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Author Topic: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"  (Read 5550 times)
lumpley
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« on: December 30, 2002, 02:39:17 PM »

I just finished the Art of Dramatic Writing and Egri says: you get a story when you take a strong, driven, dynamic character at a turning point, add balanced opposition, and turn everybody loose.  Because nobody can give up or back out, the conflict will necessarily escalate into a crisis, explode, and then resolve.  Since you've aimed your character at your Premise, you get a thematic statement, and since you've balanced the opposition, you get steadily rising conflict without an anticlimax.  He says that conflict and situation arise naturally and necessarily out of the right character under the pressure of the right opposition.

My actual play experiences are in line with this.  Meg and Em and I, for instance, started out with some thematically charged character-intensive sim, and we played that way for a long time.  But when we finally introduced the right opposition -- Em's character's abusive former master, and Meg's character's intended apprentice's grandmother's ghost -- we got an exciting, very fast rush of escalating conflict, crashing into a resolution between Em's character and her master, which then sparked another rush of escalation between Meg's character and the ghost and another crashing resolution.  It was hot.

But see, that means that a Narrativist game needn't depend on its resolution mechanics.  All the resolution mechanics have to do (at minimum) is foster consensus among the players, so the game happens.  It's the game's characters, including opposition, who make it happen -- and thus, potentially, the game's character creation system can do all the work.

(The resolution mechanics can too, of course.  They just needn't.)

Now no doubt I'm just behind the times, but it's come as an eye-opener to me.  Anybody who's been following my game designs has seen a lot of handwaving at create-your-character time.  When I've even bothered, I've pretty much stabbed in the dark.

So say I wanted to make a game with bare-bones resolution mechanics but really kick-ass character creation.  Any thoughts on how to get strong characters out of character creation alone?  Any reasons not to do it this way?

-Vincent
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Drew Stevens
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2002, 03:54:08 PM »

A question on your use of 'strength'.

Do you mean a strong character, as in a character that is personally powerful and capable of enforcing their will should they chose to do so?  

Or do you mean a character that is fully fleshed out, highly detailed and has an extensive history to draw on?

If the former, sure- it's only by convention that starting characters are 'weak'.  Strengtgth and weakness are purely relative to the DM's challenges and the way the world is presented.

If the later... well, I'm not so sure.  I'm really not sure if there's a character creation method that will consistantly yield highly detail characters.  I tend to only get them out of bursts of inspiration...

Or do you mean something else?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2002, 04:34:48 PM »

It sounds to me like part of character creation needs to include these conflicts you had mentioned. Possibly several conflicts so that one after another can be resolved in turn to keep the character fresh. Or maybe just one and once the conflict is resolved, the character can be retired for a new one or a new conflict can arise. Something like Central Casting might work. There can be some nice goodies in a central casting sheet, but also a whole lot of crap.
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J B Bell
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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2002, 07:35:12 PM »

I tend to agree that char. creation is a good bit of supporting Narrativist-enabling goals.  The reason games like Sorcerer work so well, though, is they take away any incentive to do anything else.  Lots of people have borrowed the Relationship Map to good effect and I think I'll always use it from now on.  That said, it is quite possible for a game's design in resolution, experience, etc. to sabotage N goals severely.  You can do N stuff on a social-contract level exclusively (hell, it's how the majority of my play has worked, playing GURPS and FUDGE), but it is of course a little more delicate then.

As to "strength," Egri means, I think, strength in the context of the premise.  So we're not necessarily talking about a person you or I might think of as "powerful"--one example Egri gives is of a man so potent in his denial and stubborn passivity that he is carried to ruin by his negative passion rather than lifting a finger to rescue himself and his family.  The strength is strength to encounter the conflict that the premise demands without backing down.

--JB
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2002, 08:29:57 PM »

Hello,

What a beautiful set of posts. I almost hate to spoil their unity by adding to the thread at all.

Ah well. Vincent, since I agree with you entirely, I suggest taking a new look at some of the principles of character creation in my essay, specifically Currency (Effectiveness, Resource, Metagame), and then consider Reward Systems that change the character over time (i.e. almost all of them). Strong stuff, eh?

