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Author Topic: Incoherent Play and Bucket Seats  (Read 11701 times)
Steven Stewart
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« on: November 28, 2006, 04:36:29 PM »

Recently in another actual play post ---> http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=22017.0, Ron wrote something that really resonated with me.

Quote
My take is that if CA is left to fend for itself, or more accurately, if differences in desired CA are left without resolution, then a group can function via what I call incoherent play. They can enjoy how they play together, the techniques and color and whatnot.

But only in comparison with play that does not utilize those techniques. Which is like someone saying "I like bucket seats, so whatever we do, as long as it has bucket seats, that's better than not." And everyone else either likes bucket seats, or can take them or leave them, so that's what happens.

The problem, or potential problem, is that bucket seats are not, themselves, the car, nor its destination. So people basically say, "you know, originally or if it were possible or serendipitous, I'd sure like this car to go somewhere. But every time I ever did this, those fucking other seats kept hurting my back. So now, hey - all I want is the bucket seats. Someone else make it go somewhere, as long as I'm in the bucket seats, I'm good."

Translate this into a ten-to-fifteen year history of role-playing. Now, the person is going to be flat-out certain that all they need to have fun, is that the game must have (e.g.) no one-hit kills, and lots of cool effective powers. Because when their character gets killed with some one-hit NPC action, and when they have magic but can't do anything except "read magic" once a day, it sucks. They'll tell you so. First priority, man - first priority.

Did they ever want to Step On Up, Dream, or Address Premise? Maybe they did. One, two, or all of them, maybe. But that is long, long gone in their creative history, They didn't know about it at the time and they know damn well, now, that any effort or thought in that direction is off the radar screen. So it's now off of theirs.

When those preferences take such priority that they override all else, then people stay together with a group only because it's the only group which doesn't inflict massive irritation upon them via non-desired techniques. This is Mark's Champions game, big-time. Plus nearly any other late-thirties, former college buddies, bored-wife-included, still-playing-Champs (or Ars Magica or D&D or whatever) group.
 

This described the exact situation that I now find myself in with two separate gaming groups. It was almost as if he was a silent watcher at my gaming table. He suggested that I follow up by posting an Actual Play account describing my experiences, focusing on the one I think has incoherent play. Once you open pandora’s box it is hard to go back, once you figure out that you want to the car to go somewhere, you want to start taking a trip and stop arguing about bucket seats.

The Group and History
First, a quick history of the group. It was formed in early 2004 when I moved to Japan. A fellow gamer reached out across the intraweb and replied to a post that I had on the WoTC boards. Here are some details about the group, its formation, and some other social contract level details. I can go into more detail later if needed for the discussion.

Me – Steve – 31, gaming since the early 80’s. Pretty steady gaming until college, where there was a gap playing some mini games with roommates and magic.  I started playing RPG’s again after college. Due to my job, which is not military, I move about every 6mo to a year. The longest assignment has been the current one, Japan, for almost three years. The last place I lived prior to moving to Japan was Doha, Qatar (a small middle-eastern country near Dubai). I lived there for about 1.5 years, and the only gaming was done sporadically as play by post. When we started I only had this game group, and didn’t know the guys except for Dennis. My background is basically “club play”, meaning finding games through gaming clubs or game store adverts.

Dennis – also in his thirties – gaming since the early 80’s. He also cut his teeth on Basic DnD. He was the guy who reached across the intraweb to build the group. He has a creative writing background and commutes all the way from Yamanashi to play (about 2 hours one way). He also has other game groups in Yamanashi. Dennis played with Gene in a different city a while ago when they were both in Toyama trying out 3E when it first came out. Dennis put the group together, and I hosted since it was central. Dennis is similar to me in that most of his groups run short session games.   

Gene – 20 something – to be honest I don’t remember a lot of Gene’s gaming background. He had played with Dennis in Toyama. Gene moved away about a year ago, so he doesn’t show up in the later game accounts. Gene lived in Chiba and also commuted 2 hours to play, one way. In total Gene and Dennis are about 4 hours apart and we met at a central location (my flat).

Pete – 20 something  - didn’t play basic ODnD I don’t think, but has a long gaming background. He has expressed a preference for high power play and longer campaigns. Didn’t commute as long as the others but still it was a good train ride. Probably knows the D20 rules the best of any of the group.

The sessions basically follow the same schedule which is:
* eat lunch together starting at noon
* start playing about 1pm and play until about 6-7pm
* eat dinner
* sometimes continue play until about 8 or 8:30 pm.

Generally I supply the beer, wine, and food. But that is because I don’t have to buy train tickets and the other guys do. I have occasionally socialized with Pete outside of the game, because he lives close enough to do so, but Gene and Dennis live pretty far out. They would occasionally crash at my place if they had to do something in Tokyo that involved an overnight stay. We have two game sessions a year that are “lite”, a hanami cherry blossom party and Christmas party. While there is still gaming, it is light stuff like LoTR risk, and generally the non-gaming spouses or SO’s show up to if they can get the time off. No one in the group until recently had spent much time with the “Big Model”. So for the purposes of the discussion of the first game, you can basically assume that we had never heard of it.

The Games
In the last 2 and change years, the longest single game was about 4 sesssions, we couldn’t get anything to last longer than that. I have pointed this out to the others recently that perhaps this could be a symptom of incoherent play. Pete has stated that he would like longer running games. If I recall correctly, almost all of the shifts between games was initiated by myself. We also rotated GM’s quite a bit, although Gene never GM’d.

I am not going to talk about all the games we did, I’ll just start with the first one which is a typical one for the longer running games, and can always elaborate more if needed. Towards the end of the two years the number of sessions per game has been getting shorter. Now they are basically one shots.  But most of our games for the two years were similar to the one I am going to describe below. With the exception of some playtests of homebrew stuff (mine), play was D20 based.

Early 2004 – Eberron D20 – Lasted for about 4 sessions. I had just gotten the book and found it interesting. We started either at first level or second. There was some discussion on this, Pete wanted it to be a higher level game. But eventually we settled on the lower level game for a new group with a new setting.

I was GM. I basically took the movie plot for “ghost and the darkness” and plopped into Eberron. I can elaborate further on the prep later if needed. There some interesting themes in the book, and the whole fantasy train system combined with the “magebred” beasties suggested that plot. I do remember spending a lot of time pouring over the train details, the time it took to get from x to y, and other details from the book including the various noble and magic houses. I also recall that while one of the Eberron Nations is solidly based on the “English”, the others don’t have that feel. The one we played in, I picked a French theme, and made all the titles French, like instead of knights we had Chevalier. I also just picked some random Eberron beasties and made a micro-dungeon for a part of the adventure. The dungeon was to bring some of the ancient history of Eberron into the spotlight. I didn’t do the travel time stuff ‘cause I liked it, but did it because I thought it wouldn’t be fair to fluff something like that in the first session. I wanted the word to act in a consistent manner for them. If I was doing it again it would depend on the type of game the group wanted. If they didn’t care I would just fluff it, if they did I would make it consistent.

Character creation was done after adventure creation. That was a function of logistics such as only meeting once a month but meeting for about 8 hours. But I do think now it would be better to do character creation first, and then build the adventures around the characters.

