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Emergent Techniques: Who's in Charge
Topic: Emergent Techniques: Who's in Charge (Read 6653 times)
Emergent Techniques: Who's in Charge
July 22, 2002, 01:21:46 PM »
So far, most of Scattershot's Emergent Techniques have been about handling what happens between the players and their games or within those games. It's past time to discuss what happens between the players
outside of the game
. Now, I'm not going to go into deep psychological analysis of personality dynamics and politics and relationship theories, but there
a few things that specifically relate to
how one games
Before we go much farther, I have to stress that this is entirely about what happens
the narrative. Characters in a game might have a leader, but that is not to be confused with what we'll be talking about here. There is one caveat; many times the roles and niches adopted within the game directly reflect or impact how the players 'work together.' I'm not really going to talk about the overlaps and dissonance here, except to say that when it causes a problem, it's best to separate in-game roles from those held out-of-game.
Who's in Charge?
Whenever you play, at any given point, there is usually someone 'moving things along.' Whether the Speaker is describing acts of daring-do, the gamemaster is 'cutting to the chase,' or a character is furnishing a brilliant plan, someone is 'up to' something. If you sit back and watch, you'll notice that for brief periods it will be consistently a single person. Even though they aren't the Speaker (where the action is really occurring), 'where the game goes' is pretty much at their discretion.
In Scattershot, we call this person the
. Not only does the
give the game some direction, they also might nudge it onto a specific course. If the Speaker's swashbuckling is a part of 'the plan,' if the gamemaster is 'getting to the good stuff'
someone's 'next big scene,' and if a protagonist is acting out 'the master plan,' they are all supporting the
. It's more complicated than 'who is doing stuff,' but more like 'whose idea was this anyhow?' One thing most often overlooked is a certain amount of 'ownership' of this practice. If you're 'calling the shots,' you'd better not alienate the other players. There is a secondary responsibility for the
to keep things engaging enough for each person playing and not simply 'hijacking' play.
This role traditionally went to the gamemaster, but considering the long-term deleterious effect this can have on player initiative, engagement, or even momentum, I don't think that it's healthy in strict reserve. When initiative runs counter to 'following the leader,' if play goes somewhere you're not interested in, and when the plan bogs down in details not really connected to play, the gamemaster-as-leader has 'dropped the ball.' I've always felt that having to maintain the logistics of the game (as traditional gamemasters do),
to the responsibilities of being 'a good
,' are very much an unbalanced form of sharing that we feel is vital to consistently good gaming.
There's no special reason why a player (even outside of their role in the narrative) couldn't assume the mantel of
; it's their actions that move the significant portions of the narrative forward, after all. When a player calls for a scene, it serves their goals and they become the
even if their persona never enters into that scene.
When a persona 'needs something' from the narrative, often their player will become the de facto
of the events surround that occurrence. Usually when someone suggests something 'really cool' that could happen in the game, it is problematic for the gamemaster to help it happen; far better to have them provide the
needed to bring it to fruition.
change hands as often as 'who the speaker is' does, but not usually. During
, each player rigidly takes turns being speaker; anyone who forfeits to a defensive action only gains enough 'speakership' as to 'join in conversation.' Once the forfeit has played out 'who the speaker is' returns to the player whose turn it is. And when that turn is over, 'who the speaker is' passes to the next player. On top of this, the
is usually 'the guy who got us into this.' It only makes sense that a
go, "Well, it pretty much goes without saying that we win this battle," and then the group will just 'tidy up' the details of the scene and move on; it doesn't always have to be the gamemaster (unless 'he started it').
doesn't do is
what happens (at least not like a micro-manager would). They may give it a direction 'to consider' though. Think of the narrative 'space' as a bubble; without a
it just sits there. What a
does it apply pressure to one side, even from the inside (using their persona). Co-
are fine, but then a third-party moderator will probably be needed if conflict occurs between them. You see a
things happen, their the person who 'gets the job done.' Sometimes a little pressure is needed, but mostly it's about exercising a little effort to help a portion of the narrative 'achieve a goal.' Keeping track of the
is one way to keep play from 'getting lost.'
One of the toughest parts of being the gamemaster for any game is the fact that when
comes into question, the gamemaster must 'take over.' Whether they assume
for the situation, call for the designation of a new
, or simply invoke conflict-resolution, it becomes their responsibility
if absolutely no one else does
. That's part of being the 'ultimate facilitator' for the game. With a title like 'gamemaster,' you would expect that at the least. Mind you, I think that rational adults can always see such a solution in these situations whether player or otherwise, but sometimes the emotional engagement╣ of play can rob one of their reason. So this is one of those times where it becomes necessary to say, when it comes to
, "anyone can, if not, gamemaster must." Be careful not to allow this to become the most common situation however; that can lead to nasty conflict of interest issues regarding 'where play is going' (as mentioned above).
