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Author Topic: Obvious Choices  (Read 4677 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: December 09, 2002, 03:15:59 PM »

Okay, this discussion is broken off from Backstory Revisited

Ron pointed out that my hash-out thread seemed to really be about three seperate things at once.  So, I'll address these one at a time.  Here's number one, as Ron himself put it:

What keeps a given course of action from being "obvious" during play, when I want to commit myself as a GM to giving the players lots of options?

Here's my specific elboration:

I'm paricularly interested in the use of "classic" or "hollywood" style villains.  I'm talking about very obvious villains with very obvious E.V.I.L. (tm) plans.  Ron, your large superhero RPG background would be very helpful as in most superhero stories there's usually a pretty obvious villain with a master plan and yet most superhero stories are not solely about uncovering the villain and stopping his plan.

Same goes for a lot of Swords and Sorcery, some of which I have trouble identifying the character's Kicker in.  A good example would be Queen of the Black Coast.  Conan joins a pirate queen and has a rather intemate realtionship with her.  She's killed by some big scary black thing while conan is knocked out from a large poisonous flower.  Conan kills big scary black thing.  I have zero idea, what to prep for something that's supposed to turn out looking like this.  And the bangs?  Okay, after being knocked out I kill your grilfriend.  Choice: Seek Revenge or No Story.

In the first case, I'm specifically interested in pre-game prep of backstory and NPC motivations.  In the second I'm particularly interested in the choice of bangs during actual play.

Hope this is clear.

Jesse
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2002, 09:36:19 PM »

Quote
Okay, after being knocked out I kill your grilfriend. Choice: Seek Revenge or No Story.


A quick thought.

This is not a given.  Consider, as a counter-example, Hamlet.  Okay, your father has been killed and his murderer married your mother.  Choice:  Seek Revenge or Not?

Well, the story of Hamlet is about Hamlet's process of making this choice.  The story isn't driven by the choice; the story is about the choice.  Sure, Conan wakes up and wants revenge.  That's because he's Conan and it's in his character.  Hamlet wakes up and mopes around contemplating suicide, being uncertain as to how he should proceed.  Cugel wakes up and tries to figure out if it's worth it to him to seek revenge or not.

The answer may be obvious to you, but it may not be obvious to the character.  Even the "obvious" Bang that you suggest has many unexplored options.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2002, 09:37:34 PM »

Hi Jesse,

It strikes me that you're confounding (a) source of conflict with (b) how the resolution turns out. In role-playing terms, it's not a matter of wanting the story to turn out like Queen of the Black Coast in its entirety. We don't have the luxury of full single-person author power like Howard (or any prose author) had. The GM is the bass player, not the sole author. We provide the makings of (a), but not even (a) in its entirety.

Let's take another look at that story. The conflict is not Conan's fight with the Winged One. The conflict is that his girlfriend is a little bit nuts. She's greedy, short-sighted, and (oh, Robert, Robert ...) wanton. Once you see this as the conflict, then the story leaps into focus - all the Cthulhu-esque, setting-based stuff about the history of the winged race, blah blah, becomes window dressing. The point of the story is that Belit's love, flawed and self-destructive as her whole life is, is worth something. She cares enough to save Conan.

See, get rid of the uber-competent Nazi Conan image that's been perpetuated by all the imitators. Conan, in this story, gets his ass kicked good and proper. He is helpless and fucked. But Belit loves him, and thus the core necromancy of the story saves him. The ending? He honors her. Contrast his burning-ship gesture at the end with the devil-may-care, don't-give-a-shit psychological profile Howard provides for him earlier in the story - doesn't that strike you as a change in his personality? It should. This story is the transition between Conan as reckless thief and mercenary and Conan on the road to kingship. It and The Phoenix on the Sword are the two turning points in the nineteen-story saga.

[Fuck! No one honors Howard the way he should be. Sorry, couldn't help myself.]

Ahem. We were talking about role-playing if I'm not mistaken. So here's the deal - the GM can provide Story-Meat, and the player can provide Story-Meat, and it's Sorcerer, so the dice play their exceptionally significant role in making all the real people cope with the unexpected. All this provides (a). It happens during play!

Then (b) proceeds from (a), in terms of decisions, which is where all the Humanity stuff comes in, also during play.

