in how the group supports the use of the Genre Expectations Techniques; anything that detracts from enjoyment is probably not a good thing (it comes down to a matter of style in practice and acceptance in social interaction).  Needless to say, one should try not to overuse these Techniques.

      Some things I need to get into more detail with are how the Genre Expectations can not only affect play, but direct or subvert it.  I also need to 'think out' how to explain where play should yield to the Genre Expectations and how.  When play aspires to Genre Expectation conventions, I need to detail how far you can expect play to 'reach' before it'll 'break.'  I'd also like to describe what directions they can 'pull' the different parts of play.

      There is also a game system's 'net effect' of having extended play result in something very in keeping with its Genre Expectations.  While the unwritten way of doing this might be the standard in role-playing game design currently, I've found in direct contact with the playtest groups, this kind of predictability is very difficult to guarantee in design.  More often I see such games loading up on the color and examples and expecting play to steer towards that while only loosely approximating it with the rules.

      My goal is to make the Genre Expectations explicit as more of a goal so it will intentionally play in this way.  One of the ways I need to explore is how to 'supervise' this without 'micromanaging' it.  Tougher still, there has to be a way to do all of the above and not have it 'strangle' play; if the Genre Expectation 'forces' a certain ending, where is the fun?  That's why I have been working so hard on the Mystiques Technique; if you can preserve the Mystiques on the 'playing field' of the Genre Expectations, everything should be fine, right?


      Before we delve into specific examples of some of these Techniques, I think it's important to talk about how they function and how to use them (well, I'll save that last one for a little later).  One of the primary purposes for Genre Expectations is to have clear intentions for the genre of the game as well as establish the roles of the Techniques and of the people playing.  The Genre Expectations give you a pretty big 'kit' of things to start a game with (as well as a few restrictions).  This is a functional 'starting point.'

      Next the Genre Expectations offer a number of 'field applications.'  These describe how the game can go and makes the play of it somewhat 'downhill.'  At times the Genre Expectations need to become a tool that people can use to 'knock things back into shape' when they go astray.  Finally, the Genre Expectations need to have a way of checking to see if they're working and to change them if their not.

      I know that's a lot, and I haven't even begun to figure out how to write it all in short, easy-to-understand fashion, but I really think the work is worthwhile.

      Okay, how about a few examples?  A few of the more simple ones are things like retroactive additions (like flashbacks or Jared Sorenson's Confessionals from InSpectres), certain types of script immunity, and deus ex machina (like described in the Gene Autry example or arising from the background like 'lucky breaks').

      There are also sequential Genre Expectations (a not-so-clever way of saying plots, subplots, or plot fragments).  These don't have to appear as scripts, so much as familiar fragments.  Thus, strapped to the death-trap, the superspy character's player can invoke 'villain soliloquy' and be empowered to 'take advantage of the extra time' and net a reward for later.  (I think this will go well with the 'counting coup on the gamemaster' Mechanix.)  The trick here is definitely not to spell everything out; if you can't maintain the Mystique of the game, how will you engage the participants?  Like Walt pointed out; if the rules guarantee the outcome, what they players for?

      Another one we have been playing around with lately is the idea of 'destiny.'  A destiny would be a like a Genre Expectation geared for a specific character yet administered much in the same way as any other.  This is why I am beginning to think that 'Genre Invocation' Mechanix may be of great use to the system.  In different usages, they could function as script immunity (as a mechanic rather than an unconscious practice) and in others as a power-up and so on.

      So basically speaking, these Techniques can be used to invoke an explicit genre (either like moderating a 'destiny' or controlling prop availability).  They will indirectly steer the narrative (both in Self-Conscious and 'unconscious' play).  It should be noted that, as always, exceptions prove the rule; you can reinforce Genre Expectations by tossing in something that throws explicit absences into sharp focus.  (You remember, those 'as important to leave out' things from above?)  Genre Expectations work exceptionally well in some of the more Ambitious Auteur play by complimenting the parallels with the game's metaphor (and contrasting it works well too).

      Now that we've covered some of 'what does the work,' how about some of the things they work on?  Genre Expectations are almost intrinsically linked to what archetypes are available.  (Scattershot's exemplar character templates are meant to support archetyping within each Genre Expectation.)  Above this they give a lot of suggestions and direction to the action of characters and their creation (both internal to the persona, but also how they deal with others).  The relationships that the characters deal with are limited or further clarified by the original Genre Expectations, as well as how they influence play.  Both the beginning and continuing circumstances that the game takes place within can be mapped or limited by these too.

      Another thing grossly affected by the Genre Expectations are the props.