Now just because 'anyone can do it,' doesn't mean that everyone
. Far from it, in most social groups there will be 'natural
.' The point of this technique is to make sure that nobody 'hogs the game.' How you determine who should lead, how often, and how balanced it should be, really depends on how your group relates
. No amount of role-playing game advice can really tell you how to play once you get to the table; all that can be said is that you should stay away from the 'dictatorial model' so commonly practiced in the earliest of role-playing games.
One thing also important to mention is that, while this Technique sounds terribly deliberate, the actual practice should almost never is. Once you get used to sharing
, it will become almost second nature to let it switch around constantly and frequently. The 'Who's in Charge' Technique just spells out what to call all these practices, giving you a critical language to 'figure out what went wrong' when something does. Self-selection is an important factor in practice, so there won't be times where people keep declaring, "Okay, I'm the
for this next part."
I also want to take a moment and mention some of the most common
types I've seen in role-playing games.
can be like a commander or a director. They know what they want and they call the shots.[/list:u]
is one who often puts the priorities of others in the forefront. A 'what do you want to do know'
is one example, but so is one where they put another player's persona's characterization into the spotlight.[/list:u]
is one who follows things as they naturally progress 'jumping in' only when necessary to 'keep it going' or to secretly 'avoid pitfalls.' Some whole schools of gamemastering suggest that a gamemaster should always lead in either passive or 'hooded' fashion; too much 'hooded'
almost always leads to the sense of disempowerment amongst the other players and should be avoided.[/list:u]
If logistics are your problem, than an organizer
is probably your solution. They keep all the details in check and often focus play on the most crucial of the 'irons in the fire.' When taking advantage of an organizer
often, it can help to keep the Genre Expectations of Sequence in mind or pacing is likely to suffer (an interest will be lost when
of the 'irons' is all that 'hot').[/list:u]
Sometimes a Moderating Influence
Whenever you get people together, doing something that has rules (or Mechanix or Techniques or guidelines or whatever), sooner or later they're going to disagree about them. Basically, there are four ways to work this out.
[list=1][*]They quit playing with hard feelings; probably not the healthiest solution.
[*]They figure it out on their own. (You know, you don't need a system to do
[*]If there's a 'system' to satisfy it, invoke and use it. A lot of games have in-game task resolution (and sometimes conflict resolution) systems, but what can be needed here is an out-of-game
conflict resolution system.
I'll go into Scattershot's Technique for
conflict resolution in a different Emergent Technique later on when it's ready. To be too brief; contenders bid Experience Dice against each other, the winner gets their way, the loser gets those Experience Dice.[/list:u]
While this can be used to satisfy mechanical interpretation questions, we don't recommend it. If you're having strictly a 'nuts and bolts' Mechanix problem, we suggest you...
[*]Call the referee. When it really only comes down to a Mechanix question, you can designate a 'rules monkey' who can be looked to as the final arbiter of how to interpret the Mechanix.[/list:o]
I know the tradition is to have the gamemaster do this, but in certain circumstances this causes problems. Even a gamemaster can become emotionally╣ attached to something and leaving them as the sole arbiter of the Mechanix invites them to make bad decisions during situations of conflict of interest.
In gaming, objectivity is only an illusion; it's actually about fairness. Fairness is often mistaken for
'spotlight time;' it isn't. Fairness in gaming is about the
of equal opportunity to
the game. You can't expect the gamemaster to be 'the sole objective party.' A gamemaster's interest in their own game creates a conflict of interest; technically you can't be objective when you hold
of the cards. The sensation of 'being railroaded' comes from the revelation of this conflict of interest, no matter how the situation is settled.
All of this is why we suggest that, for each game, at least
people (or a minimum of 20% of participants, whichever is greater) be designated
. Only one is designated the 'final authority' that the group should feel has the best grasp on the Mechanix (or Techniques) and is most reliably objective (and just in case the
disagree) and the rest are for those situations when anyone feels that the primary
is either unavailable or may have a conflict of interest (meaning something in their proprietorship clearly benefits by one of the possible rulings). More
can easily be had, in fact the ideal situation is that all members of the group are prepared to serve as
. (That way conflicting parties can settle on a
of choice as arbiter.)
Some will cry that in cases of mechanical controversy things should be decided not objectively but in favor of their Approach to gaming. If you go that route, then the Mechanix become something that cannot be depended upon (and pretty much useless in my opinion). It may take a little getting used to, but in Scattershot the Mechanix are meant to be used as written without invoking the aged 'golden rule of gaming;' "if a rule gets in your way, ignore it." Once the whole group gets used to letting the rules be final arbiter,
methods may become the practice of choice to support their Approach. The design goal of Scattershot was to
support every Approach. It's only a matter of getting used to doing things a little differently; nothing is actually 'taken away' by letting the Mechanix (and the
) have ultimate authority (after all, they cover so little).
Naturally there will be times when it becomes apparent that a
is of less skill or different 'vision' than the group chooses. Face it; sometimes you just happen to have a bad referee. Now with
you can always appeal to the 'final authority,' but with
it doesn't work that way. (And what do you do when you question the 'final authority?)
