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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 74 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing... (split)  (Read 6752 times)
boswok
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« on: June 08, 2007, 12:25:25 PM »

I have one suggestion for your mystery subplots.  This references the characters erroneously assuming that spirits were involved.  When they began hunting down info they seemed to be showing real interest in the mystery, if not a real sense of perspective about it.

When players create their own red herrings through assumption, rather than changing your plot to suit their assumptions you can instead accomodate them to some level without altering the story.  They wanted to find a spirit?  Let them find a spirit.  There are all sorts of spirits of murder and such in the new world of darkness.  Let them do whatever they want with the spirit, capture it, bribe it, even kill it (which will draw more vengeful spirits).  Eventually, though, you could reward their misguided effort with the wisdom of the spirits, who were also curious about the mystery (who wouldn't be, at least a little) and have said spirits set the PCs on the right track.  That way you reward their efforts in researching the spirit lore and whatnot without compromising your established plot.

Of course, I suck at doing this myself; so I'm not saying it's easy to do on the fly.  Still, sometimes it's easiest and most rewarding to the game to accomodate the players' actions and use their inertia to angle them back on track.
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Reithan
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« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2007, 09:39:59 PM »

Wow, this is some serious thread necromancy. Tongue

I like your ideas though.

Letting them persue a red herring to an alternate, wrong, yet still fun and engaging scenario is a great idea. And the ability to continue to drop clues and hints as they go is great.

I have, without really realizing it, done similar in the past, but only when it was super-obvious. Now, with actually identifying this as a "tool" I think I'll use it more.

Thanks!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2007, 04:58:42 AM »

Hello,

The above posts were split today from [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing ... from last October.

The rule for the Actual Play forum is not to post to threads which are off the first three pages. If you'd like to, then begin a new thread with a link like the one I used above. The discussion continues with the explicit understanding of intervening time, and points made in other threads in the interim, and all is well. This thread is a fine extension of the previous one and now that it's split, it may go forward without stress.

Boswok, it's no big deal, as the Forge is a different place and it always takes a bit to get used to it. Please feel free to continue the dialogue and bring in examples of your own experiences.

Reithan, when someone does this, do not compound the error by replying, even if the reply is directed to you, or even if the reply is perfectly reasonable. Let me split it first and explain the rule. When you reply, you legitimize the behavior, regardless of any statement you make such as your comment about thread necromancy.

Best, Ron.

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boswok
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« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2007, 02:00:22 PM »

Sorry about that.  Honestly I wasn't expecting a reply to my reply.  I'll try to use links in the future to keep from starting any confusion.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2007, 02:10:43 PM »

Hi there,

Please, no apologies. You didn't harm anyone or screw anything up.

Let me guess a little ... when perusing a new site, people often try to fit in by joining conversations and taking an agreeable position in a low-profile way. Is that more-or-less what your posting to the original thread was? And now, well, it's a bit like being singled out and having a spotlight shined on you?

I'm hoping that you can see it's a friendly spotlight. Discussion of White Wolf games can be rather intense here, at times, and in those threads, all input about real, actual play observations and experiences are greatly valued. So! Please accept my invitation to tell us, here, about the technique you're talking about.

The slang term for it is the "moving clue." If the players are interested in, for instance, spirits, and the GM has no spirit involved but the players show no interest in his stuff, then he invents a spirit, partly so they stay engaged with what's going on, and partly to nudge them onto the track he wants them on (and is prepared for). It's interesting to me that many published RPG scenarios, particularly for AD&D2 and for White Wolf games, do not include direct instructions for doing this, but often require its use in practice.

... and yet, the moving clue is often unsuccessful in that very practice. Arguably, it is characteristically sucky, across many groups, and indeed across the decades of the hobby's existence. You say that you suck at it; I suggest that it is the sucky thing, when utililized as a patch in the way I think we're talking about. (There are games in which it is the primary mechanic, like InSpectres, but which emphatically do not suck, so that's why I specify the patch-element of the technique.)

I am genuinely interested. I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I'd really like you to report, sort of like a journalist, about a time in which you tried to utilize the technique in a real game of Mage, or perhaps another game if it's a better example, and about how it went.

Best, Ron
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boswok
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« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2007, 09:33:13 AM »

Actually, Ron, I've been lurking for a while and thought on this thread "I wonder why this hasn't been mentioned," and so reaponded.  Spotlight doesn't bother me and I have a policy against jumping to conclusions and inferring offense when on the internet.