The GMing was a mix of behind the scenes set encounters and key based encounters (all in all I think basically what the DMG tells you to do). For example, certain parts of the adventure were givens, they were going to face the controller of the lion regardless of what the PC’s did. There were giant neon sign type of clues in the game as well, that said these guys don’t want you to investigate their dig site. But in other points it wasn’t. It was a given that they would find the micro dungeon, but not a given that they would go into it, but knowing Gene I didn’t think that would be a problem.  There were definite “loss points” in the game, and there was real risk.  But given the system, D20 Eberron - which has “fate points or something similar”, the general rule that it is damn hard to die in D20 with the -10 Hitpoint rules,  and the fact that I pretty much stuck to the CR system in D20, this risk is one of death through attrition and not single rolls. The bigger loss point was being sidelined for a while.

The reward for the mission, was (A) some social recognition in-game with the various factions, (B) a very large black magic lion which they had to somehow turn into a more real reward, but for now they had angry lion in a cage, and (C) a magic demonblade. But I knew they were never going to keep it. Taking it away was the next plot point. We stopped the game right after the blade was taken away by some bandits. I told the group that we should break and would return to it later. I was burned out after 4 sessions of prep and was tapped for what to happen next. 

I also recall that there was a very elaborate travel plan that I created, creating villages along a major trade route, figuring out encounters at which village, and the trigger for if the PC’s faced those encounters. It was basically a balance between traveling in the wilderness under cover or traveling open through the villages. This was for the post adventure when they were traveling back to the person that gave them the “mission”.

Pete has stated that he liked this game as one of the best we have played. I am not sure where Gene or Dennis weighs in. But based on my memory that there were moments in the game that overshadowed Dennis’ role in this game, so I would speculate that this wasn’t one of his favorite games of ours. But he may chime in at some point in the discussion.

Here are a couple of the highlights from that game looking back based on what I know now (i.e. after opening Pandora’s box or crying the emperor has no clothes). These events took place over 2 years ago, these things I mention the players still talk about today:

(A) I don’t think I could play that game again. I wouldn’t choose to do the prep work.  There was a lot of prep in that game, including reading the entire manual, and teasing out themes I liked. Then there was all the balancing of Challenge Ratings, tweaking inconsistencies in the NPC motivations, making sure the time tables worked for traveling from point A to B, as well as statting the whole damn thing up. I think I spent roughly 14-20 hours prepping that game, not including reading the Eberron manual.

I understand now that I was taking player choices away from them at a lot of points in the game. My enjoyment from that game came from seeing how the prep material would unfold in the world, and seeing how the players would react to certain parts of the game. In the end, it turned out like my vision going into the game. At the time I thought, “cool, the game went the way I planned and some cool stuff happened”, now I think it would feel flat like “oh, the game went as I planned, no surprises”. The fact that the next adventure was based on them losing the sword, just feels plain wrong to me now.

The most interesting point looking back now in the game was seeing how the players reacted to situations, such as “what do we do with a 1000 lb. magic bred lion as a reward”?

(B) Gene is the type who just wants to see what is behind the next door. Even if that door is marked don’t fuckin’ open it, it will kill you. He did that in this game and almost every other game. He poked his raiper in little holes that were obviously traps. He went down to negative Hit Points, and the group found out he was a shapechanger not an elf. He got sidelined for a while, and lost a lot of rep as the “party rogue”. Gene’s rogue wasn’t the tomb raider type, he was the shapechanging sneaky type, at least that was how he statted him. As a data point, Gene was also the one who comb through the splat books the most, looking for stuff for his character. I also think it is important that Gene never once got upset in our games, no matter how bad he got hosed, and he never GM’d. Gene was act first, think second. I don’t think Gene was constrained by setting at all, the other players would have to remind him about how certain actions might not be consistent with the character concept.

(C) Pete seems to be happy as long as things go the way he wants it to go, but he won’t always state what he wants directly to the other players. You usually find out after the fact.  He had a pretty strong character vision, a Neutral Good Paladin from the frozen north. I remember having to kind of shoe-horn that into the setting. He accepted the other color I threw on to it to make it fit, even if he never embraced it.  And I think he has a pretty strong vision of what he wanted in the story. He is somewhat constrained by being consistent with the world, but will choose characters that have little moral, societal, or setting constraints. For example, while playing a Paladin, this paladin is neutral good and from a far flung tower in the mountains and doesn’t revert any known god in the setting, thereby removing a lot of constraints typically associated with Paladins. So while it was a paladin, it was the loosest one I have ever allowed in a game and the most “un-eberron” of the group. But he doesn’t mind applying setting constraints to others.
 
His most frustrating moment was when Gene just shot the bandit leader. The heroes were riding home with their prizes (including the cool sword that Pete was eyeing). They encounter a place called “gallows gorge” (big red neon sign here) with a single lone bandit, saying hand over your stuff. Pete, the Paladin, was going to talk to the bandit leader with high diplomacy to start.  This was, of course, not as it appeared. Obviously a single bandit is not going to single handily try to take down a group of 4 tough looking folks with a caged 1000 lb black lion. But Gene went ahead and shot the bandit, and then 15 other bandit buddies popped out to ambush. I think Pete was upset with Gene because it wasn’t the smartest trick in the book and he as the Paladin could have tried to talk his way out of it. End result was an afternoon of heroes v. bandit fighting. He did like that he kicked ass and took names during the battle.

Pete also played the token wizard in the group, a kind of PC who was never really around. He was used when spells were needed, and for comic relief. But again, I think that was hoisted on the group that you need an arcane magic user as I told them there was an encounter that they would die without an arcane spellcaster, and Eberron is heavy into magic. The wizard spent most of the battle under the wagon, hiding.

(D) Dennis was unhappy when his ranger didn’t feel like a ranger. He had a pretty strong idea of what he wanted in the game. He also was pretty good at getting into the setting material, and being very consistent with his character. I think his game priorities are best described “I want it to feel like X book or Y movie or Z myth”.

I had a critical fumble rule at my table, you roll a 1 and something bad or funny happens. At the start of the battle his first roll he rolled a 1. His bow string broke. I don’t think I would do that now; it broke down the dream. Ancient archers of mythic tales never had their bows break at the start of the battle. He had bad dice rolls during the entire battle, and spent most of it hanging from the side of the cliff (he kept making his climb rolls good enough not to fall but not good enough to go anywhere). Again, the loss point is sidelining the character for a while. To the rest of the group it was somewhat humorous and memorable, but to Dennis I think the whole experience soured the image he was going for. Dennis was most frustrated with the Dice I think. It didn’t help that Pete was jumping from one side of the gorge to the other in medium armor, and Dennis the light thrifty wilderness fighter was stuck hanging out on the side of the cliff.

I think this whole game is similar to what Ron describes in the quotes above about incoherent play, bucket seats and all. I have one or two more games to discuss with regards to the thread, but won’t mind questions or comparisons first before diving into them.

My Goals for the discussion are:
(1)   help understand coherence better
(2)   understand the difference between individual goals at the table and the concept of coherence to a creative agenda
(3)   develop a means to communicate the above to points to the group
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2006, 02:03:51 PM »

Very cool AP report! Let's see if I can help a bit.

