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Author Topic: [Contenders] The folks next door  (Read 16231 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: August 20, 2006, 12:24:28 PM »

Hi there,

A few nights ago, my wife and I found ourselves in a state of fatigue, after a running-around day of work and way too much focused intensity on work when not running around. We were on the back porch, finishing some dinner, when our next-door neighbors, Brian and Eliza, returned home through their back yard and hailed us in that suburban, not-interfering, but-hello way we've cultivated.

For those of you who are carefully calculating my neighborhood geography, they live on the other side from the direction Christopher and Dan live in. Don't mix up my neighbors. Brian and Eliza have a lot of friends who like games, and they've hosted at least two big get-togethers in the last year, one of which was informally transferred to our house when attendance leaped past the planning point. The games are usually new board or card games, not "adventure hobby" stuff so much as the latest thing from the real mainstream. In one such get-together, an all-girl blowout session of Ticket to Ride is still being talked about as a high point.

Neither have role-played and Brian tells an anecdote about being put off role-playing in high school, upon witnessing a friend break into hysterical weeping and recriminations upon his character being killed. They've both shown interest in my indie game publishing in the past, and I remember showing them books a while ago ... and was interested in how Eliza was consistently most attracted by the abstract covers, like the TV on Primetime Adventures ("What's that one like? Can we play that one?"), than by the representative ones.

Well, my wife and I needed friends and a hang-out, and a chance to get the hell away from the evil home computers with their files crying out for revision and updates across three different jobs. I said, "Hey! You guys wanna spend a couple hours with games tonight?" And everyone agreed all around.

My wife is fairly disinterested in role-playing, partly because she sees it as a professional element of my life and doesn't want to be involved in that, as a boundary thing. So I brought over three games: Chrononauts, a card game that Jürgen had induced me to buy a couple of weeks previously; and two role-playing games, My Life with Master and Contenders. As many of you know, the latter is highly influenced by the former, although not merely derivative. I knew what sort of game would do best with Brian and Eliza, in terms of the mechanics-to-narration ratio, and in terms of the scale of narration, and this was it. I'd leave topic up to them.

For the couple-and-couple hangout part of the evening, we played Chrononauts, which was fun in its way although Brian won mainly through dumb luck. We all wanted to play again, at some point, now that we had a better handle on the rules, in order to see whether strategy could play a bigger role. I was interested, though, in something I'd observed in former game nights ... which is that the folks there (none of which are role-players or gamers in the subcultural sense of the term) really don't like the "special cards" that litter most of the collectible or specialty card games that are sold at GenCon or similar venues, i.e. stores which carry RPGs. Gamers love little spot-rules which force you to cross-reference across all the elements of an existing situation. But for others, it's annoying to have to read a paragraph and cross-reference all its little options and exceptions while you're still figuring out basic strategy, to the point of sharply diminished interest in the whole game. Food for thought, for game design.

Anyway, so what about the role-playing? Time constraints led my wife to head for our house and bed, probably with an implied dodge-the-bullet regarding role-playing, as we fired up Contenders. The choice, as it turned out, was mine, because time was short and I estimated that Contenders had shorter group prep time and didn't require further preparation between creating characters and play. It also turned out that Brian really, really likes boxing movies, so there you go.

Prep

I have noticed some really distinct features of rules-learning between long-time gamers and non-gamers. The latter never infer and argue; instead, they absorb, looking for two things - a sequence or organization of participation, and once that's clear, a reward mechanic that can kick in. The more you do that isn't the first, and the more obscure the latter look, the more confused they get. All talk of numbers allocation and representation of the character is totally not to the point.

That's important. To non-gamers, making up characters is not a creative achievement and carries almost no interest at all. Even posting about it in this detail is misleading; people will read it as a character-creation experience like they're used to, and it wasn't.

I made up the first character, as an example. Joe is a Mexican guy who doesn't want to spend his life in the fields, and his Connection is a mobster's girlfriend who likes him. Eliza followed my lead in making up Emil, an Algerian whose Connection is his mom and seven siblings. Brian did the same with Sarunis, a Lithuanian with a sick, failing grandmother.

During this step, Brian and Eliza followed directions and looked a little puzzled, following my lead entirely. Again, character creation does not match "let's play this game" in any way, shape, or form, so they had no idea what this was about. They did not, for instance, see any reason to distinguish their characters from one another, hence the mother/grandma parallel, because the point of doing so was totally obscure to them. That's also why the ethnicities got more and more odd, because that was the "trajectory" they could see to follow, even though it didn't exist.

