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Author Topic: A demoralising day  (Read 36798 times)
hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« Reply #60 on: April 24, 2003, 03:02:36 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
The reason this is so important is that there is nothing, absolutely no way, to design a game or develop a play or gamemaster style that will change this fact.  What I thought went without saying was that we aren't talking about these people.

I'm sorry Hyphz, if your players insist on playing dysfunctional, no style, mine included, will make play enjoyable for anyone else.


I agree with that.  But there's a side issue here.  Thing is, an awful lot of the stuff I've seen on The Forge is about identifying what the players want, whether that's using GNS or other things.  However, sometimes, what the players want is The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast.  In their perception, what they want is to be the main protagonists in a story that they lead, but for it to magically turn out that the exact story they happen to choose is the one the GM prepared.

The problem there is, it's very hard to show them that it's impossible.  For a GM, it's reasonably easy because they have experience trying to deliver it and failing.  For players, though, it's just "that game didn't work" or "that GM didn't do it very well".  

Also, the fact that they want that Impossible Thing doesn't necessarily mean they play dysfunctionally.  Very often, they play Illusionism quite well, but then gripe about it afterwards or feel disappointed.  But they resist trying the 'no myth' style because giving up the idea that there is an existant world in the GM's head is a lot harder than quietly looking the other way (with a muted sigh) when the railway tracks come into view.

The reason I say this is that I've seen a few times the suggestion that people who might try to "break" the 'no myth' style just don't like it, or aren't ready for it, or similar.  But some of them try just as hard to break Illusionism, given the chance.

Quote

Ralph names two of the most prevalent of the kind you keep throwing up as examples, Cluemasters and Flaw-hounds.  The Cluemaster is convinced that buried somewhere in the voluminous campaign notes are pieces of information that, when fit together, form a picture of what is 'really' going on so they don't need to do it 'the hard way' (often claiming that they enjoy the feeling of 'solving the puzzle').  


See, I agree with the fact they're trying to piece the clues together, but I don't agree that it's "so they don't have to do it the hard way".  What they WANT is that, IF they find the solution, then that will be what the GM always intended them to do (ie, solving the puzzle WAS "the hard way"); but, if they DON'T, then the GM would likewise have predicted that they wouldn't.  Of course, this is impossible, but that doesn't stop people expecting it, especially when they've been conditioned to by RPG books!

Quote
Since this is obviously impossible, their play is automatically dysfunctional.


In the case of the Flaw-Hound definately, in the case of the Cluemaster maybe.  But, simply having impossible expectations DOESN'T automatically make their play dysfunctional; the player may simply be disappointed at not getting their expectations but amend their play style to fit with the GM's.

Quote

"Players who aren't doing anything" cause problems for any gamemaster, but the only proper cure is to say, "Why don't you do something?"  


Remember that, once these players have worked out that their expectations are not going to be met (because they are impossible) they will start to try and adapt to the GM's campaign.  That means that they'll want the GM to tell them that there's a police station in the city (for example), not because they don't realise that a typical city would have a police station, but because they want to know that it's OK with the GM for them to go to the police station.  And I'm not sure that this can be called dysfunctional play, because although the RESULT may be dysfunctional, the players' actual intent is precisely to FUNCTION within the GM's desired parameters!  If they get that map, or a list of places in the city, they know that the GM is effectively saying "I'm OK for you to go to all these places."  As far as the players are concerned, they're making it EASIER for you by asking for that map.

Now, you've said that the only solution to the players you described as dysfunctional, was to 'start over'.  What exactly does that mean you (the GM) doing or asking them to do?
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hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« Reply #61 on: April 24, 2003, 03:20:48 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes

This is a lot simpler than people are making it. I think some actual play would give everybody a better idea of how all this works. Play Universalis once, for example. Once you've done that, you can see exactly how a game's expectations can cause a player to play like you want. It would be absurd to ask for a map in Universalis.


Well, to be blunt, I'm not sure about playing Universalis because I can't understand the rulebook. ;)

Quote

Take away that expectation, and replace it with the expectation that their creativity will be rewarded, and voila! No more turtling players.