Anyways, the jumping clue method is a horrible method of building a story.  Horrible.  However, I've found that it is useful for jarring players out of their complacency and away from a tangent that will do nothing but slow the plot by venturing into uncharted territory and put unwanted stress on the storyteller to create said territory on the spot.  To put it in allegorical terms, the plot is something like a path (hopefully not a railroad, right?) and sometimes the players branch off of the path into the woods, so the storyteller can use the moving clue as a sort of jumping plot to branch their trail back to the main path.  The only good reason to do this is to keep them from getting lost and therefore it can keep them engaged in their trail while leading directly back to the main path.  The players don't lose interest because their method of exploration is being given proper attention, but they don't wander so far off the path that the story is lost to the storyteller and the players all end up mired in a bog somewhere with no way to get back.

I will agree with you, though, that it's a flawed way of building the groundwork of the story, because all it will do is send the characters zig-zagging until their players get whiplash and slam their heads into a desk out of confusion.  The people best at utilizing the moving clue are the ones who can think on their feet as a method of getting the story back on track when it is in danger of slowing down.

Now, as to why I suck at it... that's a difficult thing to remember because I haven't played or ran any iteration of Mage in years.  However, for an example there was a game I once ran that intersected with Mage: the Ascension.  jIn it, an insane will-worker (a marauder) in Lebanon was causing horrible havoc in the desert near a battlefield between two opposed military forces.  The characters spent their first night in-game out clubbing, where they heard worried reports of the soldiers invovled and decided to find out more.  So, they got rooms in the hotel that was hosting several of the soldiers.  One came up with a feasible story for why they would need to tag along with the soldiers when they headed back near to the point of engagement with the mad mage.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the happy-go-lucky party maniac I would have assumed would be shacking up with a couple of the ladies he met the night before whilst dancing decided he genuinely liked these autocratic gentlement and wanted to get to know them, sort of become one of the boys.

I could tell the other players didn't have a lot of interest in talking to a bunch of stuffy soldiers so I began having them refer to the mage again as an example of why they were fighting, to keep their families safe from bogeymen such as this desert demon.  "Speaking of which, time to go," one said.  Voila, player tangent becomes another plot point.  Sure, they hadn't gone way, way off base, but in that limited fashion I could make it work.  If the player had decided to join up with the military and completely remove himself from the actions of the other players, I may have had to pull the group of soldiers back into the conflict somewhere near when the PCs stumbled into the mage, in the middle of him frying the combatants, but this is something I realized after plenty of retrospect and wouldn't have been likely to come up with on the spot.

So, I'd say I suck at it when it's necessary, but whether or not it sucks itself it can still be necessary in its own right.
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Reithan
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« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2007, 09:51:23 AM »

I was interested in the tool, though not if it sucks, lol, becuase my plot IS so open ended. I generally just keep track of a large list of NPCs and NPC organizations, and rather than having a set story laid out I just let the characters interact with that backdrop. I'll drop hooks here and there when they get "stuck" to nudge them back into action.

By stuck, I don't mean them not moving in the direction I want...I mean not moving at all. Like they all get back to their communal sanctum and decided to simply sit for a while and catch their breath. Doesn't seem like that's very world-of-darkness-ish, and in a way, they've all agreed that they like the frantic pace I keep them at. Sometimes though, they're just at a loss for what to do next - that's when I nudge them.

Though, that being said, even with them basically picking 99% of the plot of the game (though, I agree it is still sort-of multiple choice) they sometimes get stuck. We agreed at the start we wanted "mystery" and "intrigue". Those words don't mean a whole lot without the ability for the players to "get it wrong". If every answer they come up with to your mystery is the right answer...it's not so much a mystery anymore. If every path through possible drama works, it's hardly "intrigue" anymore.

So - what do I do when my players, in the face of one of these challenges, decide to chase, to ludicrous lengths, a red herring?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2007, 11:05:48 AM »

Hi there,

I'm seeing a couple of things to talk about.

One is the issue of "track" vs. "railroad," and I gotta say, I have come to a point where my criteria are really harsh about that. I recommend considering Bangs to be a viable technique, whereas a planned sequence of outcomes is basically not viable.

Let's say we're playing, oh, Mage, and I'm GMing, and I'm prepping. I say, "hey, it's about time, I want to have them to face Henry Coyote." Let's look at my current reasoning during prep and my reasoning during play, as opposed to how I used to do it.

How I do it now: basically, between sessions, I'm simply musing about playing Henry Coyote, as my NPC, which isn't (now) isn't much different from playing him as a PC, maybe even not different at all. It's as if you were contemplating the next session in your mind, prior to play, and saying, "H'm, I think it's about time to chase down Henry Coyote and give him what-for." So my prep as GM is ... well, surprisingly easy.

