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Author Topic: Running survivalist scenes in a Sorcerer ("N") gam  (Read 3979 times)
Andy Kitkowski
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« on: April 21, 2003, 06:16:39 PM »

Hey all- had a quick question, which may help me develop some quick mechanics or new modes of play for sorcerer.

In most of the games of Sorcerer I've run lately (with different crowds), I've begun this pulp adventure the same way: The PCs already know each other, they are travelling together. To get a taste of the "harshness" of the environment, I have them notice a sandstorm coming their way, forcing them to make shelter or be choked to death.

In other (Simulationist) games, it's easy to roleplay the action off of "Survival" skill rolls (like in Exalted: Intelligence-Survival, Stamina-Survival, etc) and the like, or if someone's "Lore" (past) has survival elements to it.

Anyway, in many of the games I run there's definitely a "Man vs Nature" element to it, like the above, and I really want to make the players feel that struggle in a very narrativist sense.

On one hand I can throw dice and play off of the dice rolls (or fudge it), giving out bonus dice if the characters really put details into their survival preparations.  On the other hand, I could just narrate the entire scene with them, hitting them with parts of pre-written speech that summarizes the harshness of the environment without relying on the dice and the like... but both methods, I feel, are leaving something out... I don't know quite what, though... that could make such encounters better in a Narrativist sense.

In many games, I figure you just gloss over the environmental struggle ("The sandstorm comes: It's hard, but you persevere, and in 30 minutes it's over" or "It takes you 3 days, but you manage to walk through the open desert to an oasis").  I want a little more.

So say you had an Environmental Challenge. Nature vs Characters. Here's a few ideas:
* Characters are stranded in the desert with no water, and have to find their way to safety (which you've designated is three days away in whichever direction the characters head).
* Characters are stranded in the forest in winter, and a snowstorm approaches.
* Characters have to swim a long distance
* etc

How would you run these kinds of survival/man vs nature scenarios taking into acount:
1) You want the characters to feel it: You don't want to just pass over the encounter with a one-sentence remark.
2) You want the encounter to be more than a series of dice rolls.
3) You want the encounter to be more than you relaying what happens to the characters without any interaction.
4) You want to include a little G or S in there, so it's not just entirely you and characters swapping stories.

Any ideas?  May be a tall order.  I'm thinking of this specifically for a Sorcerer adventure I'm fond of running, but any "Narrativist" game will do for the example here.

-Andy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2003, 06:54:15 PM »

Hi Andy,

Bad news for you, dude - your English teachers lied to you. "Man vs. Nature" is not a conflict. No, not even in a story like "To Build a Fire."

It's all about conflict and Kickers. Did your players provide you with a Kicker that said, "We're caught in a sandstorm"? And that's supposed to be the life-changing, never-before-imagined moment that provides the protagonist with maximal attention from everyone at the table?

I don't think so. The only ways that could happen are if the sandstorm were the catalyst for incredible, crucial conflicts to arise among the members of the group, if it represented the effort (and not just the same old effort) of an enemy, or if it provides a circumstances in which the limitations of the protagonists are suddenly - and shockingly - made clear to them.

None of which is represented by presenting a threat in full knowledge of the skills and abilities that they "have to roll" to "defeat" it - and in full knowledge that they fucking well will, or there won't be further role-playing tonight. That's not Narrativist play. Can't be. If you're going to put their survival in doubt, (a) put it in bloody doubt, and (b) the situation needs to bring issues like those in the above paragraph directly into the central attention of everyone at the table.

In my opinion, all those games in which you used this technique successfully, by presenting this scene, you made it clear that such issues were not important. Playing Sorcerer is about making such issues more important than they or you have ever dreamed.

One final point - twice, in your post, you intimate that Narrativist play is about narration freedom (i.e. no dice, lots of talking, just saying what happens). This is not the case. Sorcerer play - and Hero Wars/Quest, and Orkworld, and The Riddle of Steel, and many others - is specifically about working with the constraints of the dice in such a way that "fudging" is completely and utterly disallowed. No fudging. No ignoring the dice in favor of talking. The dice talk, and they matter, far more than they matter in games like Call of Cthulhu or Legend of the Five Rings.

Best,
Ron
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2003, 07:25:50 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
It's all about conflict and Kickers... None of which is represented by presenting a threat in full knowledge of the skills and abilities that they "have to roll" to "defeat" it - and in full knowledge that they fucking well will, or there won't be further role-playing tonight. That's not Narrativist play. Can't be. If you're going to put their survival in doubt, (a) put it in bloody doubt, and (b) the situation needs to bring issues like those in the above paragraph directly into the central attention of everyone at the table.


Ahhh, good point. The only way that survival can really be used well in the narrativist sense is if it's at the heart of the play. In other words, getting stuck in a sandstorm is no more relevant to N play as eating at a local diner. Only if you were doing a roleplaying session of, say, the movie Alive, where such play is the heart of the game...
...but then, I'm not interested in such a game anyway, so it's useless to continue here.