I also think we're onto a new Forge dialogue trajectory. Take all the points made so far in this thread to (a) the excellent "characters as thematic bundles" issue laid out in Jon's thread about Items, (b) Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design, and (c) Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character." It all works together, for me.

Best,
Ron
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Emily Care
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2002, 07:27:41 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I also think we're onto a new Forge dialogue trajectory. Take all the points made so far in this thread to (a) the excellent "characters as thematic bundles" issue laid out in Jon's thread about Items, (b) Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design, and (c) Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character." It all works together, for me.


I love it when a plan comes together. ; ) System matters, but why does it matter? What are we trying to do with system, and aren't there other ways we can get there? Yes!

Quote from: Drew Stevens
Do you mean a strong character, as in a character that is personally powerful and capable of enforcing their will should they chose to do so?


I have not read Egri, but I take it to mean that the character is "strong" in terms of motivation, and ability to have effect in the world around them, or be in a position to affect change that leads to cascading plot.  That's why you so often see characters with supranatural abilities: they are having effect on the story/world in the most straightforward manner.  This is another explanation for why magic is so popular in rpg settings. IMO.

--Emily Care
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2002, 07:37:43 AM »

Jon's thread about Items
Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design
Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character"

I'm digesting.  Meanwhile, Drew, yes, as JB says, a strong character is one who won't back out of the conflict.  It's not personal power or detailed background, though both might contribute if they're aimed right, like.

An example: Em's character Soraya was always, sooner or later, going to stand up to her abusive master.  How it'd go, nobody knew: would he stomp her down? would she kick his ass? would they work it out and come to a mutual respect? dunno.  The important thing is that it wasn't in her to back away.

That's how balanced opposition works: Soraya acts, but Severin undermines her, so she defies him, so he threatens her, so she attacks him, so he counterattacks, up and up into crisis and resolution.  If it had been in either of them to shrug and walk away, there'd've been no story.

-Vincent

And boy, if Ron hesitates to mess up a thread by posting, do I dare?  Guess so...
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Paganini
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2003, 04:18:10 PM »

OK, post all finished! :)

Quote from: lumpley

So say I wanted to make a game with bare-bones resolution mechanics but really kick-ass character creation.  Any thoughts on how to get strong characters out of character creation alone?  Any reasons not to do it this way?


This is a very interesting topic to me because it has a big impact on my preferred style of play, even though my PSoP isn't Narrativism.

I don't know if you saw my post a while ago where I was goggling over the discovery that I'm not really a Narrativist - :) - so let me explain where I'm coming from.

At the core, I'm pretty much a Simulationist with a preference for Exploration of Situation, Character, and / or Color. I desire causality in characters. I don't care for Author stance of the "my character wouldn't  really do this, but it addresses the premise" variety. I'm not interested in group inspection of a particular global premise, or in creating a literary story. (That's not to say that I don't enjoy Narrativist games - I do. I'm versatile. It's just that Narrativism isn't my *ideal* mode of play.)

What I enjoy is experiencing drama as it is produced. Poorly realized characters do not produce good drama. As you've noted, drama arises from strong opposition.

Your post has brought my attention to a fascinating possibility:

If thematicaly strong characters are created before the game begins, causal game-play will produce dramatic results.

Meta-game prioritization of a particular premise is not necessary. Simulationist play will produce drama as long as character creation is approached with a quasi-Narrativist mindset. There's no need for a single overiding game premise, though. Each character might be uniquely charged with different oppositions, giving rise to a whole slew of conflicts and situations.

This idea is astounding me with its coolness. If there's not a game out there that does this already, I want to make one. Vincent, are you with me? :)

In a mechanical sense, I think such a system would need to quantify characters in terms of their opponents! An r-map or story-map could be very important here. Anyone think that this idea is good enough to warrant it's own thread?
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2003, 09:16:04 AM »

(Em!  We crossposted up there, and I didn't even read yours until just now.  How funny.)

Just a bit more about strong characters.