But I think jburneko nailed it on the head here.  Perhaps they don't want to play creativity.  Perhaps they want to play intelligent use of existing resources, or situational tactics, or similar.  If they want to do that, they have to have a concrete set of resources, or situation, to work from.

Quote
So I do tend to club people over their heads with their own ignorance, even if it's not their fault. So when I turn the tables on a player, it's not meant as a smackdown power wise. It's meant to teach.


The only problem is telling THEM that ;) ;)

Quote

You seem to think that the character and player are one and the same. That is, if the character has a map, that they player should also have one, or the player is not empowered.


No.  *I* understand how a player can be empowered without getting the map.  However, I know that many *players* I've encountered would not feel empowered without getting it.  "How am I supposed to work out what my character does based on this map, if I don't know what's ON the map?"

Quote
That is, if the character has a sword, and the player does not, is the player any less empowered?


Except that it's EXPECTED that combat will be somewhat abstracted, and also a sword isn't information.  You don't need a sword to describe your character doing a parry and riposte, but you DO need to know what a parry and riposte is.  

Quote
Take this further example. Player finds a little puzzle box. Now, if you have a puzzle box, you could give it to the player, and let him puzzle it out. Is it OK for you as the GM to just say to the player that the charcter has one, and must roll? Sure, who would argue that?


Fine, but many players would consider solving a puzzle by making an Intelligence roll to be overabstraction that's turning the entire game over to the dice.  "Gee, I might as well roll Intelligence to decide where I go next too, and roll Charisma to see what I decide to say to folks.  Heck, why don't you roll them and tell us what happens?"  Abstraction is seen as disempowering in the extreme, not empowering.
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Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


WWW
« Reply #62 on: April 24, 2003, 03:22:03 PM »

Quote
Now, you've said that the only solution to the players you described as dysfunctional, was to 'start over'. What exactly does that mean you (the GM) doing or asking them to do?


For starters, quit trying to guess where the GM wants them to go and just play.
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clehrich
Member

Posts: 1557


WWW
« Reply #63 on: April 24, 2003, 09:40:16 PM »

Quote from: Hyphz
Now, you've said that the only solution to the players you described as dysfunctional, was to 'start over'. What exactly does that mean you (the GM) doing or asking them to do?

Quote from: Valamir
For starters, quit trying to guess where the GM wants them to go and just play.

No, stop a second.  Let's all step back and take deep breaths.  We're starting to slide into the whole "who's dysfunctional and who isn't" thing, and that's endless and pointless.

Hyphz asks, for me, the $64,000 question.  Let me rephrase:

Assume you have players who have never played a No Myth style, and are exceedingly wary of it (it's cheating, it's fudging, etc.), but who genuinely are somewhat dissatisfied with straight Illusionist games.  You, the GM, want to get them into this new style.  Your reason?  You think they will like it, and will get into it, once they really give it a try.  You want to make your game fun for everyone, and you think they will find it so.

The problem is getting them to give it a real try.

Now the question is this:

Apart from simply describing the style, which in my experience doesn't work because either (1) they think they're already doing this, but aren't, or (2) they think it sounds like cheating/fudging/etc., what can you do to draw them toward another style?

Fang, for someone who talks a lot about sliding and shifting among styles, you seem to be proposing rigid boundaries between styles.  I don't mean you're saying that No Myth is the right style, but I do see you saying that No Myth is radically distinct from others, and as such one can only do that or not do that; no slides can occur.

I don't buy it.  And I think that there has got to be a way to encourage Drift toward a No Myth style, allowing people to get their feet wet before diving in at the deep end.

I honestly don't think Hyphz is saying that No Myth can't work for his players.  The problem is, they don't like the sound of it.  If they actually experience it, they are likely to love it --- that, anyway, is Hyphz's hope.  So how do you get them to drift?
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Chris Lehrich
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #64 on: April 25, 2003, 06:53:36 AM »

Chris, there are two easy solutions.

For one, I really don't think that Hyphz wants to try this at all. He sounds defensive and scared. In fact he seems to be fighting it tooth and nail making it much harder than it is (its a RPG for chrissake, not brain surgery). If that's the case, then he shouldn't use Fangs model. He should only use it if he is comfortable with it. As we've pointed out before, again and again, "No Myth" is just one option, and we've given advice on how to improve the Illusionist game as well.