Help me understand the social contract of the group. What was the understanding among you and the other players about what the game would be? Was there discussion among the players about the kind of campaign it'd be, beyond the PC levels and the fact that it was Eberron?  It sounds like you as DM drove the choice for the adventures but did the players have any input on that? Did you use any aspects of their characters as fodder for the adventures, like "Oh, I should include X for the paladin," or "Oh, I shouldn't include Y because no one in the group likes that stuff"?

I just realized you said, "Character creation was done after adventure creation," so obviously you didn't prep the adventure around the PCs but did you alter the adventure any based on character creation?

Were there any agreed-upon house rules? Was character creation done as a group with lots of interaction, or largely as an individual exercise? How much say did you as DM have in what they played (any vetoes or any "steering" on your part)?

I think I need to understand more on a few different layers to really understand your group dynamics and, therefore, try to answer your specific concerns. I'm drilling down through the Big Model, starting with social contract.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2006, 03:33:31 PM »

Hi there,

Adam, one thing I suggest is using a little inference, making a few guesses or proto-identifying statements, and asking the person (Steven in this case) how well they fit. The key is definitely to give them authority over the overall portrait, working from the suggestions. This tends to work better than asking them to do all the reflecting.

Steven, I'll list the stuff that jumps out at me in this post. You tell me which elements of the social setup are on track and which should be discarded.

1. Expats. Well, not really, but overseas English speakers, some of whom have traveled very extensively and widely, almost all of whom met in the context of "hey, we're here in Japan, let's hang out." So my first inference is the presence of a social glue at work which is significant - it extends the range of personal tastes and differences which people might be inclined to consider hanging out with. Granted, Steven, Dennis, and Gene knew one another before the group really got together, but I think this entire context is probably a big deal.

(Subtopic: ordinarily nationality isn't of extreme importance, but in this case, it's a factor. So, Steven - Americans, Brits, both, or?)

My second inference about that same feature is that everyone seems inclined to go to some trouble to meet up; there's a high logistic buy-in that everyone accepts. This also generates - over two and half years, mind - social glue, sunk-cost to put the worst face on it, or laudable commitment to put the best.

2. Age and gaming background indicates some possible inferences about the nature of the game being played, probably initially described as "D&D" without much clarification. This may be important because the thirtyish guys were both trained to role-play via something Steven calls "Basic D&D" (which needs to be clarified, but my current point is that it's definitely older-school), whereas the younger ones (twenty-something) may well have only discovered it though D&D3.0. If that's the case, then we're dealing with very different games as an assumed-to-be-common background. If that's not the case, then I'm interested to know what prior D&D strain the younger guys came up under.

Subtopic: one point about Steven specifically is that he has not lived in one place (prior to this one) for more than a year since college. That's like, eight or nine years! My hesitant inference from that is that he may not have much sense of role-playing as a part of a settled social life, and as part of adult life as opposed to remembering college life. So if one's model for "D&D" is best understood as "back in college," then think about what that means for any activities described that way.

3. The game - they play D20, period, never mind the bit of homebrew (more on that in a minute). This may be worth keeping an eye on ... how much does the group, as a whole, buy into the D20 myth, which is exactly the same as the GURPS myth from 15 years previously? The myth that says, "now you can play anything, because this is the system for anything." It's a comfortable illusion and tends to be strongly defended until it collapses by itself.

How long? Two and a half years, guys - keep that in mind. With all that effort and travel and hospitality embedded in it. That's the left-hand jab'; you shift your head back and away from it ... just in time to take the cross on the opposite cheekbone, knocking you off your feet. What's the cross? They manage four whole sessions per game (i.e. setting/prep/characters), maximum. This, for a group of folks whose gaming background - if I'm right - includes the assumption that play goes on a long time, including a reward-mechanic involving incremental improvement.

My mind boggles a bit, from that right cross. Yours should. You guys know what making up characters and prepping scenarios is like for any version of D&D, in this case D20 (which is even more so if you count stuff like monster-building). They've done this how many times? (Granted, in recent months or so, my impression is that people are more-or-less expecting one-session games. I don't know whether this is gravitation toward a preference or a coping mechanism for an ugly reality).

4. Does anyone seem a bit like the odd man out, in any way? Why look, Steven, it's you. I'm very interested in why and how you end up being the guy to instigate switching to play something else, especially since sometimes you're the DM and sometimes you're not. But for now, let's hold off on this point until after we talk about the Eberron game.

How's this looking, Steven? A decent foundation for us all to understand where the group is at and what issues or connections might be at work?

Best, Ron
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Steven Stewart
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2006, 04:15:58 PM »

Hi Ron/Adam,

I agree those questions are a good foundation to start from. I almost cross posted answers to Adam to yours, so let me take the time to digest and address each one in detail. I will say that I agree that I am the odd-man out with the exception of game in particular, which was a mutual decision between Dennis and I to stop the game. But I am getting ahead of myself, that should be something for later development. Let me work on this and get back to you. I will probably add a few more points which could be important, which is "other gaming activities", and situtation for being an expat in Japan (i.e. the only non-english teacher in the group)? Am I right in assuming these could be important?

I am hoping that Dennis will jump in as he has more knowledge of the gaming background for both Pete and Gene than myself.

Cheers for now,

Steve
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Steven Stewart
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2006, 05:40:39 PM »

Quote
1. Expats. Well, not really, but overseas English speakers, some of whom have traveled very extensively and widely, almost all of whom met in the context of "hey, we're here in Japan, let's hang out." So my first inference is the presence of a social glue at work which is significant - it extends the range of personal tastes and differences which people might be inclined to consider hanging out with. Granted, Steven, Dennis, and Gene knew one another before the group really got together, but I think this entire context is probably a big deal.

(Subtopic: ordinarily nationality isn't of extreme importance, but in this case, it's a factor. So, Steven - Americans, Brits, both, or?)

For sure there is some social glue when we first met. At the point of the Eberron Game I believe that Dennis was gaming mostly through online, as was Gene. Now it is a bit different. Over the two years things (of course) have shifted a bit. Dennis has a group much closer than my flat in Yamanashi. I have a second group that has been playing the same game (Polaris) since September. Gene gamed regularly with a guy in Chiba, John, who showed up once at our meeting and then didn’t show up again. John only played DnD. Not D20 Conan, not Risk, not D20 Aliens, only DnD.
Both Pete and Gene were heavy into World of Warcraft (there are various levels of intensity for that particular aspect of the hobby, Pete and Gene where in the Hardcore Raiding Part, I wasn’t). Dennis isn’t, and I was for a while.

So all in all, when we started playing I would say that this was the “main” group for everyone, as we continued playing there were definitely other avenues to get their fix, but we continued as a group. We do socialize when we can outside of the game table, and I know that Dennis has quite a larger group of socializing with others in Yamanashi, as does Pete where he lives, and Gene where he lived. Primarly for me this group has been the primary socializing, other than one or two guys from the office.

There is definitely some other Geek/Otaku culture going on as well. None of us are Japanophiles, so not otaku in the Yank sense of the word but in the Japanese sense of the word. But we all like similar movies, I have the “library” of books that everyone borrows from. We occasionally (when I could … ah what you give up to be a father) go out to movies together, but of the action/adventure flick kind.