So it seems to me that one of the most important tasks in solving the dilemma posed by this thread is this: present NPCs whom the players are excited about using. Also, and better, adopt the NPCs they introduce via their Kickers into the heart of the story. Realize that (a) will only develop through the synthesis of preparation and play together, not through preparation alone.

Once that's settled, then Bangs ain't nothin' but turning up the heat.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2002, 10:35:41 AM »

Seth,

I think your point is valid.  I have a tendency to second guess whatever I'm reading.  I think I'm making the mistake of thinking, this is a Conan story so, melecholy moping isn't REALLY a choice because that's not the kind of story this is.  I think to some extent that may be generalized up to: This is an action/adventure "Swords & Sorcerery" story and so melencholy moping isn't really a choice.  This just proves I need to continue to widen my exposure to the source material.

In otherwords, my brain filters out certain choices based on the nature of the story.  This is compounded in an RPG environment because my brain starts filtering out further based on what I know of my players.

So, I get all twisted up about railroading because I begin to second guess them and myself and worry that I might be 'playing' my players, so to speak.

Ron,

I think you nailed a good chunk of it.  I think I'm still seeing my job as providing conflict, openended, non-railroady conflict, but still providing it.  I think you have a point, when you say you can't plan something to turn out like Queen of the Black Coast.  Now, I always understood that I couldn't plan, say, the exact adventure.  But, I think what you're saying is that I can't even plan the ABSTRACT scenario structure.  That is, I can't just prep one NPC and hope that something interesting results from its interaction with the PC(s).  In the RPG environment you NEED mutliple NPCs which the PCs will then par down to the essential ones.

And this rolls over or rather back to my problem about "action oriented" bangs.

A lot of action scenes are only interesting because of the AFTERMATH of the action, not the actual action itself.  Continuing The Queen of the Black Coast example:

So the PC is sailing in the ocean and I've got this neat NPC pirate queen I've either preped or have sudden inspiration for and I decide now would be a good time to play her.  So, I have these pirates attack.

Now in the story this is interesting BECAUSE Conan and his traveling compaions lose but Belit is impressed with Conan's determination and so she decides to spare him and take him on as a lover.

Okay, back to the RPG version where we have several possible outcomes.

For examples, say, things DON'T go badly.  PC Conan slaughters everyone on board including Belit.  Now what?  End of story?  Does the PC just sail on by?  The bang is reduced to a random encounter, not because there wasn't POTENTIAL for something more, but because, well, that's just how it turned out.

This can be made slightly more interesting by having Belit surrender and beg for her life but if the PC chooses to kill her (HUMANITY CHECK!) then we have a momentary glimpse of character revelation but we're back in the same boat in the LARGER scheme of the scenario, a relatively insignificant encounter.

If this can be thought of my "How do I make exciting scenes meaningful?" problem I have a corrolary "How do I make meaningful scenes exciting?" problem but I'll hold off on that one until the above is addressed.

Jesse
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2002, 02:10:21 PM »

Hi Jesse,

In your example above, I'm not sure if I know what the Kicker is for that current scenario, and I'm not sure I know what Humanity is.

I'm really not sure how anyone -- in this hypothetical example, or in actual play -- can determine how the encounter might be meaningful without knowing these two things.  I might be alone in this, but I don't think one can approach such examples without these to vital elements being defined.  The Kicker and Humanity provide the frame around which all action takes place.  Without this frame, yes, all actions are just acts of violent random encounter.

So, off the top of your head, what might the PC Conan's Kicker be?  And what is does Humanity in that night's story represent?

Christopher
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jburneko
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« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2002, 02:58:13 PM »

Hello Christopher,

Good questions.  They highlight one of the reason's I'm using Queen of the Black Coast as an example.  As for Humanity I'm willing to accept the Humanity definition presented in Sorcerer & Sword which you and Ron and you and me have gone back and forth on a couple of times.

The Kicker is, in my opinion, far more interesting in this case and may be an instance of how the RPG multi-author medium and the static fiction single author medium don't overlap.

Where the written Howard story begins is with Conan fleeing some city militia men after having killed a promenent noble man or maybe after having stolen something of value.  I'm not entirely sure which.