I decided not to engage in some kind of pre-play, stop-prep explanation because I've seen that kill such situations deader than a doornail. Character creation, as traditionally constructed, is broken in terms of creative socializing, and trying to fix it in the middle of this specific context is even worse. So, OK, a Lithuanian? No big deal, move on.

Recognizing that expecting them each to make up an NPC boxer would be a sure killer, I quickly sketched all three of them out. Struck by the interesting diversity among the characters, I suggested that all three NPCs be Irish-American. I suggested this half-jokingly because our characters were so ethnic, and as it turned out, I swiftly didn't find myself all that amusing, especially when Brian insisted one be named "Mick." Again, the endeavor didn't mean much to him yet. But you'll see how it turned around in a minute, during play.

... continued ...
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2006, 12:24:52 PM »

Play: first set of turns

We begain with a Training scene for my character, as he gained some Technique, and I brought Brian in to play an old guy watching him. Brian brilliantly provided some dialogue which I can't remember exactly, but it provided the message that unless Joe can make it out of his current life, he'll be stuck right where this old guy is.

Next came a Work scene for Brian's character; Brian was more-or-less choosing scene types at random, seeing how the "buttons" worked. He suggested Sarunis earned money as a gigolo, sleeping with a big promoter's wife. Now, pay attention to this ... much as we as role-players would applaud this move (great conflict, great characters, big addition to the cast of characters), Brian was basically screwing around. He still saw no particular reason for any of this stuff we were doing, you see. The scene resolved brilliantly as I saw it, though. You see, Brian assigned the wife to Eliza, who suggested she wanted to hear blandishments of love, and Brian responded by telling her that Sarunis (the boxer) was totally smitted with her ... "Oh, well perfect!" she says. "We can stop this silly money thing, then." In other words, he'd talked himself out of his job!

Eliza's scene was sort of interesting as well - she wanted a new Connection, an old guy who'd train Emil, and suggested that they meet in a casino where Emil's losing money on the slots. In this scene, Eliza was pleased to learn that she didn't have to act out anyone's dialogue but could narrate in third-person whenever she wanted to instead.

I was very, very confused about the rules for this kind of scene, however. If I'm reading them correctly, a character can simply add Connections 'til the cows come home. Is this right? And then I got confused about something else ... in a couple of places in the text, and especially the character sheet, a player-character's Hope is apparently invested in Connections and in oneself, point for point. I recognize that this has similarities to Love in My Life with Master, but I don't understand the rules for it here in Contenders - they don't seem to be explained anywhere.

Joe, how is this done?

Play: second set of turns

The second set of three scenes began with a Work scene for my character, in which I suggested Joe and Mick were assigned to bust up a grocery store whose owner hadn't paid off the mob in time. I failed the draw, so Mike and Joe had to run for it to avoid the cops, and we got scolded for screwing up. The best part of this scene, though, was Brian playing Mick. You see, Mick's boxing Techniques were heavily slanted toward damage, and we had already commented that he was the hardest hitter of the six boxers. I had Joe chat a bit with him on the way to the grocery store, and Brian characterized him as dumb ... but not a bad guy. "He doesn't really understand what this job is about," he said. "He just goes along with what most other people seem to be doing." So Mick gained some presence in the story, which we all tuned into pretty quickly. He also, I think, resonated with Brian much quicker and better than Brian's own character.

Eliza ran a Connection scene next, in which she discovered that Connections need money. She assigned Milo to me, and I promptly gave the old buzzard a heroin addiction, and Eliza was quite surprised to discover that this old trainer she'd invented was going to be a money sink. She did succeed in her draw, gaining Hope, but stared in perplexity at her dwindling Cash. This was the first time that the Cash-Connection-Hope currency became clear to Brian and Eliza, and wham - play jumped up a notch right away.

Brian ran another Work scene, although all I remember is that it failed too, so his character was suckin' up Pain and not getting any money.

Play: third set of turns

Eliza took the first turn with a Training scene, also featuring Milo, which went quickly but established how it worked pretty well, and also busted Emil down to zero cash.

I decided it was time for some fighting and ran a Promotion scene for Joe, staying with Mick as a strong supporting character and my upcoming opponent. Brian played the sleazy promoter, who of course was our first view of his character's lover's husband, whom he named Girard, and emphasized his perfectly tailored suit. Eliza played Mick, with some input from Brian (who was clearly developing some ownership over this guy), and they really played up the business that Mick didn't want to have to fight Joe, whom he considered a friend. I actually felt pretty slimey playing Joe, who urged the big lug that it'd be OK. We set up a six-round fight.