Now, during play itself, the only special bit is that I'm also framing the player-characters into scenes as well as instigating my own NPCs' actions. That's more mutualistic than it looks, and I'm only mentioning it to set up for my main point - which is that during play, when and if I bring in Henry Coyote, all pissed off and ready for a fight, is not set in my mind at any particular point. If the players all tell me what they're up to, and nothing really seems to call for a conflict of its own, then wham - in comes Henry, magic and guns blazing. Or maybe what they decide to do takes them right into Henry's path toward them anyway. Or maybe some stated goal of a player instigates some raging conflict of its own that strikes at another NPC entirely ... and in that case, either I'll bring Henry in right into the middle of that, or maybe I'll save him for later - with this decision based solely on playing Henry, in my mind, and not on any kind of scheduling or pacing logic at all.

See, that's the main difference between how I do it now and how I did it back then (say, ten-fifteen years ago). Back then, I would have decided two or three sessions before this one that "there's going to be a showdown with Coyote Henry," and in the intervening sessions, and then during the session itself, I would have worked hard to set it up and to get the players to it, in a kind of breadcrumb-ish or paced way. I would have had to nudge them. I would have had to provide enough information, but not too much. I would have taken all the responsibility for the timing and pacing upon myself, not only between sessions, but within them. If someone had gone after Henry "too early," I would have had to stop them. If they had done nothing relevant to Henry, I would have had to prompt them.

Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

It also means there's no such thing as a red herring. Why not? Because if they go after X, then it gets resolved. It may get resolved straightforwardly and without conflict. It may get resolved because X is just as interesting as Henry, and you ought to work with X then, as a GM, period. It may get resolved because Henry blasts in and demolishes X (or replaces it) as the topic. Either way, and in any case, you're not forcing them not to investigate X. If you approach it as conflict resolution, then the players know when it's resolved, and won't go into push-button-push-button mode via trying various investigative tasks over and over again.

Best, Ron
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Reithan
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« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2007, 01:14:26 PM »

Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

Honestly, no. My GM'ing is almost word-for-word the way ou described in your first example here. I write up a bunch of NPCs and Organizations that I may bring into play at any given point. Then I let the players decide what they want to do. I create the setting - they create the plot. The only thing I end up resolving plot-wise is any NPCs that are still in play. Depending on the scope of these NPCs power and how much it effects the players it may develop into a part of the plot - but in the end I purposefully do nothing to restrict their choices.

The things I do to let the players know what's going on with my "side of the table" have so far included: seeing a tv news report on an NPC's activities, getting a phonecall from the local herald, being told about something by one of their contacts, being attacked, etc.

The only plotline I've forced on them so-far was their initial game. And that was just basically a crash-course on how the game plays - since many of them hadn't played it before.

Everything else, plot-wise has been instigated by one of them getting involved with one of the NPCs or NPC groups and creating some sort of conflict. I've even had players decided to leave the city altogether and I've written up NPCs and groups on the spot to accomodate them in an area they wanted to explore.

It also means there's no such thing as a red herring. Why not? Because if they go after X, then it gets resolved. It may get resolved straightforwardly and without conflict. It may get resolved because X is just as interesting as Henry, and you ought to work with X then, as a GM, period. It may get resolved because Henry blasts in and demolishes X (or replaces it) as the topic. Either way, and in any case, you're not forcing them not to investigate X. If you approach it as conflict resolution, then the players know when it's resolved, and won't go into push-button-push-button mode via trying various investigative tasks over and over again.

With all due respect, I don't think that adequately covers my problem with "red herrings". My problem isn't that the players are running off to get involved with some other entity when I want them doing <X> - simply because, in effect, I don't care what they do. My problem is whenever the players say "I want to investigate mystery <X>." because we all initially stated that we wanted to investigate mysteries as part of the game. They (and I) wanted a game involving problem solving and investigation. So, they say "I want to investigate mystery <X>." - I come up with, or pull out my pre-made mystery for that scenario. I give them the clues and respond to their inquiries about it.

Then they all jump to some crazy illogical conclusion and spend the next 3 game sessions tracking down some NPC's nephew's ex-boyfriend's mother's college roomate. Because they think it's relevant.

But it's not.

Now, I've still tried to create some interest on these pursuits and I hope people have have fun doing them - but no matter how much fun you have on a fact-finding mission, it still hurts when you find no facts at the end of it.

I could just twist the mystery I've designed so their "red herring" is actually involved in it...but that would sort of kill the entire premise of mystery-solving, imho.