There's really no amount of advice that we can give here that doesn't boil down to, "just do it". Given that this seems to work for everyone who genuinely tries it, I can't imagine what else to say.

Second, if there is a Magic Bullet to solving this problem, it's playing a game that doesn't allow for the players to play any other way than "No Myth". For example, SOAP, Donjon, or InSpectres (don't need to go as far as Universalis; are these other games also incomprehensible?). If they play a game like this, one of two things will occur. Either the players will suddenly "get it", or they'll make it abundantly clear that they'll never like this sort of thing.

Either way, problem solved. You then either have converts, or you know not to even attempt it.

Fang does say that going with this method whole hog is a radical change. But as his map post just above points out, it's not something that has to completely dominate play. One can transition back and forth.

But there is no method of "sliding" that I'm aware of that isn't going to take way more time than it's worth, IMO, in terms of trying to ascertain player aceptance. People talk about using such stealth methods, and I've never heard one actually work.

To speculate on what it would look like, you'd have to start expanding on the "closet" idea. That is, allow the players to make up what's in the closet, or at least see that you're winging the contents yourself. Then you'd move on to larger things like establishing the content of entire rooms this way (and what GM doesn't do this already). Then whole locations. Then NPCs. etc. Just work your way up. This would require probably several entire games to accomplish subtly. And then you'd still have no garuntee that it would work.

Which just to me argues for one hour-long session of SOAP. Much more efficient. Open communication seems to me to always be better for this than subtley. If not, then play Illusionist. That's what one form of Illusionism is, anyway; subtly doing the "No Myth" thing without telling the players that you're doing it.

I mean, if the players are that resistant, and you really, really want to change styles (and Illusionism is just no the way for you), the answer is simple. Get different players. (Cue statements about friends and these guys being the only players in all of London).

Mike

P.S. I've said this so often that if it comes up again, I'm almost certainly going to make it a standard rant.
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Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #65 on: April 25, 2003, 07:32:17 AM »

Hey Clehrich,

A ray of sunshine...

Quote from: clehrich
No, stop a second.  Let's all step back and take deep breaths.  We're starting to slide into the whole "who's dysfunctional and who isn't" thing, and that's endless and pointless.

Very well put.  I was pondering, this morning, how to say something similar.  My point was going to be map-based and background-based play are sound, rational, and working styles.  So is "Rollercoasterism" (where everyone expects the gamemaster to take the game 'for a ride.').  The dysfunction isn't in any one style or any one player; it arises in 'style clash.'  If you have a No Myth gamemaster running "Rollercoasterism" players, you've got dysfunction regardless how valid.  This is where you see the dysfunctional reactions, "They force me to do [such and so]."  You can't force someone to do what they like (well, you know what I mean).  What one person expects can seem like force to another.

But no single person has to be wrong.

And if this is the real problem here, the only solution is...

     Don't
             Play
                     Their
                             Game....



Quote from: clehrich
Assume you have players who have never played a No Myth style, and are exceedingly wary of it (it's cheating, it's fudging, etc.), but who genuinely are somewhat dissatisfied with straight Illusionist games.  You, the GM, want to get them into this new style.  Your reason?  You think they will like it, and will get into it, once they really give it a try.  You want to make your game fun for everyone, and you think they will find it so.

...I honestly don't think Hyphz is saying that No Myth can't work for his players.  The problem is, they don't like the sound of it.  If they actually experience it, they are likely to love it --- that, anyway, is Hyphz's hope.  So how do you get them to drift?

I'm not sure I've heard anything attributed to Hyphz's actual players, only theoretical ones.  I'll wait and see how he describes how he perceives their needs and desires.
Quote from: clehrich
What can you do to draw them toward another style?

Fang, for someone who talks a lot about sliding and shifting among styles, you seem to be proposing rigid boundaries between styles.  I don't mean you're saying that No Myth is the right style, but I do see you saying that No Myth is radically distinct from others, and as such one can only do that or not do that; no slides can occur.

I don't buy it.  And I think that there has got to be a way to encourage Drift toward a No Myth style, allowing people to get their feet wet before diving in at the deep end.

Well, waddaya know.