A character has to be strong in Premise terms to be a strong character.  That is, if the game's about ambition, the characters have to be ambitious to be strong.  They might be at any "power level," from puppies-level losers to Sorcerer sorcerers to Amberites, whatever.  Ambition's the only strength that really matters.

The character's opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line too, not necessarily balanced in power level.  I'm trying to think of a good example ... okay, say that Clark Kent is actually ambitious.  He's trying to impress Lois, but without revealing himself as Superman.  Their newspaper editor guy can be the balanced opposition -- he's just a normal person with no superpowers, but if he can effectively block Superman's ambition, he's perfect.

Make sense?

So Pag,
Quote from: Paganini
Meta-game prioritization of a particular premise is not necessary. Simulationist play will produce drama as long as character creation is approached with a quasi-Narrativist mindset. There's no need for a single overiding game premise, though. Each character might be uniquely charged with different oppositions, giving rise to a whole slew of conflicts and situations.

My prediction is, if this game you're describing works, it'll be because it's based on a covert underlying Premise.  That's because, to make rising, dramatic conflict, opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line.  The premise is there even if none of the players ever notices or acknowledges it.  Whatever the mechanics are that create the balanced opposition, those mechanics will determine and describe the Premise.  

And as such, it'll be a squarely Narrativist game, for all its sim resolution.  (The Pawn-heavy Narrativism you don't like is just one kind of Narrativism, of course, like Pawn-heavy Gamism or the ever-popular Pawn-heavy connect-the-metaplot-dots Simulationism.)

Other than that, heck yeah.

-Vincent

P.S.  It's like a new toy!  Isn't it cool how just that teeny Superman example implies a whole story?  I don't know how it turns out -- what does Superman's ambition lead to?  Success?  Disappointment?  Ruin?  Moral compromise?  Happy love?  Who knows!  But there's the promise of rising conflict and climax and resolution, in only just that arrangement of characters.  Woo!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2003, 09:25:07 AM »

Hi there,

Yup, Vincent's got it - Nathan, if playing a character as that character has thematic impact - and if your choices as a participant in the game give you the leeway to make that clear - then you're playing Narrativist.

I'm not sure where you get the idea that one plays a character doing "what he or she wouldn't do" in order to be in Author stance. I'd call that lousy role-playing regardless of the GNS category. (Remember, "Character" is a universal element.)

So yeah, playing Narrativist can be reeeeeal easy. Just make up a neat character, have that character be "about something," and play with other people who appreciate seeing that something come to life, one way or another, through play. The only requirement is that the details of the "come to life" part aren't known ahead of time.

Best,
Ron
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bluegargantua
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2003, 07:12:15 PM »

Quote from: lumpley

A character has to be strong in Premise terms to be a strong character.  That is, if the game's about ambition, the characters have to be ambitious to be strong.  They might be at any "power level," from puppies-level losers to Sorcerer sorcerers to Amberites, whatever.  Ambition's the only strength that really matters.

The character's opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line too, not necessarily balanced in power level.  I'm trying to think of a good example ... okay, say that Clark Kent is actually ambitious.  He's trying to impress Lois, but without revealing himself as Superman.  Their newspaper editor guy can be the balanced opposition -- he's just a normal person with no superpowers, but if he can effectively block Superman's ambition, he's perfect.


Is he effective opposition?  I mean, we're assuming that Superman is holding up to his traditional good guy motif.  If his ambition is to impress Lois Lane, there's not much that Chief Perry can do to thwart him.  The best he can do is re-assign Clark to a different beat and not team him up with Lois.  But Superman has plenty of ways to get around that -- super-speed if nothing else.  There've been dozens of comic book issues where Clark has to maintain the illusion that he's not Superman and invariably he finds a way to do it.  Heck, under the old continuity, he's got the Superman Robot who could pretty much do his job all day while Clark puts the moves on.

I suppose there doesn't necessarily have to be a direct power balance between protagonist and antagonist, but it can't be too lopsided either.  The antagoist needs to have some sort of power over whatever it is that's being used as the goal.  I guess that's why Lex Luthor is a better antagonist here, he's got a long history and he has the ability to seriously respond to Superman's actions.