If no matter what solution you come up with will always be the right solution - no matter what thing you investigate, it always has relevant info - what's the point in even solving TRYING to solve the mystery? You can just pick something at random to investigate and boom - it'll solve itself.

I guess, I'm just trying to find a happy medium between the two.
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Falc
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« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2007, 05:28:08 AM »

HERE is an old thread (2004) about running mysteries. I don't remember everything about it, but I know I found it interesting enough to boomark directly a while ago, and when you brought up mysteries I just felt it might be worthwhile to point to it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2007, 05:49:16 AM »

Hello,

I'm really glad you bookmarked that thread and posted it now, Falc! I was trying to hunt mystery threads and could not find that one. 

Reithan, your post reads a bit as if I were accusing you of doing something wrong in your game. My criticisms are aimed at a technique, and I'm addressing the concerns boswok brought up - this isn't directed at the whole of your sessions or gaming experiences.

As I said, I went on a hunt for thread about the important side issue you've raised - mysteries:

Actual Participationism candidate
Star Wars d20: Is this Sim vs. Gamism? (as with so many threads with titles like this, the title question turns out to have nothing to do with what he really wants to know, which is all about mysteries and clues and "where do we go next" issues; the most relevant information is limited to the first page and then the thread goes into something else)
Wide angle gaming (this is more about player-kept secrets but all the points apply well)
Questions for those who've played long-running GMless games (this one ends up being about mystery-based play after you get through the first few posts)
But the one Falc linked to is actually the one I'd had in mind, but missed while hunting.

If you want to pursue that issue, then it really ought to be started up as its own thread.

For boswok, here's a relatively recent thread in which Joel describes what it's like to play once the entire notion of any "track" gets thrown out. (which is not to say that anyone makes up anything as they go along; it still relies heavily on prep and back-story)

[OTE] A paper trail to nowhere

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2007, 06:06:00 AM »

Shit! I totally forgot to put in the later threads of Joel's, without which the "Paper Trail to Nowhere" thread is totally depressing.

Here they are:

Confessional: I was an Illusionist wanker! (which gathered a couple defensive bullshit responses, but a lot of good ones too)
[OTE] Dice for the masses

Best, Ron
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boswok
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« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2007, 09:49:37 AM »

Quote
Now I don't have to do anything like that. And what I'm getting from your posts, both of you, is that you're still kinda stuck in that older way. "Session #3 - showdown with Henry." And then all this effort goes toward making it happen without making the people feel forced, or whatever. All of which means that now I'm reading this talk about "well, it sucks, but it's sometimes necessary," and all that ... with which I disagree. Suckage is suckage, and it's never necessary.

As a preface, let me first say that this is all entirely academic as I'm not regularly running games of any kind, so like any philosophical debate any theories about my actual play will be more conjecture because, unfortunately, we haven't gathered enough substantial evidence to come to any truly verifiable solutions.  That said, who knows if I'm stuck in that older way?  Maybe I am, maybe I was four years ago during my Mage example, or maybe I simply misremembered my own experience to make it suitable for an example.  Don't know.

Personally, I don't think the method I was discussing sucks... not when it's necessary.

And why would it ever be necessary?  Because the PCs are deliberately trying to follow a specific path and you as the storyteller are trying to help them but, as Reithan points out, they jump to conclusions that you can't even conceptualize as being connected to the path the PCs are trying (or claiming to at least) to walk down.

If I were running Reithan's game as a guest storyteller and the PCs tell me, first thing, "all right I want to do this crazy jump-roping shit... it's, uh, a rote to get that evil spirit that's responsible for these murders to appear to me," I'm going to be pretty floored because Reithan has explained to me that they're chasing a self-created red herring and that spirits are not responsible for the murders.

So I would improvise and have them enrage a murder spirit (with the crazy jump-roping shit, which the spirit considers vulgar for inscrutable reasons of its own) that happened to be drawn to the murders because that's what said spirit feeds upon.  The PCs then become engaged in battling the spirit.  They may capture it, destroy it, drive it away, I don't know, I'm just the ST.  Whatever.  For brevity, let's say they capture it.  It then informs them of details about the murders in return for its release.  Thus they are set back upon the path.

Just for clarity, I do think the path is necessary in this case, because spirits are not the cause of the mystery, even if I've decided for the sake of the players to make them a part of it.  Now, if the players want, they can follow the spirit angle up and go off on a completely different tangent, but if they want to look into this particular murder mystery thread that has been laid out for them, they're very likely to be on some kind of path because some crazy jump-roping shit isn't going to give them any insight into a complex series of murders, in my opinion, without me going crazy with exertion (which I want to avoid since the game is supposed to be fun for me as well, right?) in trying to bend logic to suit their seemingly random acts.