There are basically two ways to handle this using Scattershot (more social contract based ways are preferable, but if you must bend to rules...), either you reach a quorum to make the change (see below) or you invoke the player conflict resolution Technique (to be explained separately later). Such a 'coup de tat' can actually be healthy for a group provided that it is done openly and with good intention. Many games slow shift both their focus and direction over time and how the group handles it should shift too. Restrictions on
will only suppress these natural shifts in Approach and practice causing play to grow 'stale.'
Getting by with a Little Help from My Friends
One of the most frequently unmentioned roles 'played' in gaming is that of
. Certainly the gamemaster is meant to be the major facilitator and frequently the biggest
of play, but here's a secret;
everyone does it
When one person is
a scene and having a grand time of it with everyone engaged (though not necessarily active), most of the rest of the group are
them. Being a good
is a lot like being a good sport. You don't do things to disrupt what others are doing, you pay attention, you're polite, you know: 'the whole bit'. Good gamesmanship begins with knowing how to be a good
Just like there are active and passive forms of
, there are also the same for
. 'Pitching in,' is probably the most familiar, but so is knowing 'when to stop' (switching back to the role of
). When you see a need you 'jump in' and fill it, whether it's as a bit character or relevant atmospheric description, filling in the 'gaps' is prime area of
. An active
is a facilitator in fine degree; they actively seek out 'rough spots' and do what they can to 'smooth them over.' Likewise, a good
knows when it's time to become the
When playing in an exceptionally Gamemasterful sharing game, being a
becomes almost identical to the gamemaster's role of 'facilitator of play.' In fact, when thus practiced, the gamemaster
' too. Ultimately (and especially when playing more with Self-Sovereign sharing), if no one else is actively being a
, "anyone can, if not, gamemaster must."
What's Wrong with You?
A lot of play sessions break down when people get into
without a goal. I know it sounds a little strange, but if you're going to engage in group-level
, make sure you have a clear
with a stated goal. Otherwise the
will likely meander about, touching off 'tender feelings' all around, never really amounting to anything.
Certainly anyone can raise an issue and yet be unable to articulate a goal; that would be the time for a
who 'pursue' the problem. I find that 'the interview' is good for ferreting out 'what ails ya.' Once that's found, it becomes the goal and the
can result in effective
. Now, I'm not saying that 'shooting the breeze' (
for its own sake) is a bad thing; go ahead, socialize, gaming
a social gathering. The problem is when aimless
becomes the point of a session; that's bad.
Anything Worth Doing, is Worth Doing Well
Now what do you suppose one does with the results of effective
? They become the
to their gaming. Not every addition to a game is necessarily
, but when there's a need, don't be afraid to make a few changes. (Heck, that's almost the whole point with Transition, but I'll get to that
later in another Emergent Technique.)
is like pulling out an engine and replacing it. Many are small and, at times, nothing more than a shift in how things are interpreted. The way the group uses the Mechanix, what the current Critical Juncture Threshold is, which way to 'lean' the Transition; these are all relatively minor-seeming changes. If too many of them pass without your notice you might find yourself
playing a completely different game
than you thought.
This is why Scattershot requires a quorum before any
that a group wants, are made. (A quorum is "a gathering of members of an organization large enough to transact business;" you'll probably want to decide how many that is with everyone present early on in a game.) This way few are 'left behind' and no one feels that unilateral decisions are made affecting their game (everyone shares ownership after all) in their absence. It's also important to achieve a quorum openly and probably during
for the same reason.
The Secret's in the Mix
The real trick is bringing these all together. There are lots of problems having a group play together on something they share, and these five roles are meant to equip people with the terminology to discuss what they want, need, or have problems with. If you spend too much time thinking about or applying this Technique, it's likely you may have larger problems, outside the scope of Scattershot, with your gaming group. Our advice: talk it out with them.
Scattershot, problems most often occur when more than one person wants to be
, going in different directions, at the same time. This is why sometimes you want to stop and explicitly decide who the
is. More often than not,
won't even be an issue, but when things go roughly we suggest that first you determine who is the
and before looking at "what's up."
Another problem occurs when everyone tries to be a
at the same time. This tends to cause play to go nowhere at all. When everyone is a cheerleader or everyone is a pundit,
nobody's playing the game
is often useless. The same is true when everyone wants to
but no one thinks to
. So if you think you are caught up in a situation where the
is meandering or the
are achieving nothing, simply state you want to know "what's the point?" or "who's the
?" If know one answers, it's time to take a break and find a new
And let's not forget
, certainly having a
to chart the course through them is important, but a quorum is needed to avoid 'losing anyone.' The same is true for
, if you don't have a quorum on who's doing it or how it's being done, it usually leads to trouble.
Ultimately though, we hope you never use any of this. Why? These are included primarily to help you clarify your thinking
when problems occur
. We don't wish anyone problems, but we will keep coming up with ways you can identify and address them (we hope).
Fang Langford is the creator of
Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic
. Please stop by and help!
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