It's entirely possible that the real Kicker, in Sorcerer terms, is Conan's capture by Belit, the pirate queen, which doesn't happen for several pages into the story.  Which wouldn't surprise me since I've noticed that feeling with Sorcerer games in general.  Sorcerer games never feel like they begin at the start of the story as an external reader or watcher would experience it.  Sorcerer games seem to start about 20 pages into the book or about 30 minutes into the movie.

Jesse
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2002, 03:22:41 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
It's entirely possible that the real Kicker, in Sorcerer terms, is Conan's capture by Belit, the pirate queen, which doesn't happen for several pages into the story.  Which wouldn't surprise me since I've noticed that feeling with Sorcerer games in general.  Sorcerer games never feel like they begin at the start of the story as an external reader or watcher would experience it.  Sorcerer games seem to start about 20 pages into the book or about 30 minutes into the movie.


Jesse, I was just about to post to this effect, but you've saved me the trouble. I think you've nailed Conan's Kicker in this particular story. I have yet to actually run a Sorcerer game, but I've incorporated a number of the ideas from Sorcerer and S&S in my games and I think you're right. The written Kickers are the first few pages of the book or the first few minutes of the movie.

In this particular story, the scenes with Conan fleeing the city and sailing down the coast are more transition from the previous story than anything else. It is likely we could successfully remove that part of the story and just begin with the pirate attack and still have a successful story. However, as Ron noted earlier, that transition also serves as a contrast to the Conan that emerges at the end of the story.
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greyorm
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2002, 06:17:32 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
Sorcerer games seem to start about 20 pages into the book or about 30 minutes into the movie.

Bingo, bango, bongo, Jesse.
I posted the same thought some time ago, though I don't specifically recall the thread (might have been in "Get to the Point")...the Kicker is the point usually about twenty minutes into the movie when you finally care enough to want to watch and see what happens, when the situation is revealed, the stakes are noted (which may grow and change as the story progresses) and the characters need to figure out what to do about the situation.

A situation you can ignore, as an option, is probably not a good Kicker...in fact, I think that's why you let the player write the Kicker: they'll pick something they're interested in dealing with or resolving, one way or another.

Though even ignoring the situation, however, could have interesting consequences immediately just on down the road.

Quote
I think I'm still seeing my job as providing conflict, openended, non-railroady conflict, but still providing it

Players provide conflict, you simply facillitate it.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2002, 10:22:16 PM »

Hi Jesse,

This seems like a good time coming, so I'm glad we're going to do this.

Two further questions for clarification:

Since I haven't read the story you're referring to, could you state the Kicker in a sentence -- just like someone would state it in prepping a session for Sorcerer.  As it stands, I'm not sure I understand the emotional significance of the choice involved for Conan when he's captured.

As for Humanity: I know you might want to take a bat to my head for this, but this too, I need clarified.  

You said, "as presented in Sorcerer & Sword."  But I worked this out with Ron on the boards, and he seemed to like my re-working of it as "Staying true to your personal code."  

Is that the one you're using?  Or another one?  Could you post it here in a consise manner -- again, as if you and I were getting ready for a game of Sorcerer?  (This will let those who don't have the supplement know what we're talking about.)

Thanks,
Christopher
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talysman
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2002, 11:11:35 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
Quote from: jburneko
Sorcerer games seem to start about 20 pages into the book or about 30 minutes into the movie.

Bingo, bango, bongo, Jesse.
I posted the same thought some time ago, though I don't specifically recall the thread (might have been in "Get to the Point")...the Kicker is the point usually about twenty minutes into the movie when you finally care enough to want to watch and see what happens, when the situation is revealed, the stakes are noted (which may grow and change as the story progresses) and the characters need to figure out what to do about the situation.


there's a reason for this. good ol' aristotle divided poetry and plays (the only literary works of fiction at the time) into three parts -- Beginning, Middle, and End. his theory has been explored and elaborated by thousands of lit critics, writers, and dramatists for millennia now. the most famous modern exponent of this dramatic form is Syd Fields, the guy whose screenwriting books are read by pretty much every scriptwriter in hollywood or burbank. in his explanation, the Beginning sets up the conflict; the transition from Beginning to Middle (the main story) is the first Plot Point; the End is the resolution of the conflict that has been explained throughout the film or episode.

thus, the Kicker is the first Plot Point, the hook of the whole conflict in the story. most of any story is Middle, so the Beginning -- the set-up -- is short; it should occur within the first 20 minutes of a 120-minute film, or the first 3-5 minutes of a half-hour television episode.