I look at it not as railroading, because they have an interest in a certain plot which is analogous to a certain area on the gameplay map, but by leaping to illogical conclusions, they're effectively leaping off the map into uncharted territory.  If they begin demanding to find answers to this particular plot while they're wandering lost, I won't be able to plausibly offer them much without pointing them back towards the plot, which is what they want to be involved in in the first place.  They can wander however they like, but they're not going to find story gold if they just follow the first random bird they see happen by when they enter the woods.

Thanks for the links, Ron, I'll get to them sooner (I hope) rather than later.

This rest is for Reithan specifically.  I think the point of mystery is to make it seem that everything is connection, not that all answers are correct.  If the players are constantly confounded by having the possibility of answers dangled before them whichever direction they have chosen to move, you're probably getting the mystery bit right.  If they're chasing a red herring, the trick isn't to give them information by dispelling the mystery and having them be right even though they jumped thousands of li to the wrong conclusions, it's to have them encounter something that makes them ask more questions and deepens their curiosity of things that are strangely related to the truth, without revealing it.  So, having them run into a spirit that might have some information (after all, any spirit that happens to randomly be related to a series of murders might equally randomly have some knowledge of the murders it's hovering near) keeps them interested, confounded and maybe, just maybe, leads them nearer to the right answers along with a boatload of other questions.

If your players are seeking answers and progressively finding more questions, you've succeeded in creating an atmosphere of mystery.  In a good mystery, I think, everything is connected; but that just makes it harder to find solid answers without getting sucked into the world of knowledge you are accumulating.

The intrigue comes from being only partially correct at any given turn.
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David Artman
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« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2007, 08:38:34 AM »

Hi, boswok;

Let me just point out some key terms you are using in your thinking/reply:
...they jump to conclusions that you can't even conceptualize as being connected to the path the PCs are trying (or claiming to at least) to walk down.

...It then informs them of details about the murders in return for its release.  Thus they are set back upon the path.

...I do think the path is necessary in this case, because spirits are not the cause of the mystery, even if I've decided for the sake of the players to make them a part of it.

...they're effectively leaping off the map into uncharted territory.

...They can wander however they like, but they're not going to find story gold if they just follow the first random bird they see happen by when they enter the woods.

...The intrigue comes from being only partially correct at any given turn.

Thanks for the links, Ron, I'll get to them sooner (I hope) rather than later.

OK, based on the flow of this thread and the way you are phrasing those points, above, I'd advise you to RUN, not walk, to this thread:
HERE is an old thread (2004) about running mysteries.

That thread... blew my mind. It introduces what amounts to a totally different way of approaching mysteries and investigations in general, in an interactive context. If you adopt abduction as your means of running such play, none of what you've said above would be coherent or meaningful.

In short--to get you juiced to go read that thread NOW, before even replying again--the GM doesn't need to know the clues at all! Seems crazy, huh? I thought so too, until I grokked the nature of the technique and the way in which it presents challenge while also empowering player creativity. I won't wax too lyrical about the technique, but it's far, far better than anything alluded to in this thread so far (I mean this with the utmost respect and support and encouragement). It might take a simple mystery or two to get your players accustomed to the technique, but I, for one, am willing to accept such a learning curve to (a) significantly reduce GM prep, (b) significantly empower player creativity, and (c) excise the boring-ass breadcrumb hunt that sucks all the allure out of games like Call of Cthulhu or Top Secret/James Bond.

Read it. Ponder it. Then do with it what you will... but I'd be surprised if you ever went back to "seed the world with clues, lead the player to the clues" style of mystery.

Hope this helps;
David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2007, 04:55:19 PM »

As testimony, that's some good stuff, David. However, let's all remember that no one has to agree in any given thread here, nor is disagreement always a signal of utter dismissal of one another.

I understand what Reithan and boswok are saying. I don't think it's right for me to say "well, when you finally see it right one day, you'll agree," or "well, you're just a dolt and don't get it," or anything like that (or for anyone to say that to me either). I know you're not saying that, but again, my point is to say that if boswok, for instance, has said his piece, then I'm saying, I get it. I see where you're coming from. And we can talk more about it with some more actual play as a basis.

Also, one thing - posting about actual play isn't about gathering evidence in a substantiating, debate sense. It's about knowing what the terms and concerns someone's posting about might be. So if you want to post about one little instance from umpty-ump years ago, that's OK, as long as it's the basis for some point or inquiry you'd like to make.

Best, Ron
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