Quote
One final point - twice, in your post, you intimate that Narrativist play is about narration freedom (i.e. no dice, lots of talking, just saying what happens).


Ahhh. I did, didn't I? Especially on that last point ("Some G or S, not just swapping stories..."), I think I was just kinda smoking crack, forgetting to distinguish "n"arration and "N"arrativist for a sec.

Hmmm. Yeah, I've probably been going about this the wrong way, then.  The above survival scenes were like "stage setters". Maybe even simulationist encounters to get the players into the feel of the setting, just as a lavish marketplace/banquet scene would.

Maybe if the characters decided to fight a foe who lived on the other side of a desert or impenetrable wasteland, and had to get there (with the knowledge that they may not make it), it would turn into a narrativist struggle... But yeah, there's nothing more deep with my previous encounters than there are with the flavor-battle: "4 weak guards pick a fight with you" sorts of encounters...

Thanks!
Andy, rethinking...
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2003, 08:07:07 PM »

Hey Andy,

Stick with it man.  Your sandstorm doesn't have to be the absolute center of play, but it should certainly illuminate that central struggle somehow.  Just remember how Bangs work - high impact situations where choices must be made.  And remember that "survive or die" isn't much of a choice.

- Scott
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talysman
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2003, 10:04:32 PM »

if I felt the need for a sandstorm scene in Sorcerer, I would expect it to be something like:

 - one of the kickers specifies a sorcerous enemy... and the sandstorm is a demonic attack.

 - one of the kickers specifies an urgent need to get to a specific location by a specific time or something bad will happen; the sandstorm is an obstacle.

so the important rolls -- the ones that matter to the narrative -- would be something more like:

 -  Lore roll to sense the truly demonic and personal nature of a sandstorm attack.
 - rolls to avoid getting lost (risking missing a kicker-specified deadline).
 - "combat" rolls to see if the characters take a penalty or two; no death, just a temptation to rest up or use sorcerous healing, or ignore the injury and face danger at a disadvantage.
 - sorcery rolls. whether the storm is natural or demonic, summoning a demon to deal with the problem is a Humanity risk. do they risk it?
 - other Humanity rolls. if they are trapped in a cave by the sandstorm with no food (or need a sacrifice for a ritual,) what do the characters decide to do?
 - rolls related to demonic interactions. does the sandstorm interfere with meeting their bound demons' needs?
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2003, 08:20:28 AM »

Quote from: hardcoremoose
Your sandstorm doesn't have to be the absolute center of play, but it should certainly illuminate that central struggle somehow.  Just remember how Bangs work - high impact situations where choices must be made...


Good points Scott, Talysman...

Thing is, yeah, upon reflection I was pretty much going about it the wrong way- It was more like a "how do I throw in Simulationist episodes that people will enjoy into an otherwise Narrativist game". A topic I'm still interested in, but will probably ask elsewhere (or do some rethinking of why I had them in the first place). Yeah, the above scenario was just a flavor scene. Y'know, like the first group of mooks in a Feng Shui game, or your kobold raiding party in D&D... just background/flavor text that characters happen to interact with.

What I'm probably looking for, if I REALLY want to include some environmental effect in a narrativist game, would somehow involve one or more of the characters' kickers, backgrounds, or reasons that they're doing what they do: Classic example is crossing a desert either to make it to the "boss"'s fort (he's the Great Evil of the land, all the characters in the party have him in their background in the "Shit List" column, etc), or to run away from the "boss" and hide, surviving like an animal for a while (with a real question of "will the character survive"), with the idea, if the character makes it, that they will push on and struggle to accomplish whatever it was that led them to make that choice to cross the desert in the first place.

EDIT: Here, I'm thinking Leto II from Children of Dune (sandstorm), the characters in that Coldfire Trilogy, "When True Night Falls" (the one where they cross that nightmare landscape: 2 of the main characters almost die, one of them does die, all in an effort to find and defeat the area's Big Evil). I guess this kind of thing is what I should be aiming for if I want a meaningful encounter involving nature in a narrativist game: Something that impacts the characters in a way more profound than Shaving or Drinking or Taking a Whiz. :)

Anything else is flavor text: Marketplace. Tavern. Fight with non-threatening lessers. Sandstorm.

-Andy
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Nev the Deranged
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2003, 04:38:13 PM »

A sandstorm is a highly dramatic tool, when put to the use of defining the characters, their motivations (nothing like a life or death struggle with an impersonal force to bring out the icky Truth hidden behind the pleasantries), and relationships.  

 I am reminded of the sorcerous sandstorm from the Mummy, and can't recall if it served the above narrativist purposes or not...

 There may not be any truth to the Man vs Nature conflict, but as I said above, there's nothing like a little heinous Nature to make the Man vs Man or Man vs Self conflicts a LOT more interesting.  How many movies have been made on this theme?
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