Bangs are minor plot points, stuff that occurs during the Middle. the final Bang -- the Climax -- is the last major plot point, the one that seperates the Middle from the End. the End then ties up loose ends and leaves the audience satisfied.

to get back to the original question: I think the obviousness of a course of action depends on how the Bangs (plot points) are designed. if your Bangs are just events, natural consequences of the characters and their decisions, there won't be any obvious choices in the plot, except in retrospect ("OF COURSE, given the way I portrayed Conan, things would come out the way they did...") if, however, you try to write all the Bangs ahead of time, aren't flexible during play, and assume that Bang 2 can only happen if Bang 1 goes a certain way, then you are more dependent on the "correct" solution being obvious.

I'd say avoid obviousness.
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John Laviolette
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2002, 10:06:57 AM »

Hi John,

The structure you've presented, unfortunately, doesn't help much with the question: given a Beginning, Middle, and End, when does the story as experienced begin? I think your breakdown of Kickers and Bangs is too focused on one particular answer to this question, when in reality, many answers exist.

Short stories are famous for starting practically at the end of the End, or at the beginning of the End and letting you extrapolate the final parts of the End. Most dramatic theater commences the play itself somewhere in the Middle - sometimes even at the start of the End. A lot of movies do this too, if they're following the theater-model. Other movies kick the start of the flick back before the Middle, somewhere in the Beginning ... and some few follow more of a novel-style approach, which is to begin at the start of the Beginning or even well before that, when "nothing" is happening.

Role-playing can be any of these. If we're talking about Sorcerer, exactly what a Kicker is will shift, depending on which one you want to be doing. In my demonstration scenarios, Reunion at Lincoln High and In Utero, the Kickers are clearly the signal for the beginning of the End. In my current Sorcerer & Sword game, they're kind of Middles, as each story-segment begins with an extensive player-level dialogue about where the PC is and what he or she is up to. If I were to play a more modern-day, heavy-Humanity Sorcerer game (the default form), then it would be more like the novel.

Bear in mind one other, utterly crucial point. As Christopher has pointed out, character creation in Sorcerer is three-layered: a person, a person who's become a sorcerer (morally speaking, but usually procedurally as well), and a sorcerer who has Bound a demon - and all this precedes the Kicker.

So Jesse, all this is relevant to your questions. You really shouldn't map a given short story, movie, or novel to a role-playing session or story, especially in terms of when the "audience experience" begins. There are three possible Kicker-points in The Queen of the Black Coast, depending on when "play" commences: (a) Conan arrives on the merchant ship and forcibly joins the crew, (b) he becomes Belit's lover and partner-in-piracy, and (c) Belit decides to loot the ruined city, which Conan (passively) agrees to.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2002, 10:12:37 AM »

Christopher,

Yes, I'm perfectly willing to accept Humanity, in this case, as "staying true to your personal code" as discussed here: Premise in S&Sword

As for stating the Kicker for Conan in Queen of the Black Coast I'd probably put it this way: I've just been captured by a ruthless pirate queen, and she's in love with me!

But now we're cheating.  We've moved the very scene I'm interested in from being a GM generated bang to a player generated Kicker.  So, I'm going to be cruel and switch games.

Consider, Trollbabe, where there is no player generated Kicker, and no Humanity score but falls into the same category of action/adventure story.  Trollbabe starts, as Ron puts it, "with a Trollbabe just walking along."

Okay, so Rhetta's out on her dragon boat, "just sailing along" and she's attacked by the ruthless pirate king!

Now we're back to the original problem.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2002, 11:31:52 AM »

Hi Jesse,

I still don't see the problem unless the GM has a pre-planned "next step" in mind. Which in Trollbabe is literally impossible to do. All the GM has is a list of names, the Stakes, and the player's creative commitment not to leave the story-in-progress.

So ...? What problem?

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2002, 01:38:05 PM »

Hmmm... How to put this....  This thread has narrowed down to the specific example, so I'm going to widden it up a little bit back up the "obvious" choices thing.

In the games there are two kinds of bangs I'm affraid to use because I'm affraid of the effect they will have on the game.