Someone finally got to the part I'm working on.  Y'see, I been toilin' away on Scattershot for some time.  I gots Mechanix.  I gots Techniques.  I even found the centralized crux of how it works (pretty close to the No Myth stuff, a form of gaming founded upon recognizing, using, and emphasizing the Complications that occur in play to cement a consistent level of pacing and engagement).  Here is where I bin doing most of my 'cutting edge work,' mon.

A looong time ago, I coined the word Transition for a type of game that not only adapts to Drift, but had mechanics to support and make that happen.  At first a lot of people talked about it, then there was a phase of 'when I see it,' and then it kinda got forgotten.  Why?  My guess is the idea is just too far 'out there.'  But I never stopped working on it.

My methods are, as always, very slow.  My direction has been this; identify major styles first (the first part is what looks like "rigid boundaries" - like settling the terminology between what's a shark and what's a ray before you start using them), then permutations (looking for overlap), and finally figure out how to ratchet between them.  All the No Myth work here has been an attempt to clarify a valid, though different, style.  I'm not sure where I put it, but I posted that you could easily play No Myth with a map; that's a derivation of No Myth that edges towards "Plotless Background-based Play."  I've felt there was some confusion over in the thread about that; some seem to see little difference between a style focused entirely on the continuous thread of the player character's lives and one focused on the continuity of the background (here's a hint, each puts the other's priority at least second).

So once I get a handle on the No Myth style (and start seeing the rational permutations), I'll need to make a collection of the major style types of dealing with gaming (and their permutations), and from this I can make my first 'style map.'  With that I can see how the 'terrain' overlaps and maybe how to ratchet between parts.  What's been tripping me up here is the insistence that 'in between' forms are being touted as impossible.  Difficult, I could grant, but out of hand impossible, I think a little more thought and discussion is needed.

But that doesn't help much here, does it?

Okay, how to slide towards No Myth?  I'm not really sure (I mean, I know what a shark is, and what most definitely isn't a shark - potentially a ray - but I don't know what Hyphz has).  Here's what I can offer as ways to 'build out' from No Myth in order to perhaps reach the point of overlap.  How to reach this point 'from the other side' is not something I can comment about until I know what that is.[list=1][*]Maps

    I'm not entirely sure why this is such a big issue here, but....  Maps can be used in No Myth provided that they are community property and included, up front as a part of the Genre Expectations.  (If you move to another place where the map doesn't cover, that's when play takes a break; only Flaw-hounds
need to press ahead at that point.  Only when the map, that part of the Genre Expectations, is prepared, can play resume.  This must be understood up front; only that way will the players be able to make an informed decision and not expect the impossible.)[/list:u]
[*]Plots

    There is some implication that the players
want to follow a plot of some kind and yet remain oblivious to it.  While normally this amounts to Railroading, Illusionism, or Participationism, that's not the approach in No Myth.  To create a plot, you must first narrow the explicit Genre Expectations down to only two or three Sequences (never one).  Which then becomes a Mystique; this is important because there should be no secrecy that there is a plot of some kind, in fact there should be the open opportunity for players to speculate what it might be (pokerface-time Mr. Gamemaster).  Take this a step farther too; keep up a strong implication that there's a plot, but not like a club to hit them, flirt about it ("Wouldn't you like to know.")  As long as they still want to know what this 'secret plot' is, No Myth is firing on all cylinders.

Exercising the plot will be markedly different than you're used to; you don't plan the who and the where, you plan the ups and downs.  You are watching how play is going to see, "Is it time for the introduction of the ultimate villain?" or "Do the character get to regroup at this point?"  Each Complication must be thought of in terms of how it impacts the order of ups and downs in the plot.  For an example of how to introduce and play out Complications (according to the comedy adventure movie Genre Expectation) see my weblog.  (In which you can see that the gamemaster is piecing together the final conflict, place, time, and et cetera, as he goes.)