For nationalities, I am American, but haven’t been there since 2000. In case its important, as you know I do move a lot and travel a lot for my job including living in the UK (several locations), the Middle East, and now Japan, traveled to India, etc. Work in a very multinational fortune 50 kind of office, with workers from all nationalities, spent about 2 years working offshore, etc. Gaming is how I meet people outside the office.

Dennis has been in Japan for a while (something 8+ years), speaks it, reads it,etc. He is also American but from up north somewhere (Illinois I think).  Pete is Aussie, and Gene was Canadian (which I was born Canadian so we have some shared bonds there) but is not from major urban centers of St. Lawrence River valley or the west coast. 

I only mentioned it, in case it could become important, most of the folks in the group are in Japan by choice (English teachers with varying degrees of ties to the country), whereas I am here by fate (Japanese company happened to get the job). Most of the group has a liberal arts education, while I have a solid techie background with a high interest in art and history. Pete’s wife didn’t believe him that an otaku would be living in Ebisu, and I think was a bit of a social anomaly for her. And while Gene would sometimes game with his students, I dread folks at the office finding out my hobby (I just put down art, history, travel for hobbies), especially when I worked offshore (you want to discuss interesting social dynamics among people and ribbing, try living on a rig 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off for 2 years). 

All of us are well traveled (occasionally we play step on up for who has been where). But Dennis, Pete, and I all have common interests beyond gaming going into art, history, and books. I have a strong Christian background, and pretty close ties with the church here in Tokyo, and read LoTR every year not just for the fantasy aspect but also for its religious significance. None of our SO’s game. 

Quote
My second inference about that same feature is that everyone seems inclined to go to some trouble to meet up; there's a high logistic buy-in that everyone accepts. This also generates - over two and half years, mind - social glue, sunk-cost to put the worst face on it, or laudable commitment to put the best.

Certainly there is in both Time and Money. On average the game day is pricey, and Christmas party about 5 times that.
But I think this should tempered a bit, in consideration of what I mentioned above regarding how at different times over the 2.5 years everyone had an opportunity to say “not worth it” and still get their fix else where. Some folks did, like John.
 
Quote
2. Age and gaming background indicates some possible inferences about the nature of the game being played, probably initially described as "D&D" without much clarification. This may be important because the thirtyish guys were both trained to role-play via something Steven calls "Basic D&D" (which needs to be clarified, but my current point is that it's definitely older-school), whereas the younger ones (twenty-something) may well have only discovered it though D&D3.0. If that's the case, then we're dealing with very different games as an assumed-to-be-common background. If that's not the case, then I'm interested to know what prior D&D strain the younger guys came up under.

First clarifications on the DnD that Dennis and I were talking about. I know a bit about the history, so I understand what you mean, I cut my teeth on Moldvay ’81 Basic/Expert and also on Dungeon! (remember that?). I had the AD&D first prints (with the weird covers and the naked succubuss in the index along with the +3 backscratcher joke), but we didn’t use them as is. I could easily get lost in the past, so that is probably enough, except to say I think we were both in our youth both part of the local non-con version of play. Dennis was the ’83 elmore cover edition. Yeah Dennis and I are the grognards of the group, we talk about things like when Dice were hard to get, players hard to get etc. We talk about MUDs and intellivision version of the game, etc. From what I understand, Gene was introduced to 3.0, and Pete may have had some 2e exposure? Dennis can you fill in this gap for Pete and Gene?

Quote
Subtopic: one point about Steven specifically is that he has not lived in one place (prior to this one) for more than a year since college. That's like, eight or nine years! My hesitant inference from that is that he may not have much sense of role-playing as a part of a settled social life, and as part of adult life as opposed to remembering college life. So if one's model for "D&D" is best understood as "back in college," then think about what that means for any activities described that way.

I think I need to clarify a bit some of this. Here is the short order breakdown of my “hobby”, let me know how much to elaborate more on. I would say that rather than “back in college” it was, back in “high school”.

- Youth 6-13 – Playing ’81 Moldvay with some 1ed ADD, my deities and demigods had Elric in it, I pretty much had all the ADD but played with the basic for the most part. I remember UA being revolutionary, etc. We played in Greyhawk and took over the Barabarian nations,  etc. I played a lot more Dungeon! though. And some old C64 games as well with friends like Bard’s Tale.

- Teens – Stuck in the 2ADD glut, nough said on that, little actual play and hell of lot of talk. Most of our fun games were Marvel Superheros! (before the ultimate powers book), Gamma World (oh sweet 3rd edition gamma edition gamma world),  and Talislanta (the old first edition one, the one with the thrall on the cover). Add in a good dose of Star Frontiers. Dennis is also a big Yazarian fan. Shadowrun 1ed, etc. But I want to point out that I continued buying the frickin’ books from TSR. I read the first FR book when it came out (remember when there was 1?). We played Axis and Allies and some other stuff as well.

- College – Still played some off and on, mostly one shots, heavy drift. Got in WH40K and Necurmunda mostly, and of course M:TG (and we played for ante, I got someone’s forcefield that way). I would say I was in about 3 sessions of RPG all of college, but we still bought the books.

- Post College – stuck with mini’s for a while, escpially silent death. But then itched for some RPG. Played a lot of Alternity, dipped my finger in Palladium for a very brief time. This was what I now call club play. I would go and find a club/gamestore and play. This is the last nine years. I think I definitely say this is different than college, where I basically broke from the game for a while. Between Uni and 3rd Edition, we were solidly playing Alternity, L5R, Deadlands, 7th Sea, some really heavy drifted WH Fantasy.

- Post 3Ed – mostly stuck with D20 for a while, but in the UK had some really good and some really bad expierences with it. We also played a lot of AEG stuff. Though my samurai were never right (I always wanted history in the game, so I played a Kamakura era guy which din’t fit, stupid swords).

-Qatar – nada. I couldn’t even bring most of my game books into the country based on the advice the company gave us regarding censorship.

-Japan – brings up to the Eberron Game. More recently have been buying indie games like crazy.

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3. The game - they play D20, period, never mind the bit of homebrew (more on that in a minute). This may be worth keeping an eye on ... how much does the group, as a whole, buy into the D20 myth, which is exactly the same as the GURPS myth from 15 years previously? The myth that says, "now you can play anything, because this is the system for anything." It's a comfortable illusion and tends to be strongly defended until it collapses by itself.

I would say I have 50% bought into the myth, with the big assumption of a bunch of drift. I don’t now. If I want to play DnD, I would go back to the ’81 Moldvay. Pete is solid belief that it is the game for him. John left the group cause we were going to play D20 Conan, and that was too different from basic DnD. Dennis is also a bit frustrated with D20, but I don’t know where he falls in the myth category. I think we definitely knocked some walls down recently, although Pete is solid D20 all the way. 

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How long? Two and a half years, guys - keep that in mind. With all that effort and travel and hospitality embedded in it. That's the left-hand jab'; you shift your head back and away from it ... just in time to take the cross on the opposite cheekbone, knocking you off your feet. What's the cross? They manage four whole sessions per game (i.e. setting/prep/characters), maximum. This, for a group of folks whose gaming background - if I'm right - includes the assumption that play goes on a long time, including a reward-mechanic involving incremental improvement.