1) Instigating a fight scene.  Particularly as a method of introducing a previously unseen NPC or to foreshadow his presence by introducing his minions.  The more "fantastical" in nature this becomes (say, a horrible monster stalking the halls of a castle killing its inhabitence) the more leery I become.  Why?  Because the choice becomes "obvious" and things slip into D&D mode -> slaughter until you're safe.

2) Instigating a deep mystery.  This invovles the discovery of a murder, or something strange and unusual out of place, any kind of unexplainable phenomenon.  Why?  Because the choice becomes "obvious" and things slip in Call of Cthulhu mode -> go over everything in minute detail until you find out what happened here or can explain the phenomenon.

The result is that I keep everything as closely focused on upfront NPC-PC interactions as I humanly can.  Does the Sherrif side with his outlaw father or not?  Every scene and bang I introduce rigerously asks that question over and over and over again with no "frame" of mystery or phantasmagoria because the way I'm using those elements some how consistently side track the focus of the game.

The result is that my Sorcerer games and games like it (Over The Edge, Unknown Armies, etc) begin to lose their surreal, paranoid edge.  And my Sorcerer & Sword games and games like it (7th Sea, Castle Falkenstein, etc) begin to lose their steel-on-steel, blood & guts, phantasmagoric, fast paced action-adventure feel to them.  It's exhausting and a little bit disappointing.

One of two things is going on here:

1) I'm using these elements incorrectly.  Something in my choice of when I use them, or how I actually GM the details is causing this problem.  If this is the case, then THIS is what I'm asking advice on.  How does a combat or a clue present a "meaningful choice" and not just and obstacle to overcome or an arrow to follow?

2) We've actually fallen into the second question Ron proposed in my original Backstory Revisited thread.  What happens when the players refuse to emotionally commit to the content of the game?  Which, I'm not entirely convinced is what's happening here but I'm willing to entertain the idea and move on.

Thanks.

Jesse
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2002, 04:29:04 PM »

Hi Jesse,

At the risk of narrowing down the thread to specific examples again, I have to say: I'm Boggled.

If you actually have a true character, self-driven by emotional stakes, there are no obvious choices.

I'm not familiar with Trollbabe (yet), so I'll stick to Sorcerer.

Depending on the Kicker and the Humanity, there's no reason you have to fight the monster to the death.  You might capture it and use it to your own ends.  You might befriend it out of mercy.  You might cut a deal.  You might just leave the mansion.  You might trap it and leave it as a trap for someone else, or bring it to the princess you want to impress, or offer it to the gods, or take it home to show dad how tough you are and end you're Kicker.  I mean, I don't know what a PC might do within the construct of Kicker and Humanity.

Mystery: same things.  In both cases you cite, you assume there is nothing else for the PC to be concerned about but the new stimuli provided by the GM.  But this isn't the case at all.

I can only offer that if you provide the propper Humanity and limit the scope of appropriate Kickers, the "feel" of the session will play right.

I have to admit, the way we keep sliding from specific situations so we can stay vaguely anxious about undefined circumstances is beginning to worry me.

Since my entire thesis rests on the fact that specifics are in fact exactly what is requried to allay you concerns, I feel simply cut out of the conversation.  

Vaguenes is exactly what leads to anxiety.  Specific, limiting choices upfront is exactly what allow action to move forward.

I need to ask: why are you dodging specific circumstances?  Even in the Kicker of "I've just been captured by a ruthless pirate queen, and she's in love with me!" does not lead to any obvious action.  (Remember, you thought you knew what I'd do with Karl when his son returned after 20 years -- and you throw a loop in the first thirty seconds of play!"

Conan could kill her freeing himself.  Conan could seduce her and then toss her overboard while she slept.  He could use her for a while, just to get to the next town.

I think the issue here is you keep wanting to have specific scenes you know you're going to get to keep, no matter what, as a GM.  And Narrativism does not work this way.

This simple, blunt point might be the crux of the matter.  Would you be willing to accept this.  Because the truth is, you often write as if you have certain scenes you want to introduce to the players, with certain ideas of how they'll play out....  And in the games you're writing about (the Adept Press games, at least), it just doesn't work that way.

Would you be willing to give this up and simply find out what happens during the scenario while in play?

I think this has to be addressed before the conversation can continue.

Christopher
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