The simplest advice I can give is take whatever scene you want next and mangle its details so it matches where the players are going.  As long as they have what you want for them at the end of it, it doesn't matter what it's geographic/temporal location is.[/list:u]
[*]Non-Player Characters

    Normally, No Myth non-player characters first appear as an 'archetype minus.'  That means depending on the circumstances characters find themselves in, if they need to talk to somebody, the Genre Expectations will supply who by archetype.  'Archetype minus' is a little trick where you toss in one detail with the archetype that seems contrary to what's expected.  The fighter with a glass jaw, the prostitute with a heart of gold, the idiot with a wise streak, these are all archetypes with a contrary detail (a 'minus').

    When players
go back to a non-player character they've seen before or you have need for a similar archetype (and the previous one is available), you use a previous one.  In doing so, both the player characters build up 'history' with them and you get a chance to embellish them.  The more well received such a non-player character is by the group, the more likely you'll use them as a secondary character rather than a walk-on or an extra (any non-speaking role).

What about characters like the Sheriff of Nottingham or Guy of Gisborne?  Once again these are features of the Genre Expectations.  In the Transitional No Myth game, you precreate these beings and tell the players, up front, about them.  If not before play, use these character's reputations early and frequently (or do an expository vignette introducing them without having them necessarily interact with the player characters).  The players ought to feel that 'everybody knows about them.'

The important thing to remember is that all of these are 'expendable.'  If the players are able to satisfy, mollify, or kill any of these precreated non-player characters, surely those characters' friends et alii will step in to take their place.  (This is why the Emperor showed up to replace Darth Vader as the heavy for the last film, because Luke's player decided to attempt to 'turn' Vader; this would have been unthinkable if Vader was needed for the final confrontation - hence he was 'expended.')[/list:u]
[*]Famous Locations

    Same as non-player characters; make them only before session and remember that they're all 'expendable.'[/list:u]
[*]Clues

    A lot of people are coming to the conclusion (apparently) that 'clue play' isn't possible in No Myth.  It not only is, but it is quite easy.  First thing is you have to 'come to terms' with the players over 'how much' there will be.  You don't want them wasting time when you've already given them the clues and you want them to keep looking when you have some left.  How you reach this accord?  I haven't figured that one out yet; I just know it is necessary.

    The second part is similar to non-player characters too.  You must wait to create any clues until you know what's next (that changes a lot in No Myth).  If it is a clue to 'the major Complication' (a few steps ahead), then remember to treat that as a position, not a person (it would be just 'the Czar' not 'Czar Nicholas' to allow for 'succession'); these clues may lead to the person, but if they're already dealt with, whomever 'picks up where they left off' will be the Complication.  Otherwise clues aren't specified in your head, just the information they detail.  This allows them to be 'mangled' the same way that scenes are.

    Once you have that in mind, you get ready to drop the clue.  First you must 'flirt with it;' "I dunno guys, this bedroom looks pretty suspicious."  The idea is that you tease them into thinking there is more to be found.  Since you haven't chosen what or where the clue is
specifically, you can wait for them to start looking around (or blundering forward, which is as good a time to give them a clue as when they search).  While they're doing that, you're thinking about how a clue forthcoming would wind up where they are looking.  That's right, it isn't 'under the bed,' it's wherever they look.  It isn't 'the diary,' it might be 'the muddy boots,' 'the bus ticket,' 'the matchbook,' or whatever else you might find where they're looking with an ample amount of 'cluish detail' slathered over it.

And you keep this up for only about the amount of time previously agreed upon.  If they dawdle, you can either invoke Out-of-Game social pressure ("How much longer are you guys gonna beat this dead horse?") or In-Game Complications ("You hear a noise down the hall."), just remind them of what was agreed upon.

If they get all the clues but can't figure anything out, it's 'plot device time,' not 'fudge the dice time.'  Hit them with something completely unrelated to the clues that puts them in a place that suits both where you want them (remember to mangle that) and fits all the clues you gave them (even if it wasn't where you originally thought of; that's why vague clues are better).[/list:u]
[*]Other 'Static' Elements

    By now you should have an idea how to 'leave the details for the last minute' and run based on a 'big picture' perspective.  How much is set up in advance, both specific and generally (the Genre Expectations), takes the place of 'static' elements (things that you would be overwhelmed to create on the fly).  The players know, up front, that if they want something not previously agreed upon,
it is their actions that shut down play, not yours (you're only human, you need time to 'make things work' sometimes).[/list:u]
[*]Plot Perspective

