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Narrative Sharing

Started by Emily Care, August 06, 2001, 08:09:00 PM

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Emily Care

In the discussion of PC/NPC bonding Le Jouer mentioned the possibiity of the GM sharing narrative power with the players in order to involve them more in interaction with NPC's.  

This is a mode of play that I have found profoundly satisfying.  The campaign I am currently a part of (which will be 2 years old in October) is an Ars Magica campaign with 3 players and 3 GM's.  :smile: We call this co-gming.

Authorial power is shared equally, although we have each staked out different territory:places, characters, and plot that we each know more about than anyone else, and over whom we have basically final say.  We ran a long segment where I was the solo gm for a journey and return, but outside of that, adjudication and story flow fluidly from hand to hand.  

The concept of "Sharing Narrative" seems a very useful place to start. Co-gming is a long way from traditional role-play.  At least at the face of things.

In fact, most players have a significant amount of narrative power. That is what makes RPG fun.  

Has the dividing line between GM and player already been discussed at length and their seperate powers and venues clearly delineated in discussion here or elsewhere?  Off the cuff, the GM seems given power over world and setting that is denied players, and the GM is required to play multiple characters, unlike most players.  

The GM creates (or shares a world that is created by others) with the players who are allowed limited powers in it, essentially based on their single or multiple characters' abilities.  I hope I'm expressing this clearly.  

The players have world building and additional charater generating power as it pertains to their character and their history. Often but not always, if you make up a background character, it is then surrendered to the GM to play, giving them the narrative power of that character.  

It seems likely that in order for these powers to be shared more some attitudes would need adjustment.  In order for the play to be enjoyable, a player would need to be able to move step back from their primary PC.  Everyone would need to be able to:

Play multiple characters

Firewall information between characters

Shift easily among the diferent Stances (Author, audience, etc) and hold multiple stances simultaneously

Commit to upholding the Worlds' integrity  

Value Narrative/Dramatic goals as appropriate to the (spoken or unspoken) Contract of Play

Broaden appreciation and understanding of character motivation from acquiring wealth and power

Have a goal of play mutual interest and satisfaction, rather than simply vicarious gratification of desires

Hmmm...I've ranged pretty far.  

What experiences do people have with sharing narrative?

How could you incorporate it into your play?

What do you think it would bring to your games?

I highly recommend it :smile:

Yours in discovery,

Emiy Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Emily Care

Just to clarify, in our co-gm'd game there are _some_ areas that each of us is the only one who knows what is going on, but the majority of characters, plot and world building are played, written and created collectively. And aside from one long arc that was mostly solo-gm'd, we each hold gm power simultaneously and interspersed throughout a session.  

I'll be happy to talk more about it if there is interest in the specifics.

I invite others to do the same. :smile:  

Emily Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Uncle Dark


There is interest in the specifics.

For myself, I ran (lead authored?  Edited-in-chief?) a Champions game in which we adaptred the troupe play concepts from Ars Magica (evereybody created a 250 point hero, a 100 point hero, and three 25 point normals- the normals going into a common pool anyone could play) and instituted a rotating GM system.  Everybody took a turn GMing.

I created the basics of the setting, and we went with it.

Almost no one created all the required characters.  Mostly, this meant that only a couple of us contributed the required normals.  Which worked out okay, as they were universally ignored.

The rotating GM setup worked much better.  It brought in several styles of play, allowing a variety that would not otherwise have been seen.  However, it did make it hard to run an overall story arc.

Note that this happened before I'd heard of GNS or any of you wonderful people who have taught me so much.

Reality is what you can get away with.

Emily Care

Hi Uncle Dark!

Rotating GM's is another great way to spread it out.  People have such different styles of gming, that would add complexity and texture to the game.

Did you switch at crucial plot points? Or was there a time limit?

Too bad the normals got ignored. It sounds like a not uncommon phenonema.  Since they can't do magic, they seem less interesting to players.  Normals have incredible potential for making play more interesting.  And if all the characters in play are treated as characters, not window dressing, the fabric of the game is given complexity.