My mind boggles a bit, from that right cross. Yours should. You guys know what making up characters and prepping scenarios is like for any version of D&D, in this case D20 (which is even more so if you count stuff like monster-building). They've done this how many times? (Granted, in recent months or so, my impression is that people are more-or-less expecting one-session games. I don't know whether this is gravitation toward a preference or a coping mechanism for an ugly reality).

Yeah there is some truth there. I think Dennis and I thought “this is what you get”. Personally we both like to tinker, and we both do heavy prep (Pete is the no prep required, lets wing it school). We both have reams of campaigns started and not finished. I actually think there is a different reason why we don’t finish games, but think that may be too much of an assumption now, so I will hold off until I understand incoherence better. We just found out that Pete likes long games?! But yeah it was getting harder for a while. We were starting to go from RPG’s to Pirates of the Spanish Main Day. But then Pete and Dennis knew I was working on a game, so they said lets play it after a few games of Pirates. That has been keeping us going for 3 months, but that game is basically designed as a 6-8 hour RPG game to play. Now we are here. But lets focus on the Eberron before going further like you said.

I will say that the left, right cross thing I don’t quite understand. Not that I disagree, I just don’t understand the analogy that well. Perhaps that could be rephrased, I think there is something important there, I don’t want to misunderstand it. Let me rephrase to see if I have it right, “people invest a lot of time, energy, and money, and don’t get to drive the car very far. Its like a vacation from the 1920’s: you drive 10 miles on bumpy muddy roads, you spend 3 hours to get unstuck and have some nice lunch, then you get going again, you blow a tire. You wait 2 hours to fix it. Maybe stay overnight at some small town. You drive 30 miles, you have to fix the engine, etc. You are driving, it is just a real pain to get there. But people still talk about how much fun their vacations were from back then, there was socializing and singing, and you got to see the small towns, etc. That is where we are. Compare this to how it could be, get in a modern car, with all the right people and stuff, and zoom your off, on good roads with a well built car having fun getting to where you want to go as a group” Is that close or am I still missing something?

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4. Does anyone seem a bit like the odd man out, in any way? Why look, Steven, it's you. I'm very interested in why and how you end up being the guy to instigate switching to play something else, especially since sometimes you're the DM and sometimes you're not. But for now, let's hold off on this point until after we talk about the Eberron game.

How's this looking, Steven? A decent foundation for us all to understand where the group is at and what issues or connections might be at work?

Agree so far, with the clarifications. And yeah, I agree that’s me. I kinda of knew that before posting, which is why I brought it up. Do any of those clarifications change your thought process?
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Dennis Laffey
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« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2006, 06:32:39 PM »

Hello, this is Dennis.  I'm still digesting all Steve has said so far, and Adam and Ron's responses, so this will just be a quick post. 

As Steve said, I first started playing with the Mentzer red box Basic D&D game.  My friends and brother and I played that, and Star Frontiers all through late elementary, Jr. high, and high school, plus a bit when I was back on break during college.  We tried out quite a few other games (some TSR, most not) during that time as well, but only had long-running games with those two systems. 

Like Steve, Magic: the Gathering (plus beer fueld Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo nights) were my gaming fix at college.  A group of friends and I played maybe 2-3 sessions of a game (1st edition AD&D) and that was it. 

After college, but before coming to Japan, I played for a year with a group of guys I met through a co-worker.  The group dynamic was similar to the current Ebisu group.  In that year, all 5 members of the group tried their hand at DMing for a while (weekly sessions), some of us more than once, so we had at least 6 different short lived campaigns in that year.  We played a hybrid 1st/2nd edition AD&D game.  Shortly after I left for Japan, two other members of that group also got jobs elsewhere (but still in the U.S.) so the group broke up, but we still keep in touch.

In Japan, I didn't game for the first two years or so, until 3rd Edition D&D came out.  I picked up the PHB while I was home for the summer, then a few months later ordered the DMG and MM over the internet, and got a group together to play (including Gene).  We found out the hard way about some of the flaws of d20, that you can't expect to play it the way older editions were played, but we also found it to be refreshing because we all bought into the "myth" mentioned above, that you could play ANYTHING with these rules. 

Gene had played a LOT of 2nd Edition (don't remember if he ever talked about older editions or not), mainly Planescape.  And in this game in Toyama, he also liked to play (often goofy) characters that just HAD to look behind the next door. 

This group actually stuck to a campaign I ran (based on Arthurian and older Celtic myths), with a few players coming and going.  When everyone works on a year-to-year contract basis like we do, it's just something you need to deal with.  We often discussed other campaign ideas, but we were enjoying this game. 

At the end of the year, it was my time to go, moving to where I am now, Yamanashi.  However, Gene and two of the other players and I played online D&D and d20 Star Wars and d20 Modern for a while, but we had problems with a) the fact that Gene hates Star Wars (his Force Adept charater was named Smurfette), and b) playing online, even with voice chat, made it hard to focus on the game (players getting phone calls and ignoring the game for 30 minutes, or reading the news, or whatever).  We had a successful game going in Toyama, but online it just wasn't working.  So we stopped. 

About that time, though, Gene moved to Chiba and Steve and I met (and I soon met Pete also through the WotC forums), and we decided to get a game going.  Steve's told you the rest.

The Eberron game was our first game together as a group.  I wasn't too interested in the setting from the WotC PR (they focused on all the things that don't push my buttons like the magic as technology and halfling dino-riders and constructs as a player race), but listening to Steve talk about the political intrigue of the Dragonmark houses, and pulp adventure potential, I got interested.  Still, though, I really don't know the setting that well, and neither did Pete or Gene.  Only Steve had read the book, the rest of us had just read selected parts of it relating to our character concepts. 

Wow, this got long, and now I've gotta go teach a class.  I'll post more later.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2006, 06:47:22 PM »

Hi Dennis! Great to have you here.

Hey guys, no need to post blow-by-blows of every detail of your gaming history. Lots more room in Actual Play, eventually.

I'm drafting a post to explain the left-jab-right-cross, Steven.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2006, 07:09:30 AM »

Here's what I mean by the left-right thing, Steven. First, no, you're not seeing my point. I'll state it very bluntly.

It amazes me to see that much time, energy, and effort (significantly including creative investment) into playing games which, despite their design focus on prolonged play, only last four sessions max.

Either (1) those one-to-four sessions, per unit of group-level investment, are so satisfying and thoroughly complete that they hold some kind of world-record for blowout-fun role-playing success ... or (2) some kind of repeated hiccup is occurring such that each attempt fizzles. Maybe it runs out of steam, maybe it hits a stop-point, but like clockwork, someone (usually you) can't see any point in continuing (and the others tacitly agree).

Given your impetus for posting this account, and the material you quoted from my post - all of which I accept without any reservation as a fair description of your game - clearly (2) is the case.

That's what I mean by the right cross. It is a punch. Someone hit me with a knockout punch upon reading about that. It is hugely significant and as far as I can tell, obviously the case to the point of being irrefutable.

To continue being blunt, I suggest that the extra-game aspects of the Social Contract (you guys like each other, you're getting a chance to socialize in your own language for a bit each month, you enjoy the shared pop culture background of having played D&D, et cetera) are very strong glue, and they'd better be, because the game-play itself is barely adequate even as a cover activity. I suggest that if the very same game-play were occurring among a group less strongly held together by personal and extrinsic factors, then well, it'd probably not have sustained the continuation of the group as such.