    The important thing to remember is that 'the plot' is the line to which everything is drawn.  This is not 'the plot I took from the book' but the abstracted version 'open' enough that you can mangle the next part to match where the players think they should go.  Don't get hung up on 'this is here, that is there, and these are back there;' focus on 'what Complication is next.'  It is more important in No Myth to hit the 'plot twist' at the appropriate time than it is to have that happen 'in the right place.'[/list:u][/list:o]The most important thing to remember is that where a "Plotless Background-based Game" has the gamemaster embellishing geographic locations already planned, No Myth has the gamemaster embellishing an 'order of Complications' with background and character details (kinda the reverse).  These differ based on what they hold as central, geography or pacing.  The techniques used to embellish either get really similar and that may be why there's so much confusion (and overlap).

    I hope this helps anyone who's interested in Transition (in that this is a prototype 'satellite' to 'full bore' No Myth gamemastering that can be a Drift stage between something else and No Myth).  I'm a bit tapped so I might be back far a day or two; sorry if that causes problems.

    Fang Langford
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Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #66 on: April 25, 2003, 10:11:38 AM »

Quote from: Chris, paraphrased,
How to make the transition?


A good question, Chris. Here's what worked for me. This is a recipe for transition by both the GM and the players.

The assumed starting point is that you're the GM, and you're running pre-planned plotted adventures or published modules, with some degree of illusionism. You're running a system no more rules-heavy than D20.

These are sequential steps, and play at every step should be at least as functional as when you started, so you can master each step before moving on.

Stage 1. Write Down Less

Go ahead and continue to plan your adventures as usual, in as much detail as you want, but do most of the planning in your head. Try to write down only a few critical notes, like NPC stats, names, brief outlines of key points. For the time being, keep using maps if you're used to. If you're using modules, do the same thing: read and learn the module thoroughly in advance, write down the briefest notes you can manage, and then don't use the module text during play.

If you're reading descriptive text to your players during play, you're going to have to stop that. If you are, God forbid, running modules without thoroughly learning them first, reading them "as you go," you're going to have to stop that.

The ability to describe scenes, surroundings, and situations from your imagination rather than from detailed notes is essential in all the following stages. However, everyone has weak points and your notes should be targeted to those weak points. For example, I have great difficulty remembering names or making them up on the fly, so a large part of my notes are the names of characters and places.

Running from minimal plans will force you (at first) and allow you (as you'll come to see it later) to fill in more details on the fly, while still, for the time being, sticking to your pre-planned plots.

Keep minimizing your notes until you can run a session with a few pages or a dozen index cards of key reminders.

Stage 2. Get Flexible.

Don't panic. I'm not going to tell you, "now ditch all your plans and run without them!" all in one step.

Instead, here's what you're going to do. You're going to transition from a fixed plan to a plan that can change.

To start out, keep making your plans in advance, same as before. Keep using your illusionist techniques and other GM oomph to keep your adventures on the plan, most of the time. But, be willing to change those plans when you most need to.

And, here's the tricky part, when you change your plans, make the change both thorough and limited. Thorough means don't keep anything that no longer fits. Limited means don't change things that you can keep intact.

To do this you must have the complete structure of your plan in your head. That's why step 1 was so important. All those detailed notes were like a house of brick, very hard to change on the fly without the whole thing crumbling. But in step 1 you did the Reverse Three Little Pigs Thing, and now your minimal notes and imagined plan are a house of straw. Easier to grab handfulls and move them around when you need to.

Here's an example of thorough/limited change. Suppose your planned adventure is Jack and the Beanstalk. But Jack, your player, doesn't agree to trade the cow for the magic beans.

Once upon a time, you'd have had to do something like the peddlar chases after Jack, knocks him on the head, steals the cow, and leaves him with the beans. Or he'd take the cow to market, and no one would be selling anything but beans. But once Jack has refused the first trade, any subsequent intrusion of beans into the story is going to be obvious railroading. So you have to change your plans.

Thorough change: the player has spoken on the beans thing. Forget the beans and everything that the beans imply.

But... the story is Jack and the frigging Beanstalk! Doesn't that mean you now have to change everything? Come up with an entirely different adventure, right now?