Brian's scene was a classic Connections event; he brought money to his grandma and got a little Hope.

Play: fourth set of turns

Technically, we're still in the middle of this set, because we only played one scene before breaking up. But I'm really, really glad we did! It was a Fight scene for my character against Mick. You never saw two people get so into a role-playing scene! Brian and Eliza were totally into the narrations, the cards, the tactics, and the match as a unit in our story. "Oh!" said Eliza. "I see, the fights are when it all comes together!" I explained how Hope and Pain were the metrics of the story as a whole, and how the big fights at the end were double-juiced with Hope, and so on, and that's where Brian got it. "So Rocky can lose the fight, but win his Hope!" he said. I also explained how Hope and Pain could be utilized in the fights themselves, and they looked thoughtfully at their sheets.

It lasted only two rounds, although I was kind of hoping Mick would get in one of his savage punches and nail Joe at some point. As it turned out, the first round was a boring dance as they jabbed and covered up, with Joe ahead by a Victory Point. Brian happily narrated the crowd booing. In the second round, Joe stuck with his jab and Mick - as they said, feeling desperate, just wanting it to be over, switched to Dirty Fighting ... but Joe prevailed, and got all five red cards against none. I got to narrate this time and suggested it was a technical knockout, because Mick quit - he didn't want to hurt his friend.

Eliza said, "That's sad!"

I had a big question about the rules, though. Jokers are confusing me greatly. Why are they in there? How are they used in evaluating a conflict? "Wild" doesn't mean anything in Contenders, because cards are merely red or black. The only rules I could find concern their rank in assigning narration rights, which is a much less important issue.

Some comments on game design and newcomers to role-playing

Non-gamers hate the assigned responsibility of acting. They don't like talking in-voice as a requirement, although they're very good at it (in fact, often brilliant) if they can slip into it without premeditating. But for the rule, in terms of what they're required to do, third-person is their comfort zone. And since they've heard the word "role-playing," they're wary.

On a more general note, Eliza said it, but Brian nodded when she did, that she liked what we were doing because we weren't actors, but authors (yes, she said this, no prompting from me). This came as a huge relief to both of them. Here she was referring not to depictions of characters and dialogue, but to the more general issue of choose which scene types to frame and choosing whom to fight during promotion scenes.

Note how swiftly they invested in the fiction as soon as currency started to work into the options of play. This is key. All game designers should learn from this observation.

And note as well how easy it was for them to adopt a secondary character rather than fixate on their own. I've noticed this many, many times with non-gamers. Bluntly, they don't automatically like their player-characters. They even prefer using them to introduce adversity into the story. They find their protagonists in secondary characters, through use and interactions. This is a phenomenon gamers never understand; we are too accustomed to character ownership as a given, especially as the sole vehicle for participation, and we are too scarred from deprotagonizing play to grasp that protagonism is a reliable emergent property rather than a vulnerable, flickering thing that needs protection.

Afterward, Eliza became interested in recasting her character as a strong contrast to the others, specifically, a Harvard kid who wanted to fight his way to the top rather than just inherit it. Looking over her scenes, and keeping in mind that she never had a Connection scene with the mother character, I think we could retrofit very easily for when we continue the game. Also, Brian commented strongly on how unlikeable his character was, but was interested in where that could go in the long term. I pointed out that my character, Joe, was morally wide-open at this point, and that only further play could determine these things.

Joe, fantastic work!! They loved this game. I love this game.

Here's my final point. A lot of rhetoric gets slung around about how one might be able to bring one or another of the games designed here or here-ish to friends outside the hobby. I'm done slinging rhetoric. The games that sing right out for this purpose are here. If you're not doin' it, and if you're slinging the rhetoric, then fish or cut bait, because now, there's no excuse.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2006, 03:04:51 PM »

I have noticed some really distinct features of rules-learning between long-time gamers and non-gamers... The more you do that isn't [organized participation], and the more obscure the [rewards] look, the more confused they get. All talk of numbers allocation and representation of the character is totally not to the point.

...To non-gamers, making up characters is not a creative achievement and carries almost no interest at all...
Character creation, as traditionally constructed, is broken in terms of creative socializing, and trying to fix it in the middle of this specific context is even worse.

