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[Contenders] The folks next door

Started by Ron Edwards, August 20, 2006, 08:24:28 PM

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contracycle

I'm not sure I agree with the character identification thing.  I think it is very hard for new players to design a character ex nihilo that they CAN identify with, and the process of retrofitting or adopting an NPC shows that this situation can be rectified.  Initial character creation is necessarily experimental, once you know more of your own play it becomes easier to design characters whose skin you can wear with comfort.  It seems to me the second character is always more purposefully put together.
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Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

I appreciate all the replies! Frank, I'm glad you provided counter-examples, because clearly the issue of character creation has yet to be discussed carefully. It may be one of the most sacred cows of role-playing. So far, we've barely scratched the surface, e.g. Vincent's System and character sole-ownership. For instance, I think ownership is crucial, although ownership of what is totally murky. I'd like to know more about what you think the new players are investing in, specifically, how well that investment seems to pay off for them, during play, and what you do in order to make sure it happens.

(For those who haven't met him, Frank is extremely inspiring at the table, a lot like Luke Crane in terms of enthusiasm and his engaging narrations, and a lot like Meg Baker in establishing an environment of mutual attention to what's going on.)

Callan and Gareth (contracycle), as well as dysjunct, we all apparently agree with one another in terms of perception and preference, which is interesting ... not exactly the most harmonious blend of strong personalities, and yet on this issue we all are saying "yes!" with similar examples and points.

It seems like a good time to throw the issue out for development across multiple threads in Actual Play, to see how diverse the situation out there might be. I'd like to keep discussing the Contenders game here if anyone wants to ask or say anything more about it.

Best, Ron

Clyde L. Rhoer

I'm not sure I totally buy into the claim that new folks don't like character creation quite yet. It seems from this experience that they didn't like character creation the way we Roleplaying folks go about it. I'm totally on-board for that part.

The process is strange. We sit down and make characters all disembodied and untied to anything, and then insert them into the setting like Barbie dolls. This is likely because we have learned that characters are our main socket to interact with the game. So we start from there, but it doesn't have to be that way. I don't think our normal method is necessarily bad, but I can totally see how it can increase the difficulty of understanding roleplaying.

What I find interesting is Brian did enjoy making a character. Just not the character he was supposed to make. He made an Irish boxer named Mick that it seems he was much more invested in, so much so he negotiated with Eliza to make sure Mick was played right. It's the timing that throws the whole thing off I think, and makes us miss it. We make characters and insert them into the fiction. I think he made a character when it felt more natural to him in bits and pieces, as someone more experienced was guiding the scenes.

I wonder if creating people whole-cloth is a uniquely roleplaying thing? Do many authors work this way or do their characters grow more naturally?
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Ron Edwards


Malcolm Craig

Quote from: Clyde L. Rhoer on August 24, 2006, 01:13:14 PM
I wonder if creating people whole-cloth is a uniquely roleplaying thing? Do many authors work this way or do their characters grow more naturally?

I think this is a fundamentally excellent question, Clyde.

From my own experience creating characters for games and writing (a bit of) fiction, it certainly seems to me that games (of certain kinds) promote the creation of "whole cloth" characters here and now, rather than the "organic" devlopment I've seen in fiction writing. I'm not sure if it is uniquely a roleplaying thing, but it is certainly a prominent aspect of the experience.

Perhaps, and this is merely musing on my part, the way that 'traditional' play has grown from the early days has moulded the consciousness of many participants into the view that adding significant character detail that is not actually created by an in-game situation, is wrong and therefore one must formulate as much detail prior to play starting as possible.

Cheers
Malcolm

Malcolm Craig
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Ricky Donato

Quote from: Malcolm on August 24, 2006, 02:38:29 PM
Quote from: Clyde L. Rhoer on August 24, 2006, 01:13:14 PM
I wonder if creating people whole-cloth is a uniquely roleplaying thing? Do many authors work this way or do their characters grow more naturally?

I think this is a fundamentally excellent question, Clyde.

From my own experience creating characters for games and writing (a bit of) fiction, it certainly seems to me that games (of certain kinds) promote the creation of "whole cloth" characters here and now, rather than the "organic" devlopment I've seen in fiction writing. I'm not sure if it is uniquely a roleplaying thing, but it is certainly a prominent aspect of the experience.

Perhaps, and this is merely musing on my part, the way that 'traditional' play has grown from the early days has moulded the consciousness of many participants into the view that adding significant character detail that is not actually created by an in-game situation, is wrong and therefore one must formulate as much detail prior to play starting as possible.