I guess there's one other point to bring up here.  The idea that detailed characters in opposition creates great stories is fine but generally, such characters have a great deal of backstory.  And in most RPGs, it's the slow build-up of encounters with the antagonist over time is what creates that deep backstory and leads to the ultimate confrontation where a flurry of activity resolves the issue.  Just cutting striaght to the final showdown is exciting, but how do you get a character you really care about?  It seems to me that these sorts of events don't really happen without a lot of play time and build up.

Amber was nice in that regard because it set up antagonistic relationships right from the get go.  But I wonder how what other techniques could build up a deeply felt antagonistic relationship.  Also, is it locked into a fight to the finish, or might there be other resolutions that could be explored?

later
Tom
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2003, 07:32:54 AM »

Hi Tom,

You're making a lot of good points. I agree with you about the degree of antagonism necessary for a good story.

However, "antagonism" deserves a lot of dissection. If we're going by Egri (just for sake of discussion at the moment), then the protagonist's passions are always the touchpoint for considering anything else in the story.

Those passions can wax and wane in intensity, as well as change. Now, Egri doesn't talk much about that, because he's writing mainly about theater, in which the "evolution" of the passions has, by the middle of the first act at the latest (and sometimes even before the curtain rises), hit the most important crisis point it possibly can. Therefore an antagonist, or more accurately, anything (a person or not) that brings the protagonist's passions to the boiling point, is pretty clear-cut in this medium. I think that applies to comics for the most part as well, especially those for which "long-running" mainly means "repetitive" (seeing the same play over and over).

But if we're talking about novels, some cinema, and some RPG situations, then the changing, developing passions are part of the story, not merely its lead-in. In that case, antagonism varies greatly - an early antagonist can become an ally, a necessary mentor can become the main antagonist late in the story; and concurrently, the protagonist's passion to do X can transform into a passion for Y.

To address your concern for role-playing specifically, two things should be considered:

1) "Pregnant" relationships, rather than fixed ones ("he's my Enemy"), either established pre-play or during play. The demons in Sorcerer are my best shot at such a thing.

2) The scale and scope of the Premise at hand (and remember, this is not necessarily pre-set) is what matters, as I wrote about in Sorcerer & Sword and tried to integrate into the system itself in Trollbabe.

Best,
Ron
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Steve Dustin
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2003, 09:20:42 AM »

What a great thread.

Some thoughts I've been chewing that maybe chewable by those here, or maybe too obvious for  discussion --

What's it mean to be effective opposition to someone? I think there's a couple of things that go into this.

First, opposition is effective when set-up against a character's weak points. Using the Superman example, the newspaper editor is actually effective opposition -- the weak points that he exploits on Superman is that 1) Superman can't use his superpowers, 2) being a paladin-like good guy, he can't, in good conscience, due anything underhanded to the guy, and 3) the guy is his boss. You're gonna get a story out of this. I think the Kicker in Sorceror is a good example -- you can't resolve it immediately, and must have more then one course. To be effective, it's set-up in a weak area of the character, otherwise it would be instantly solvable.

Unfortunately, I've never really seen a game that used built-in character flaws very well. In practice, disadvantages in GURPS for example, always ended up with nonsensical characters and encouraged the worst in min-max behavior.

Second, the opposition has to re-inforce the Premise. While the newspaper editor is good opposition, is he good "Superman" opposition? While a Superman reader may handle one issue about the newspaper editor, would they follow the series if ever episode revolved around this human drama? The Premise of Superman *demands* that to make this effective Superman opposition, the newspaper editor must be either in league with crime, or a situation happen (like Lex Luthor kidnapping Lois) that sets-up Superman to either compete on Superman-like terms or turn the whole thing on its head, and have the editor help Superman rescue Lois.

So, if you made "opposition-creation" a important part of chargen, I think it needs to answer two questions: what weak points of the character are being exploited here? How can I make this situation re-inforce what got everyone interested in playing in the first place, the Premise? I think it's the second question that GURPS and HERO fall down on.