This matches some of my own experience.  RPG's, when things are working right, are a lot of fun, but showing that fun to other people is often difficult, unless you've got the exact right game, or a lot of experience doing it.  The appeal of a game like D&D is almost incomprehensible to non-gamers.
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Meguey
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2006, 05:44:05 PM »

I think enjoying character creation is a learned thing, not fun on it's own. I've been gaming for over 25 years, and it's only in the last ten that character creation is a part of the fun. I credit indie games heavily for that.

So Ron, are there plans to play more of this game? I'm curious about the non-gamer folks who try a game, then never get back to it.

Quote
[N]ote as well how easy it was for them to adopt a secondary character rather than fixate on their own. I've noticed this many, many times with non-gamers. Bluntly, they don't automatically like their player-characters. They even prefer using them to introduce adversity into the story. They find their protagonists in secondary characters, through use and interactions. This is a phenomenon gamers never understand; we are too accustomed to character ownership as a given, especially as the sole vehicle for participation, and we are too scarred from deprotagonizing play to grasp that protagonism is a reliable emergent property rather than a vulnerable, flickering thing that needs protection.

I've noticed this too, and it's a great thing to be in a game where that shift to a new primary character is doable.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2006, 05:56:06 PM »

Hey Ron:

In Contenders, how important are the characters to one another? Does your boxer from Atlanta have any influence on my boxer from Detriot? Is there any sense that my guy's situation influences yours in any way?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2006, 08:08:31 PM »

Hi guys,

They seem up for continuing the game, but we haven't scheduled it yet. Some time during this week, I hope.

In Contenders, a number of NPC boxers are created equal to the player-characters (all the players; there's no central GM), so for us, the total was six. Fights are scheduled as players see fit to frame scenes, with one another or with NPC boxers, as I did with Mick. NPC boxers only have boxing skills, no "character" scores like Pain, Hope, Cash, Rep, etc, nor do they have Connections. When a PC boxer reaches Rep 10, a final set of fights occur, with pairings based on PC boxer Rep; one NPC will be involved if there are an odd number of PC boxers, as with us. So the endgame matches all feature the PCs pitted against one another; as in Carry, it's a given that "only they will be left."

Before then, there are ample opportunities to include one another in the same scenes, with the most obvious being to schedule a fight with another PC. Another formal way is for a boxer to threaten another's Connection. But framing one another into one's scenes is highly encouraged, and as you can see, we've already started weaving one another's stories together, with the promoter/husband guy being a common NPC. This technique feels extremely easy and obvious in playing this game, for some reason, partly because it simply makes so much sense for them all to be confined in the same seedy boxing underground (and of course, they have to be, in order to be in the endgame "championship" fights together).

Best, Ron
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Yokiboy
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« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2006, 11:43:43 PM »

Hello Ron,

I love Joe's sports games, and think he should publish a combo of Contenders and Piledrivers & Powerbombs, they are both fantastic games. I go as far as label them party games, they're just so easily introduced to non-gamers.

I was very, very confused about the rules for this kind of scene, however. If I'm reading them correctly, a character can simply add Connections 'til the cows come home. Is this right? And then I got confused about something else ... in a couple of places in the text, and especially the character sheet, a player-character's Hope is apparently invested in Connections and in oneself, point for point. I recognize that this has similarities to Love in My Life with Master, but I don't understand the rules for it here in Contenders - they don't seem to be explained anywhere.

Joe, how is this done?

You have to invest at least 1 point of Hope into each Connection you establish. The rules aren't totally clear on what happens when you establish your second or subsequent Connections, but they state that your first Connection gets a free point of Hope and all others must be invested in.

I had a big question about the rules, though. Jokers are confusing me greatly. Why are they in there? How are they used in evaluating a conflict? "Wild" doesn't mean anything in Contenders, because cards are merely red or black. The only rules I could find concern their rank in assigning narration rights, which is a much less important issue.

You should have one Red and one Black Joker, they both count as the highest card in the deck, that is Ace +1, when it comes to narration. Most decks include one red and one black joker, and work perfectly for Contenders' purposes.

On my gaming site I have some house rules posted for Contenders. I didn't created my own variant using the standard 10 Point Must system so popular in fight sports, to replace the Victory Point system. I also list all the most common Purse Splits, and variations to illustrate how this works in the game.