I'm totally with Malcolm and Clyde on this. And I have a theory as to why. It's because character creation is basically a big set of decisions that happen really early in the game that will have a dramatic impact on the rest of the game. If you make the wrong choices, you will end up playing a game you don't enjoy because of a mistake you made early on. People are generally worried about making the wrong choices (in gaming and everything else), so if they are presented with a decision to make without any context in which to make that decision, they feel uncomfortable and don't enjoy the experience.

If Joe sits down to play Monopoly, for example, and he's never played Monopoly, the first decision he makes is to choose which piece to play. From the context, Joe sees that his decision cannot screw him later, because the decision is one of Color purely. So he can make this decision without worrying. Then Joe rolls and lands on, say, Baltimore Avenue, and he has to decide to buy it for $60 or not. Suppose Joe looks at his starting money of $1500 and says, "Sure," because he feels the amount of money to spend is inconsequential to the amount he has.

Note that from the POV of whether Joe enjoys the game, it doesn't actually matter what Joe decides or what criteria he uses to decide. All that actually matters to ensure that Joe enjoys himself is that Joe feels that it is safe to make that decision in that context.

Now let's suppose Joe plays D&D3E, which he has never played before. Joe is presented with a massive list of choices: what race? what class? where to allocate skill points? The biggest obstacle to Joe's enjoyment of this is that Joe has no criteria to guide him. If Tommy the experienced gamer tells Joe, "Just play what you want", Joe is left with the worrying feeling of "How do I know what I want?"

Does all that make sense?
Ricky Donato

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RDU Neil

Quote from: James_Nostack on August 21, 2006, 02:34:59 PM
Quote from: pfischer on August 21, 2006, 09:53:54 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. 

Doesn't have to be "rusty" at all...  but a new environment.  At Origins, I played a silly, fun little game of Muppets vs. Toy Story using Hero System.  None of this was unfamiliar to me, and I game weekly with Hero.  Still... I was "third person" the entire time, because the GM and most players were new... the situation was new... (and saying, "Bjork, bjork, bjork!" over and over again as the Swedish Chef got unfunny fast.)  I felt others were the same... describing situation and actions from an objective POV much easier... and "being in character" only happening after a comfort level with the group as a whole was reached.  In fact, those that jumped into character with enthusiasm right from the beginning struck me and my friends at the table as a bit freakish and obnoxious. 

Anyway... I think the "third person tell" is a critical note to watch any time it comes up in a game.  I've even noticed it in a total comfort situation, but as an indicator that the player was unsure of the situation/scene as it was being described.  Once miscommunication/confusion was cleared up in OOG discussion... slipping back into character was easy.
Life is a Game
Neil

RDU Neil

Quote from: Callan S. on August 24, 2006, 09:23:08 AM



Again I can relate to them. I hate character creation. I find it empty ...SNIP...
In terms of my own preference, I found it a chore, though applying points I'd earned in play was very fun.

Really have to second this.  It is not just "non-gamers" who hate character creation.  I'm an old man at this and I find it mind numbing... even when it is simple.  Give me stats that have IMMEDIATE PLAY impact... and in a straight forward, obvious way... and that is what intrigues me into a new game.  The fact that there can be deep nuance to character creation that can be explored as one's expertise in a game grows... very critical... but don't bury the linear, straight forward play in all the layers of depth. 
Life is a Game
Neil

RDU Neil

Quote from: Ricky Donato on August 24, 2006, 03:30:17 PM
[If Joe sits down to play Monopoly, for example, and he's never played Monopoly, the first decision he makes is to choose which piece to play. From the context, Joe sees that his decision cannot screw him later, because the decision is one of Color purely. So he can make this decision without worrying. Then Joe rolls and lands on, say, Baltimore Avenue, and he has to decide to buy it for $60 or not. Suppose Joe looks at his starting money of $1500 and says, "Sure," because he feels the amount of money to spend is inconsequential to the amount he has.

Note that from the POV of whether Joe enjoys the game, it doesn't actually matter what Joe decides or what criteria he uses to decide. All that actually matters to ensure that Joe enjoys himself is that Joe feels that it is safe to make that decision in that context.

Now let's suppose Joe plays D&D3E, which he has never played before. Joe is presented with a massive list of choices: what race? what class? where to allocate skill points? The biggest obstacle to Joe's enjoyment of this is that Joe has no criteria to guide him. If Tommy the experienced gamer tells Joe, "Just play what you want", Joe is left with the worrying feeling of "How do I know what I want?"

Does all that make sense?

Makes sense to me... and to bring this back to a discussion on Contenders... how does that game go about "telling the new player what they want?"   How does a new player know that being Brazillian or Lithuanian is a color choice, not a critical play one?  How do they know if their choice of Connection is "right" or not?  (I'm not saying the game doesn't do this... I'm actually intrigued by the concept and wondering how it addresses this.)