      Quote from: wfreitagOnly authorial artifice can guarantee that each of the special gizmos given to the spy after the mission briefing will become essential at one (and only one) point during the mission.
      I'm not so sure.  While it would be really neat to run a 'James Bond' game complete with the 'equipping with Q' in proper sequence, I feel that this might make the remainder of the game seem almost like a foregone conclusion; keeping it engaging could be very difficult.  In place of that, I would suggest a mechanism much like Jared Sorenson's Confessionals (from InSpectres); when the situation late in the game requires a deus ex machina, the group would 'flashback' to a single segment of the archetypical 'scene with Q.'  Perhaps some limitation on the number of times this can be done (or perhaps the potency of the sum of them) could be used to heighten tension.

      Appropriate in-game sequences can also be determined by Genre Expectations.

      Quote from: wfreitagContrary to popular belief, not every authorial decision is a matter of vast intellect requiring deep knowledge and practiced skill. It doesn't take a genius to realize that in many genres, if a character has experienced a run of good luck, then bad luck should usually follow, and vice versa.
      I'm not sure if this occurs deliberately in many genres.  I often see this being used more as a technique for writers to pass off minor deus ex machina.  The hero starts out lucky so that the audience feels he is capable, runs into a streak of bad luck for sympathy and so tension rises, and again 'hits his stride' just in time for the climax.  However, that doesn't invalidate the practice.  After all, if it's inherent in the Genre Expectation, it should be done.

      All manner of 'basic plots' (or fragments) arise from their Genre Expectations.  As Ron is frequent of saying, 'you don't go see Titanic to see if the boat sinks or not.'  Unraveling the Mystiques in play is "where it's at."  And that colors on the whole idea of 'fate' in a game.  Surely a game of Grecian myth would be populated by scads of prophecies (both self-fulfilling and not); applying those to play works well if attention is paid to how the Genre Expectations gives them and how Mystiques make them interesting.  (I mean isn't that half the reason to see the current run of Star Wars?  To see how Vader gets all Darth?  You already know how it ends.)

      Genre Expectations also say a lot about a game's background, what kinds of settings, cultures (and subcultures), and scenes will be involved (not to mention the degree of mobility between them).  One of the frequent problems I am struck with is that once I begin describing Genre Expectations, people have a tendency to equate them with the Atmosphere of the games; in the past many games conveyed their Genre Expectations in this fashion, but couldn't motif and tone be described explicitly too?  Finally, let us not forget that in order to support the 'net effect' of having Genre Expectations, you must have a game system that not only reflects and supports it, it should also established and reinforces it.

      Quote from: wfreitagThis can and often should, I believe, be strengthened by using the degree to which a participant is working toward meeting a genre expectation as a control knob on the participant's authorial power.
      I agree, that's why we've been looking at the idea of having the narrative react appropriately to the invocation of the Genre Expectations (the 'strengthening' part) and then rewarding the player for so doing separately.  (Secretly, the only problem we've encountered is how to reward the gamemaster at any level.)

      One thing I want to make clear is I don't think it is a good idea to 'charge' a player for adhering to a Genre Expectation.  (Wouldn't that be counterproductive?)  I believe that players should have their narrative 'control' resource to use as they like, apart from supporting the Genre Expectation.  And then be paid for in kind for supporting it.  Right now, as we work to establish at least one functional Genre Expectation write-up, we are also trying to create a mechanic that not only lets the player benefit from the result of invoking Genre Expectations (like the "villain soliloquy" example above), but 'pays' them on top of it.

      I'd like to go into the process of creating (new) Genre Expectations, but since I haven't succeeded so far, I need time to work it out.  Is any one interested in trying to create one here, in public?


      Now, if you're using Genre Expectations straight along, does it have to be in an ambitious deliberate fashion?  I don't think so; that's mainly how I gamemaster.  I would like to think that a good, concise Genre Expectation, in the back of the book should be enough if simply read by all the participants.  The Mechanix of it are, as frequently happens in Scattershot, for when things go wrong.

      I considered going into detail about how the various Approaches would use the Genre Expectations Technique, but as long as this has gotten, I think I'll do that elsewhere.


      The best value I can think of for explicit Genre Expectations and Mechanix (to invoke or maintain them), is that we can get away from 'good games, by accident.'  If using these Mechanix belabors a game, then you're using them too much.  Stick with what you know.


      The ultimate challenge to take something that's so simple 'in my head' and so complicated to explain and make it simple seeming enough to write and use.

      Fang Langford

      p. s. Hey Paul!  Is any of this what you were looking for after the "Mortification...?"
      Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!