Ars Magica is especially well adapted to incorporating more characters into play. Since play is centered around the covenant, wizard's keep, you will obviously be bumping into the same characters again and again.  Giving many opportunities to build up a history and allow them to engage with the PC's.  

How did it go for you to ignore the mundanes?  They have such impact on the games I've played, I'm bemused by thinking of not knowing what they are up to.  :smile:  No offense intended, of course.

***More details about our co-gming:

We started the game with our three primary PC's: three young mages interested in founding a covenant who met at a Grand Tribunal (order-wide mage's convention) and who travelled off together to do so.  Nobody ran the session where we came up with the idea. We were driving home from a trip we'd taken together, and my character (I found) had killed a dragon for her masterwork to become a mage, and had some of the hoard stashed away.  She offered that to start up the covenant.

Meg and Vincent each thought of a mage (I want to say "found a mage" which is how it feels, but probably wouldn't make much sense to some) who would be interested in this and we made a trio.

Still no gm.  The three of us had done collective world building for a prior game, and we were all very familiar with the Ars Magica mileu, so it was very natural for us to simply speak in character move the plot along.

We asked eachother: who will GM?  We came to concensus that no one needed to. We could continue the way we started.  Founding the covenant was a convenient hook for the plot, and since we would be going into new territory, we could all make up characters, world and plot as we felt moved.  

So we did.  Basically, if there is a plot you start, unless you invite others into conspiracy about it, or it overlaps with someone else's characters, area of the world or plot lines, then you get to be the keeper of that Plot and GM as you will.  

Day to day, we follow the characters around and much of the plot has come from interaction between the primary characters and the rest. We just recently finished up the large plot line I was responsble for--the trip to get the dragon gold.  Which was assisted by an NPC of mine who took us on a short cut through Faery.  As I said in my first post, I solo-gm'd that adventure.  This was new territory for me.  I'd never run a long arc or campaign before. Alone anyway.

Often if there is a situation (combat, exploration, etc.) that two of the players are involved in, then the third player takes GM responsibility.  They either play NPC's or tell us adjudicate. We're pretty flexible about even adjudication, as time has gone on, we have encouraged eachother to play out what we think happens, if we know.

Basically, what we go with is if people feel like they know what is happening, then they get to say. The other two have power to veto, but generally it doesn't come to that.  More often clarification is asked for. And everyone continues to have the right to give their input into decisions, events, character actions.

There seem to be many different ways that characters are held in our game:

--The primary play characters, our 3 initial mages, are only ever played by their original player and it would be a breach of ettiquette to play them for another.

--There are many non-mage and one mage character who are and have been played by more than one of us.  The Mage who is played this way is primarily under the care of the player who created him, Meg, but is also played by and his reactions are often determined by Vincent.

--I have what we call an NPC. She would be considered a secondary PC in most games. She is the Faery mage who helped us get the gold.  I consider her an NPC because I have explicitly allowed story needs to dictate her actions (I have a specific, in story way I've allowed myself to do that, but that's another story).  And nobody plays her but me.

--There are other characters who are only played by one of us who are figures in the local community: the local Duke, the blacksmith, the local Faery nobility, etc.  

I guess that GM's often enjoy and feel comfortable playing many characters, so when you get three GM's playing together, the number of characters who get played rather than just existing in the world can mushroom.

Vincent or Meg, if you're out there. Please comment.

Emily Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


Emily Care says:
QuoteBasically, what we go with is if people feel like they know what is happening, then they get to say. The other two have power to veto, but generally it doesn't come to that. More often clarification is asked for. And everyone continues to have the right to give their input into decisions, events, character actions.

I hadn't really realized it but this is at the heart of how we play.  I'd love to give an example but I can't come up with one that would be both a. sufficiently informative and b. not dull to read.  I'll keep thinking.

Meanwhile let me say that sometimes when people do things, I have very specific ideas about what might happen.  (For instance, every time anybody goes out hunting, it's very important to me that I know exactly where they go.  I have something lurking out there for the first person who finds it.)  Sometimes Meg or Emily has something specific in mind.  Occasionally, two or all three of us do, and we have to work out which happens or in what order.