TTFN,

Yoki
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Per Fischer
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« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2006, 01:53:54 AM »

Great actual play - I thoroughly enjoyed reading that here on a dull Monday morning :)

Quote
Some comments on game design and newcomers to role-playing

Non-gamers hate the assigned responsibility of acting. They don't like talking in-voice as a requirement, although they're very good at it (in fact, often brilliant) if they can slip into it without premeditating. But for the rule, in terms of what they're required to do, third-person is their comfort zone. And since they've heard the word "role-playing," they're wary.

On a more general note, Eliza said it, but Brian nodded when she did, that she liked what we were doing because we weren't actors, but authors (yes, she said this, no prompting from me). This came as a huge relief to both of them. Here she was referring not to depictions of characters and dialogue, but to the more general issue of choose which scene types to frame and choosing whom to fight during promotion scenes.

Note how swiftly they invested in the fiction as soon as currency started to work into the options of play. This is key. All game designers should learn from this observation.

Ron, when you say "non-gamers" in this respect, you mean people who haven't been exposed to roleplaying, is that correct? So, even gamers (people who have played boardgames but not RPGs) display this "hatred" of acting responsibility and are wary of the term roleplaying?

I agree that the games to play with non-gamers already exist - MLWM strikes me as a prime example - but Ron's note that the game's currency in action is key (that's me paraphrasing) was an real eye-opener to me.

Quote
(non-gamers are) looking for two things - a sequence or organization of participation, and once that's clear, a reward mechanic that can kick in. The more you do that isn't the first, and the more obscure the latter look, the more confused they get. All talk of numbers allocation and representation of the character is totally not to the point.

I wonder if an even faster route to non-gamers' investment in a game's fiction would be to simply hand out a ready-to-play characters or make them up on the spot, while the newcomers were watching? Especially in the light of the above quote.

Per
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Per
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2006, 05:12:22 AM »

Hey Ron:

I asked my question because I was thinking about that after-hours discussion at Gen Con that had to do with Situation. I think non-gamers invest MUCH more quickly in situation than they do in character, especially if the situation is shared. If you have situation, then you have a good understanding of who the people in the story need to be.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2006, 06:34:59 AM »

So, even gamers (people who have played boardgames but not RPGs) display this "hatred" of acting responsibility... ?

It's possible that even "rusty" roleplayers have the same reaction.  (Or at least a similar one.)  I'd played D&D in middle school, but hadn't done any face-to-face roleplaying in about 15 years--until very recently.  There is something very odd and a little ridiculous about speaking in character, and while doing so I could only make eye contact with enormous effort.  Narrating in "third person" was much easier.  I've gotten better, mostly by feeling less self-conscious. 
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Per Fischer
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« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2006, 06:58:34 AM »


It's possible that even "rusty" roleplayers have the same reaction.  (Or at least a similar one.)  I'd played D&D in middle school, but hadn't done any face-to-face roleplaying in about 15 years--until very recently.  There is something very odd and a little ridiculous about speaking in character, and while doing so I could only make eye contact with enormous effort.  Narrating in "third person" was much easier.  I've gotten better, mostly by feeling less self-conscious. 

I left myself out a bit in my post - just to make my own position clear: I don't like acting (I'm crap at it, really), but I don't mind the responsibility of roleplaying, nor do I mind speaking in character as long as I don't have to change my voice or move in strange ways.

Per
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Per
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Joe J Prince
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« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2006, 12:21:35 PM »

Hi Ron, hi everyone

Thanks for the write up, this is a great thread. The game sounds fantastic, some really great scenes, love the relationship between Mick & Joe. I'm so pleased that it went down well with non roleplayers, that's what I've always aimed for.

Yoki's on the ball as far as rules questions go! Good to see his house rules up BTW. But I'll try and clarify things a bit more.

Connections
Players need to keep track of how much Hope is invested in each Connection, if a PC has more than one. This is in case a Connection is lost following a Threat Scene (also losing any associated Hope).  Establishing a new Connection does not automatically grant any Hope in that Connection (unless it's your only Connection in which case you get a point). Players can add Connections ad infinitum if they wish - but every Scene they do this is a Scene in which they can't gain Hope, Cash or train...etc.
Hope gained from winning bouts is invested in the Contender himself, so cannot be lost by losing a Connection. However, whenever Hope comes in mechanically (usually burning Hope), it's always the total Hope value that's used (the player can decide whether it's Contender Hope or Connection Hope that's burned).

Jokers
What Yoki said! In addition a joker coming up triggers a Crossing over for the next scene. Although, in actual games, players have been so good at coming up with their own crosses that the jokers haven't been needed in this manner. So the game will function fine without using jokers I guess.