D&D is designed, I think purposefully, to keep this obscure.  The entire system is a challenge to a certain kind of gamer to go out and buy all the books and read every combination of class, race, feats and such in order to come to that "a-HA!" moment of how the ultimate character can be planned and built.  In many ways, this research and character planning/building IS the play of D&D... at least as much as any actual rolling dice and killing monsters or speaking in character. 

Back to Contender... how does it lay out the "Why am I playing this game in the first place?" explanation?  Is it clear in the "goal" of the game in the way that Polaris is clear?  One of the things I really like about Polaris is the clear "why" and "how" of the game.  You are to create a story of glorious tragedy.  If you don't want to do that, don't play Polaris.  Once you accept the "why" the how makes sense.

Does Contender provide that clear why?  Is it clear to "non-gamers?" or layered in and requiring nuanced examination?  It sounds like the objective of the game is pretty clear (though I don't think that has been posted in this thread) but I'd think such a clear "why" is important for any clarity in "how do I make choices" or "what will my charcter be?"
Life is a Game
Neil

Ron Edwards

Hi Neill,

I'm putting aside my rapidly-expanding post on Siuation-first to answer part of your post .... I think you have it backwards, suggesting that the players in question are "doing it wrong" and we have to fix them in some way. I'm saying the reverse - they are right and we are wrong. They are right in seeking (a) step-by-step, non-qualified, organized play instructions; and (b) a discernible reward system.

I don't think I did a good job of doing that, for Brian and Eliza, in that I said "it's about boxing!" and went on from there. But I don't think I would have served them or us well by launching into a discourse of the Big Model, either. I would have served them well by using it, providing (a) and (b) in two-sentence form apiece.

Best, Ron

RDU Neil

Quote from: Ron Edwards on August 24, 2006, 05:44:08 PM
Hi Neill,

I'm putting aside my rapidly-expanding post on Siuation-first to answer part of your post .... I think you have it backwards, suggesting that the players in question are "doing it wrong" and we have to fix them in some way. I'm saying the reverse - they are right and we are wrong. They are right in seeking (a) step-by-step, non-qualified, organized play instructions; and (b) a discernible reward system.

I don't think I did a good job of doing that, for Brian and Eliza, in that I said "it's about boxing!" and went on from there. But I don't think I would have served them or us well by launching into a discourse of the Big Model, either. I would have served them well by using it, providing (a) and (b) in two-sentence form apiece.

Best, Ron

Not sure how I came across that way... but I'm agreeing with you.  "We" (whoever that is) are wrong.  I'm saying I want the same things that "they" want... step-by-step and discernible reward.  I'm just saying that you don't have to be a newbie to RPGs to want that.  A good game should allow for deep, nuanced "cross-talk"... but not require it for straight forward play. 

To me, the "why" of the game is necessary for straight forward play.  I don't want a "Oh, play anything you want" answer when I'm new to a game... I want "You are playing a boxer who needs X and requires Y and does Z... and the rules support and reward you thusly." 

So, to clarify... I'm agreeing with you totally on this.  Sorry if I came across otherwise.
Life is a Game
Neil

Yokiboy

Hi Neil,

Contenders drops you into a tight situation, definitely on par with Polaris, here's straight from the game:

Quote from: ContendersEach player takes on the role of a boxer, a would be CONTENDER. However, time is running out for these pugilists, it's now or never. Can they build the confidence and hope needed to become a true champion? Or are they destined to be dragged down into a sea of pain and despair?

I would sum it up as "you're all boxers, and your best friend needs money... a lot of money. You have one last chance at a title fight, this would save your friend. Will you succeed, or will your hope be shattered."

Of course, strictly speaking it doesn't have to be a "best friend", it can be any connection that's very important to you, something you've invested a lot of personal hope in, but the "best friend" bit seems to get the ball rolling IMO. (Oh, and the "title fight" thing is not directly from the book, but when endgame is reached, the two boxers with the highest Reputation face each other in a "big fight" - I just like the additional color of making it a title fight.)

It will basically be a nail-biter to the sweet or bitter end. If you end the game with more Hope than Pain then your ultimate hope comes true, and the reverse results in tragedy, and your ultimate fear comes to pass instead.

TTFN,

Yoki

Joe J Prince

Thanks Yoki, you're a top class spokesman!

I don't have much to add.

In terms of character creation in Contenders, the Connection is the most important aspect. In choosing the ultimate hope and ultimate fear, the player sets their own stakes for the entire game.

Cheers,
Joe

Ron Edwards

Lettin' folks know that I'm following up with character-creation/Situation issue discussion over in Frank's thread. It's more general in approach, and this one should probably be closed to preserve its focus on Contenders.

Best, Ron