Take care,
Steve Dustin
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Paganini
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2003, 07:53:23 PM »

Quote from: lumpley

My prediction is, if this game you're describing works, it'll be because it's based on a covert underlying Premise.  That's because, to make rising, dramatic conflict, opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line.  The premise is there even if none of the players ever notices or acknowledges it.  Whatever the mechanics are that create the balanced opposition, those mechanics will determine and describe the Premise.  


I think I've explained myself poorly. I'm sitting here thinking "well, duh, of course there's premise, that was the whole point!" There's premise everywhere. Every single character can address a buttload of (completely different, even) premises by having different decisions and oppositions. The idea is that the participants don't have to prioritize addressing a premise while they're playing. The pregame act of setting up oppositions and decisions creates causes, the effects of which will necessarily be discovered during play. The players only need to make Narrativist decisions during character creation, where it's totally acceptable, even to the most hardcore of causalists. It's big! It's cool! It's awesome!

You probably knewn all about it already and took it for granted. :)

Quote

P.S.  It's like a new toy!  Isn't it cool how just that teeny Superman example implies a whole story?  I don't know how it turns out -- what does Superman's ambition lead to?  Success?  Disappointment?  Ruin?  Moral compromise?  Happy love?  Who knows!  But there's the promise of rising conflict and climax and resolution, in only just that arrangement of characters.  Woo!


Yes! It's awesome! It makes me want to write again, actually.

Note to Ron about Author Stance:

To me, in this case, it's all about whether or not your character behaves "correctly" (I.e., the way he really would). Actor stance is all about doing something in the interests of something else (that is, not what your character would do) and then retro-justifying it, or not. Whether you retro-justify (actual Author Stance)  or not (Pawn Stance) doesn't really matter to me, since the fact exists that it *needs* justifying.

Now I realize that this only holds up to a certain extent, since by playing the character you are actually defining what your character would really do (big DiP principle). OTOH, in interests of causality characters need to remain consistent with pre-established information.
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Alan
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2003, 08:52:15 PM »

Quote from: Paganini

The idea is that the participants don't have to prioritize addressing a premise while they're playing. The pregame act of setting up oppositions and decisions creates causes, the effects of which will necessarily be discovered during play. The players only need to make Narrativist decisions during character creation, where it's totally acceptable, even to the most hardcore of causalists.


I see a couple underlying assumption, which I think are misunderstandings of Ron's description of Narrativism.

First, as Ron's describes it, all GNS decisions are specifically made in play.  When an event happens in the game, the player has a choice of methods to address it.  Each time he chooses to address a narrativist theme, he's making a narrativist decision.  So one can't have narrativist play without narrativist decisions during play.

The realization that character creation can set up narrativist premise remains important, but such design will actually increase the incidence of narrativist decisions during play not eliminate them.  From the player's point of view they will grow naturally from his character design.

Second, I percieve another assumption: that narrativist decisions always require some decisions counter to what the character would do.  Is this true?  Or is your insight above that one can design a character so narrativist decisions are also in-line with the character concept?

*Author Stance*

If I understand correctly, you're saying that Author stance requires some element of going against "what the character would do."  

Keep in mind that in both Author and Actor stance, the _player_ is actually the brain making the decision.  The funning thing is that both the Actor-stance player and the Author-stance player have to make up details retroactively to explain their decision.  When asked why, the Actor-stance player says "Lhug saved the child because that's what he would do.  See, in my character background, it says he was rescued as a child."  The Author-stance says "Lhug saved the child because it let me explore the theme of innocent and protector.  I guess Lhug was once protected from raiders when he was a kid."  The only difference I see between Actor and Author stance is the motive of the _player_ - ie what reason he gives for his choice.  In both cases, it is only "what the character would do" because the player decided it was.  In both cases, consistency leads to a greater sense of verisimilitude.

Perhaps that is what you're looking to avoid: loss of verisimilitude.  Narrativist decisions, while they can be consistent with a character concept, need not be.
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- Alan

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