OK, now I have to clarify some incredibly important things, as you (Steven) are relatively new at the Forge and Dennis is brand-new, speaking of posting not reading.

- I am not saying you guys suck at role-playing and are terrible, dysfunctional morons. In fact, to the contrary, I'm a bit awed at the "spirit of persistence" at work that really values the creative effort and talent that you guys do have. Because readers will probably invent what they think I'm saying and repeat it elsewhere, I'll use jargon right now - this situation appears to be both functional (i.e. fun enough, sustained) and incoherent (in terms of Creative Agenda, there ain't any because no real reward cycles ever occur).

- I recognize that the Eberron game is from a while ago, and that you guys have entered into some significant dialogue recently. I'd like to discuss it in that appropriate past-context, which means that in some ways I'm playing catch-up to where you are now.

So let's talk about that Eberron game in terms of your three questions, Steven. First, you didn't plan on it being only four sessions, right? But the investment didn't pay off. Let's see what kinds of things led to (or expressed) its incoherence.

1. I don't see much group buy-in into the SIS itself, i.e., Eberron. It's pretty clear from your account that all three characters were effectively D&D drop-ins from previous play. You bought into Eberron and prepped accordingly, in terms of plain old gross-level SIS features (where, what it's like, et cetera). No one else did. I'm lookin' at a ranger, an MU (I use the slang term on purpose), and what appears to be a curious cross between a paladin's effectiveness and a chaotic-neutral do-what-I-want fighter. This seems to accord with the points I make about setting and situation in my [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu thread.

2. Your aesthetic focus seemed to be upon carrying out the storyline of The Ghost and the Darkness, more or less; theirs seemed to be ... well, I dunno what, but it involved a lot of decisions with dubious consequences, like figuring out what to do with a magic lion or thinking about who's going to get to keep the magic sword. If I'm not mistaken, everyone was most comfortable simply running through the mechanics of fights because that was most familiar.

3. Yet those fights seem also to be marked by a lot of murk - why do they get into fights? Because one player says X. What does one player saying X mean we have to get into this fight? (That is rhetorical; most role-playing offers no answer.) Then as you GM the fight, some stuff seems to get away from you a little and a character hangs on a cliff face, and in another scene, a character hides under a cart ... anyway, what I'm after is not that you're a BAD GM or anything stupid like that, but rather that no one seems sure about why the group is fighting or what it has to do with anything, and the procedural murk seems to instigate the fights without reflection or purpose.

What I'm suggesting is not that these things made your game incoherent. I'm saying that the condition of incoherence led to these things occurring. Does that make sense? I think it might be useful to walk our way through that reasoning.

Best, Ron
edited to fix the link
« Last Edit: November 30, 2006, 07:11:44 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Dennis Laffey
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« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2006, 07:26:37 PM »

I'll jump in here with a few opinions about our Eberron play of my own before Steve answers your questions, Ron.

As for me, you're right that I hadn't fully bought into the Eberron setting (not knowing much about it, and having initial reservations about it) but as the play went on, I think I was trying to buy into it.  One of the problems was that I was playing a character that knew his world, but I knew relatively little as a player.  Like you mentioned, getting into combat, where we all knew the rules and the trappings of Eberron were irrelevant, was a bit of a relief for all of us, I think. 

Pete, playing the Paladin, I think just wanted to play his character concept, and accepted Eberron because it plays fast and loose with alignment. 

Gene, playing the Changeling Rogue, got into the setting a bit more, as a "cosmopolitan spy in more rustic lands" but not 100% into the setting, either.
 
I think that might have led to some of Steve's frustration at the game.  He spent a lot of time preping and getting to know Eberron, but due to logistics, he's the only one who had the book so the rest of us just got to look at it during down time at game sessions.  So he was jazzed about Eberron, the rest of us were either on a "let's just give it a test drive' attitude, or "I could care less if it's Eberron, Faerun, or Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory as long as I play this character."

I also feel that Steve was trying hard to work with my character's background (his House, relatives, backstory) into the main story, but Pete's PC background, other than a connection to my character we decided on, had no real "play" within the story, and Gene's character from Sharn's background was sort of nebulous and never came up in the story of the first few sessions either. 

This may have kept Pete and Gene from enjoying the game as much as they could have.  I was getting into the story, but in combat and skill focused encounters was not performing well, so that was part of my hang-up. 

__________________________________
Also, a slight aside about our group's social contract.  As this Eberron game was our first game as a group.  I've never liked critical fumble rules (and in the string of incoherent play before I came to Japan I mentioned in my first post, the group insisted on them so I was the odd man out).

But I didn't speak up when Steve said he would use them.  I guess I had the attitude of "it's his game, we'll use his rules."  If I'd spoken up, Steve might not have used them, and that would have solved one of my biggest problems with how the game was playing out.  I've got only myself to blame for that. 
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Steven Stewart
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« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2006, 07:33:34 PM »

Ron,

I am going to try to unpack some of this to get my head around it, there is a lot there. Let me know if I am missing something crucial thing to the next step. I am going to go a bit out of order if that is OK to the things that made the biggest impact of what I was hoping to get out of the discussion? I don't want to miss stuff though, so remind me or poke me for more details as warranted. I am not trying to be rude by quoting or posting, let me know if you think this is too much akin to interrupting the conversation.

Part I - The issue

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What I'm suggesting is not that these things made your game incoherent. I'm saying that the condition of incoherence led to these things occurring. Does that make sense? I think it might be useful to walk our way through that reasoning.


and

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this situation appears to be both functional (i.e. fun enough, sustained) and incoherent (in terms of Creative Agenda, there ain't any because no real reward cycles ever occur

This strikes home. I 100% agree lets take the discussion down this road. I want to learn more methods to aplly in a roleplaying group to have coherence from the set-up on so that such things do not happen in future play. Being honest I still don't get the big model all the way, so let me check some of the jargon, using the old standby of rewording it to test comprehension:

By Coherence, we mean that all the players at the table *share* a common agenda beyond let's play. That play that emerges from pursuing that agenda as a group is engaging enough that players want to continue  that play on its own merit outside of other extra-game social bonds or the concept that "playing any game is enough".

If this is correct, my follow up questions to pursue in this discussion are how do you turn invidual objectives into a coherent agenda? I am assuming that when you start a game, since as you say you need sustained play to see the rewards in action, you don't have an agenda? Or am I missing something, or is this whole thing determential to the discussion at hand?

I have never played in a group yet that sat down and said, right we are pursuing a "insert word" agenda for ths game.  (and as you are aware I have a broad range of contacts with gamers from around the world, not the same as others but clearly more than the college buddies who have been playing since college together). Is this the problem that we don't do that?  

I understand that it make take some other discussion to get around to these points, but don't want to orphan them. They are important to me.


Funactional means that the activity is engaging enough to continue to do it, month after month for 2.5 years. By activity we mean the whole shooting match, food, jokes, outside conversations, rolling dice, etc.

The implication is that functional coherent play >>>more fun>>>than incoherent functional play. I think I can get behind that and want to learn how to turn one into the other.