The clarification of non-roleplayers approach to gaming has been very useful to me, it's confirmed a lot of my own experiences. Especially the auto-recoil you can get when people hear "role-play". It's really strange how many people say they "can't act" or "have no imagination" but when they invest in the fiction come out with great ideas and dialogue.

Cheers,
Joe
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Frank T
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« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2006, 05:54:33 AM »

Hi Ron,

Yeah, I have experienced most of what you say about none-gamers as well. As my girlfriend is making her own experience with role-playing, and telling me about it, that can be observed very well. This especially applies to narrating vs. acting. Also to distribution of authorities.

My experience with character creation is different from yours, though. There was a range of reactions from “newbies”, but most included interested. Some would pick one of their favorite fiction characters to imitate, some would make up someone they’d like to “be” for a while, some would get invested in “what can I do”.

The latter reaction I found mostly with people used to computer gaming. My girlfriend, for instance, likes to play Diablo and several browser games where you have one or several characters with stats you can pick and improve. Like, “I figured out that up to level 8, it’s best to get killed and resurrected once a day because you can fight more and gain more XP than you lose.” So you could probably say she’s not really a none-gamer.

Anyway, I have found most beginners to really invest into the character they are going to play, one way or another.

- Frank
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dysjunct
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« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2006, 03:19:15 PM »

I played this at GenCon (the session where I was the only person out of the five registered people to show up!  Boo!) and had a great time, despite only being able to do a couple round of play.

One aspect that I really liked is having the list of scenes to pick from.  I think this would be a great help to people not used to GM-less games -- the friends to whom I've tried to introduce GM-less games have often seemed a little stymied by the wide-open nature of shared GM-powers.  (Not surprisingly, these friends usually are approaching it from a traditional-RPG point of view.)
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Kevin Heckman
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« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2006, 01:23:08 AM »

Quote
Gamers love little spot-rules which force you to cross-reference across all the elements of an existing situation. But for others, it's annoying to have to read a paragraph and cross-reference all its little options and exceptions while you're still figuring out basic strategy, to the point of sharply diminished interest in the whole game. Food for thought, for game design.
It's annoying for me as well, a gamer of a decade and a bit. Trying to read through and understand some RPG and they go along the lines of 'You can spend you ogre points in reflection or halve them and add you dimentia score to buy into ghost. Also you may'...whoa! Before they go onto other stuff, why would I want to do any of that crap to begin with? I can relate to your neighbours - I need a goal to go for and I need to be shown a lameass way of getting to it. All the clever ways of getting to it, I'll figure out latter cause I'm sick of the lamo way. I'd half drafted a post on this in the past, after trying to read some indie RPG's and failing utterly. I get lost without a goal to gun for. So it's not just food for thought in regard to people who don't normally play RPG's.

Quote
All talk of numbers allocation and representation of the character is totally not to the point.

That's important. To non-gamers, making up characters is not a creative achievement and carries almost no interest at all. Even posting about it in this detail is misleading; people will read it as a character-creation experience like they're used to, and it wasn't.

Again I can relate to them. I hate character creation. I find it empty in - well, perhaps in the same way as holding the conch in conch shell play. But I can remember from my teenage years onward, where my friends would literally, with excitement in their voices, say 'Lets make characters'! The peaks of excitement were along the 'Awesome, I rolled 17 strength!' 'I rolled the skill 'luck'!!'. Gamist as it sounds, these character would rarely see much if any actual play. They would never meet the test - the most excitement would come from dreaming about the possiblities rather than dealing with them as players.

In terms of my own preference, I found it a chore, though applying points I'd earned in play was very fun. Warhammer quest was a board game with a RP section - I loved character creation: roll your HP - your done! But as you went up in levels, you rolled for random abilities or picked spells with a tight budget. That was fun.

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That's also why the ethnicities got more and more odd, because that was the "trajectory" they could see to follow, even though it didn't exist.
Damn! Strong observation man. Does it also link in here
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I have noticed some really distinct features of rules-learning between long-time gamers and non-gamers. The latter never infer and argue;
Long term gamers argue and infer because of their collection of trajectories? Your neighbours are yet to collect any and, given that their adults, probably wont take to any deeply. However, a young teenager could attach strongly to a trajectory over the years (probably as a RP martyr if the trajectory isn't reflected in others) "roleplay is all about crazy ethnicity, man!"
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Philosopher Gamer
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