But when nobody has anything in mind, usually it falls back to the acting character's player to describe what happens.  Meg's wizard casts a spell, Emily and I look at each other and shrug, and we say to Meg -- how does the spell go for you?  Sometimes we ask for more details, sometimes we don't.

I think that in that sense (per a comment of Emily's elsewhere) our game is GM-less, not GM-full.  Often, I decide myself whether my characters succeed.  (Who is a better judge of my characters' capabilities than I am?)


Emily Care

Yes, I concur with Lumpley about our play being more on the GMless side for resolution/adjudication.  However, I think we've come there through a gradual progression. When we began, if two characters were interacting, we would look to the third person to GM, or look to someone else if it was character and world. As time has gone on, we have become more and more comfortable and more interested for specific reasons in adjudicating our own resolutions ie for spells, actions etc.

And we are still GM-full where world building is concerned.  We have a phrase for it "3 times the grief".

How does this strike other people?  

What do you think your games would look like if you did this too?

Do you do some of this stuff and hadn't noticed it as such?
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


Hi all. I fully expect to be a rare and distant lurker here, but I figured I'd add my two bits from this angle of the triumvirate of GMs/players (Emily Care, Lumpley, and I)that make up our Ars Magica game.

I think the best argument for multiple GMs is relief from the pressure to handle *everything* outside of the PCs themselves. I ran a long and happy Ars Magica game, a couple of them actually, and while I liked building the world and having a whole mass of NPCs to play with and so on, there's nothign like sitting there with expectant players and thinking "What in the name of little green apples am I gonna do THIS time?"

Sometimes GMs run dry. Sometimes Pcs/players reach an objective quicker than the GM thought, and there's still hours left to play that session. Sometimes the GM's just too tired to think hard. That's when it's great to say "Ok, what's everybody doing?" and have one of your players say "Um,..Heather (hot tempered Saxon grog-in-training)just gutted Patch (good-looking scoundrel grog-in-training)." Oh boy! Great! Tell me more! As a GM, this is a fantastic plot opening which I wouldn't have done on my own for several reasons, most prominet being that the two characters belonged to the same player, and both were in that in-between place of having more ownership than an NPC but not quite a PC.

Which leads me to my second point; farming out the NPCs. By having multiple GMs, everyone shares in the work (see point one, above :smile: ) I find the NPCs to be *much* more complex, interesting and well-developed identities with multiple GMs and/or troupe style play because there's more people thinking about them.  You have less of the "and we have some NPCs" and more "The woman who runs the inn has a bad hip, and she likes sweets but not ones that stick to her teeth. She finds bad beer a professional insult and that's constantly at odds with her need for profit margin." Now, I have enough info about that inn-keep to really think of her as a person and maybe eventually find out her name, and as a co-GM, I can provide more complex play next time we're at the inn. (In fact, Emily Care and Lumpley, let's agree that she's the inn-keep at Dej?) Which brings me to my third and final point: finding characters.

Emily Care said, and I agree, that the process of *finding* characters is more applicable than the process of *creating* characters. If I try to create a character, that means I'm rolling a stack of dice (or assigning pips or whatever)and then trying to find out what sort of person might have those cold hard numbers. It usually ends up a bad fit, and not as well played.

Finding a character is much easiser, and involves (for me) a series of questions begining with What sort of setting are we gaming in? and Who wants to play in that setting? Sometimes a character leaps to mind saying "Me! Me! _I_ want to be a pizza-delivery boy who's secretly a major player in the Akashic Botherhood in this Over The Edge game!" and I say, ok, kid, tell me all about yourself, and we'll get it down on paper and play the living heck out of this here game! Sometimes it takes longer, and sometimes characters come quietly and slowly, but it works better for me.

Anyway, that's my three (as it turns out) bits.

[ This Message was edited by: Meguey on 2001-08-13 15:39 ]