Part II - Addressing this in the Actual Play

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1. I don't see much group buy-in into the SIS itself, i.e., Eberron. It's pretty clear from your account that all three characters were effectively D&D drop-ins from previous play. You bought into Eberron and prepped accordingly, in terms of plain old gross-level SIS features (where, what it's like, et cetera). No one else did. I'm lookin' at a ranger, an MU (I use the slang term on purpose), and what appears to be a curious cross between a paladin's effectiveness and a chaotic-neutral do-what-I-want fighter. This seems to accord with the points I make about setting and situation in my [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu thread.

Agree with a clarification. I didn't eloborate enough, I think that some of the players at the table, Dennis and Myself, did address some of the setting. Dennis' ranger was tailored made to Eberron. One of the things that Eberron does address is saying lets make setting fit 3E rules and not the other way around. Here is an example, Half-Elves in Eberron are a seperate and distinct race, they have their own culture, language, etc. the new kids on the block type of thing. Dennis totally got into that. Eberron has different houses with competiting issues, these were central to the color of the game, and reinforced at every point in the game from myself and to a lesser extent through his character Dennis.

The sword was particullary Eberronish, based on the myths.

Gene was focused on Eberron in terms of the rules for this new race. Agree that this is just putting your pinky toe in the water.

Again, these sound defensive, and they aren't meant to be. Lets say at the Macro level if there was any buy-in, it was parital and primarly focused on color.   And clearly did not not impact situtation, or character actions to the extent that a juicy good setting can (ala your excellent thread on TSOY and the world of Near). The Ghost in the Darkness was the primary driver with Eberron color? Is that fair or too defensive? Part of the symptom is the "steve has all the books situtaiton to a great extent, and the fact that folks around the table (including GM) weren't digging into the setting to bind all of the elements into the SIS together. I could tentatively say that if the latter happened, potentially a SIM CA woud have emerged? Or this a stop right there statement.

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2. Your aesthetic focus seemed to be upon carrying out the storyline of The Ghost and the Darkness, more or less; theirs seemed to be ... well, I dunno what, but it involved a lot of decisions with dubious consequences, like figuring out what to do with a magic lion or thinking about who's going to get to keep the magic sword. If I'm not mistaken, everyone was most comfortable simply running through the mechanics of fights because that was most familiar.

Fair enough. There was definetly some excitement around the table for some of the exploration (I mean that in the little sense of the world) as the story unfolded. Fights weren't the only thing they did. Lots of talking and stuff too, but in general that was it. I think the magic Lion was my way of saying you complete the mission and instead of getting a bunch of gold, you get a "magic lion" now figure out what to do with it. I seem to recall castle rustlers being brought up, which while funny sorta killed the dream.  To be honest I was hoping that those two points would turn into "bangs". You have these two things now what do you do? Cause I didn't have much after the Ghost and the Darkness, that scenario took a lot of prep and lot out of me.

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3. Yet those fights seem also to be marked by a lot of murk - why do they get into fights? Because one player says X. What does one player saying X mean we have to get into this fight? (That is rhetorical; most role-playing offers no answer.) Then as you GM the fight, some stuff seems to get away from you a little and a character hangs on a cliff face, and in another scene, a character hides under a cart ... anyway, what I'm after is not that you're a BAD GM or anything stupid like that, but rather that no one seems sure about why the group is fighting or what it has to do with anything, and the procedural murk seems to instigate the fights without reflection or purpose.

I want to go one further with this, and say not just the fights but everything, including Gene sticking his raiper in the "obvious" trap. Let me unpack murk again. If I understand correctly this is an IEEE issue? Down at the implementing techniques and what is allowed by the group regarding the implementation of those techniques. Just because Gene says I shoot him before Pete says "no wait" i want to talk to him, don't neccessarly means that I (GM) should be rolling initiative? This is murk right? The uncertaintness of how you apply techniques as a group and some of the issues that you have raised in other threads about authority? Or is this offbase?

Does is change anything at all if I stated at the beginning of the game think carefully before you say what your character does, I will take that as stated fact? Or if I use initiative to determine whether Pete gets to talk first before Gene gets to shoot?  I ask that to see if understand correctly where Murk lies. If I understand it right, these two questions wouldn't address Murk. And that even stating those two facts means that I could potentially upsetting someones objectives/agenda going into the game if those aren't discussed openly?

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Either (1) those one-to-four sessions, per unit of group-level investment, are so satisfying and thoroughly complete that they hold some kind of world-record for blowout-fun role-playing success ... or (2) some kind of repeated hiccup is occurring such that each attempt fizzles. Maybe it runs out of steam, maybe it hits a stop-point, but like clockwork, someone (usually you) can't see any point in continuing (and the others tacitly agree).

Given your impetus for posting this account, and the material you quoted from my post - all of which I accept without any reservation as a fair description of your game - clearly (2) is the case.


Right on, clearly number 2. There is an evolution that happens, besides a brief sustainable stint with the D20 aliens game (my favorite game we had to date), the games got shorter. We shifted more frequently. Board games and mini-games started to be talked about. A brief injection of some playtesting of steve's wacky games (which we agree to discuss later, but is important in the chronology eventually).

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It amazes me to see that much time, energy, and effort (significantly including creative investment) into playing games which, despite their design focus on prolonged play, only last four sessions max.

Either (1) those one-to-four sessions, per unit of group-level investment, are so satisfying and thoroughly complete that they hold some kind of world-record for blowout-fun role-playing success ... or (2) some kind of repeated hiccup is occurring such that each attempt fizzles. Maybe it runs out of steam, maybe it hits a stop-point, but like clockwork, someone (usually you) can't see any point in continuing (and the others tacitly agree).

Given your impetus for posting this account, and the material you quoted from my post - all of which I accept without any reservation as a fair description of your game - clearly (2) is the case.

That's what I mean by the right cross. It is a punch. Someone hit me with a knockout punch upon reading about that. It is hugely significant and as far as I can tell, obviously the case to the point of being irrefutable.

To continue being blunt, I suggest that the extra-game aspects of the Social Contract (you guys like each other, you're getting a chance to socialize in your own language for a bit each month, you enjoy the shared pop culture background of having played D&D, et cetera) are very strong glue, and they'd better be, because the game-play itself is barely adequate even as a cover activity. I suggest that if the very same game-play were occurring among a group less strongly held together by personal and extrinsic factors, then well, it'd probably not have sustained the continuation of the group as such.

Again, I don't think you can discount the "out" that everyone but me had that this was not the only or major source of some of what you talk about in the paragraph. But I think that even strengthens what you are saying.

Now, I am a bit suprised that you are suprised that we continued play for two and half years. I thought this was par for the course for 99% of gamers out there. But to continue the analogy, here is the kidney punch:

We tried with this "party" at least two more times.

The second one used the same party. Again signifcant DM work, I took the Isle of Dread and customized for Eberron, including detailing up all the drow (I can eloborate more on this, but these ain't your FF type that have typified elsewhere, in fact they felt as fresh as when they first appreared in FF). This ended in a TPK. So we stopped and regrouped and switched GMs (and that was when Dennis, Pete, Gene said I was like their arrentino GM). But In essence this was a new game. The sword was "handwaved away" but the villan in the first one appeared in the second, sort-of, he was always off screen. There was a lot of fun stuff in Sharn, etc. I can eloborate if needed.

Third had new characters but in Eberron continum still. This attempt was, screw this encounter key crap in the DMG, lets go back to the dungeon. So I take Ages of Worms and try to start them off at the entrance, which kind of worked. But we lose track and Paladin ends up killing the Deputy of the town, etc. etc. eventually we give up. I find out Pete hates puzzles and dungeons?

OK - hopefully this answered some questions and can lead us forward into addressing the issue you first brought up, that I quoted at the top. Becuase this got long, to put back into perpective, simply, at the macro 98+% level I agree with everything you said. I am very interested in talking more about incoherence in terms of how to identify and fix it, or in terms of how to set up so it doesn't happen. Again, if the post seems defensive, I can avoid the extra clarifications, its the nature of my job and carries over into most writing I do.



Offtopic
Quote
OK, now I have to clarify some incredibly important things, as you (Steven) are relatively new at the Forge and Dennis is brand-new, speaking of posting not reading.

- I am not saying you guys suck at role-playing and are terrible, dysfunctional morons. In fact, to the contrary, I'm a bit awed at the "spirit of persistence" at work that really values the creative effort and talent that you guys do have.

This made my day :) Thanks [/size]

p.s. crossposted with dennis


 
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2006, 07:57:04 PM »

p.p.s - Since the all important 3rd Annual Ebisu Gamers Christmas party is this weekend where the forces of Mordor will square off against those upstart hobbits, and the wife has made it clear in a very authoritative, both creatively and procedurally, that I must help in the preperation including strict division of labor of making of the cheese ball of doom, purchase of the liqour, cooking the pumpkin pie, I won't be able to post this weekend. And I don't think Dennis will either (since he will be there with bad luck dice hopefully being crushed under my heels). She has made it clear that the social contract is dependent on this fact.

Cheers Steve

 
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« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2006, 10:11:13 AM »

Steven,

You don't have to use the terminology with your group to get on the same page with regard to Creative Agenda. Hell, lots of people play coherently without ever having heard of CA or the Big Model. We didn't invent this stuff; we just named it. ;)

Are you saying, however, that you never talked as players about whether the group preferred to kick ass and take names in a DM vs. Players sorta way or if it preferred a game where the DM would put the players (through their characters) in tough positions and make the consequence of every choice hurt, or at least say something cool? Or maybe someone wanted to explore the Eberron world and really stay true to the setting material, as filtered through the lens of the group. That's all, more or less, Creative Agenda, just spoken in everyday terms. (And, grant that it takes a lot more language to say "Narrativism" or "Gamism" or "Simulationism" in everyday terms.)


As I see it, the "Murk" in your games is the "Why are we doing all this anyway?" that seems to be floating around the heads of all the players, including you. It ended up defaulting to a "well, let's wander around Eberron and kill stuff" without really clicking in any major way for anyone. Gene was interested in the setting only as far as it got him bonuses for his character, and I'll bet he would have been overjoyed by a series of difficult tactical encounters that let him show off his rules mastery (Gam). Dennis was more interested in the setting and I'll bet, with a little push in the right direction and the right group, he'd have really enjoyed digging into the guts of Eberron and seeing what made it tick (Sim). Or perhaps he cared about that setting detail only as far as it gave his character social context that could get him into really interesting role-playing conundrums and showing what he the player cared about (Nar). With his yearning for high-level characters at start, the Paladin character with little connection to the world, wanting to use his buff Diplomacy skill to "win" the encounter quickly and being annoyed when it turned to a tactically senseless combat (yet enjoying the combat itself once it got going), Pete might be angling towards a Gamist CA but who knows -- I have no idea if his distaste for dungeons and puzzles is a "tell" or not. Really, we can only guess at CA with this little knowledge.

In any case, I don't think the Murk had anything to do with IIEE or any other low-level procedures and techniques. The huge umbra of incoherence overshadowed any concerns at that level.

If you all agreed on the answer to "Why are we doing all this anyway?" and you were able to carry through and achieve those goals, then I suspect the fourth game, and the fifth, and the sixth would have happened.

I, too, admire your tenacity and I'm glad you're all having fun! Maybe we can help make it an even better experience for you all.
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Steven Stewart
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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2006, 06:23:01 PM »

Adam,

Thanks for clearing that up, I think I understand Ron's point 3 a lot better now, and bascially what I think you are saying is that there needs to be some discussion before the game about "whats the point of all this?" or at the very least if it looks like we are getting deeper in the murk, pause and ask that question.

Cheers,

Steve
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« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2006, 08:55:10 PM »

I don't speak for Ron, for sure, and if I've misrepresented something he said I'm sure he'll clear that up. But, yeah, you don't have to have explicit conversations about this stuff, but once you realize everyone is heading in totally different directions, it's a good idea to share a compass. And, really, why not have a short conversation before starting into the woods?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Steven Stewart
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2006, 06:04:26 PM »

I am still confused about incoherence in some way (at least as it applies to this particular game). Adam's post helped somewhat for murk, but I am still confused about CA. In his note he mentions individual CA, while in Ron’s it mentions that a CA couldn't be formed because of the reward cycle and incoherence. Again the big point that I am looking for is how to set-up a game, and facilitate play to create a coherent game.

I think our next game after Eberron (D20 Aliens game) might have some good examples of a game that started in a direction that perhaps could have been coherent and then went down a different path.

Here is the problem for me, how do you take the things that people are excited about and weave them into a coherent CA? It seems really damn hard from my perspective for this particular DnD group, but easy for my Polaris Group (which I think is something closer to a Sim agenda than a Nar agenda after 4-5 sessions and some folks becoming vetrans). Is that an impossible goal for DND or for this group? Or is it that you just try, cross your fingers and hope this time it will be different?

But before going into the Aliens game, I wanted to check if we are done with the Eberron game and check my understanding of the above. I got the impression that Ron wanted to talk a bit more about the story and SIS from his three point post, and then I went off on some wild ass tanget screwing that up. Is better to shift the discussion to the Aliens game? Or get back on track to the Eberron game with the points mentioned above.

Cheers for now,

Steve
----------

As aside, not to detract from the above, but just to mention, the three-fold what do players want in the 3rd Paragraph of Adam’s post seems a bit pigeon holed or forced to me and definitely off-target for Gene. The players at this point definitely didn’t think in those terms, and since the play comes from them, I don’t think it can be said, hey that is what they really wanted, they just didn’t know it.  So while I can agree to majority of Adam’s post upon further reflection, I can’t take on board most of the third paragraph (sorry man, not trying to be rude, just saying how I see right now). It might have been more useful if I had said what they thought was exciting and what they wanted to do. 

That doesn’t mean that I don’t buy into the three exclusive categories though, I just think you can’t say that someone sits down at the table and says I want to be one of these three exclusively. It is more like “oh man I want to be a shapechanging cool and smooth talking rogue” or “I am excited about the pulp adventures of Eberron I hope this adventure has some of that in it”.  I think you can say that as play emerges that if it is coherent then one of the three emerges. At least that is where my understanding is now. So the real question is how do you take what people come to the table with and create play that generates enough coherency that allows one of the three CA to appear?  I can elaborate on what I think what the players brought to the table if that is important.
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