That's where Limited comes in. What role do the beans and the beanstalk actually have in the planned adventure? They provide a means of transportation to and from an alternate magical realm (in which dwells a giant, his wife, a magic harp, etc), and equally important, a means of breaking the link to prevent the giant from following Jack back to the real world (cutting down the beanstalk). If you come up with something else to substitute for that "role," you can keep the rest of your plan -- the castle, the giant, the treasures -- intact. So what else could you have besides a beanstalk?

- How about a talking fish, who in return for sparing its life transports Jack to a distant island across the sea, and when the giant tries to swim after Jack, rallies all his fish pals to create a big whirlpool that drowns the giant.

- Magic fool's gold, given to Jack by whoever he sells the cow to. When he brings the gold home, it melts into a magical pool of quicksilver that leads to and from the castle in the clouds. How can Jack then prevent the giant from coming back after him? Hmm, not sure. Maybe the players will come up with something I didn't think of.

- How about the cow itself is magic? Cows can jump over the moon, after all. Just when it's about to be sold, it tells Jack that if he spares it by not selling it, it will take him to a wondrous place where great treasure could be found.

And so forth. Some ideas will be easier to work into the planned adventure than others, and some will require different detail tweaks in other areas to fit in. But the point is that the whole plan didn't have to be changed, only a specific "slice" of it. (1) That's a thorough/limited change.

When you start this stage, you can set the bar for when a "plan change" is required pretty high, so that maybe only one or two plan changes per adventure actually occur. But as you get more accustomed to making plan changes, you can make more of them, thus becoming increasingly adaptive to your players' choices.

Here's where your lean mean running notes start proving their flexibility. The stat that was the beanstalk-toughness that was going to oppose Jack's axe can be used instead as the difficulty of sweeping the pool of quicksilver into the fireplace before the giant makes it through. An NPC that gets scrapped from one "slice" can still be useful in a different one.

The fallback plan for this stage: if you can't think of a plan change to adapt to a player's choice, then fall back on the current form of the plan you've already got. Just reach into your old illusionism bag of tricks instead.

When you've mastered this stage, you might be making enough "plan changes" that no part of your original plan (except perhaps the intro) actually gets used in its originally planned form. You'll always have a complete plan, but the entire plan will change, possibly several times over -- even though you only ever change a single "slice" at a time.

At which point you might be saying to yourself, why am I bothering to make complete plans for the entire adventure, when most of the plan changes before the players get there? Time for the next step.

A brief recap

Let's consider what the transition has looked like so far from the players' point of view. In step 1, they saw you making up more of the detail on the fly. Yeah, they can tell you're doing it. But the railroad tracks are still solidly, reassuringly in place. There's still a clue to be followed, a mysterious door to walk through, a patron to accept a mission from.

In step 2, that's still true, except that the players will start to discover that at certain points, such as when a player has a really good idea for a different way to approach something, the track has switches. If they've thought about the combinatorics of branching plots, they might wonder how it's possible that you've planned for so many different possible directions. Or they might assume that the branch points all just converge on the same place. (This is partly true and partly not. Yes, the "limited" principle of making changes means that the changed version still leads to other parts of the original plan. But there is no "sacred slice" that cannot be changed in your plan. The pool of quicksilver leads to the same castle the beanstalk would have. But the castle is just another slice; if the plan changes again, it might not contain a giant.) It's OK if they think that. The problem with choices that re-converge on planned plot points is the amount of GM-oomph that needs to be applied to make them do so. You're not actually doing that, so it's not causing problems for your players.

Stage 3. Break It Up

Now's when I'm going to tell you to stop giving the players connect-the-dot clues to the next step in the plan, right? And telling you, "here's the point where a miracle occurs and your players suddenly become "proactive," right?

Wrong. I'm going to tell you just the opposite. Instead of giving them one obvious link to "what's next," give them five. And not just five different versions of the same thing (five mysterious portals into the unknown, instead of one), but five paths that lead in completely different directions toward completely different courses of action. And not just once at the start of the adventure, but at every step along the way.

Jack's household is broke? Well, he could take his mother's cow to the market to sell it. Or he could go to the docks and sign on as a crewman for the bonus that the posters all over town are promising, and go to sea. Or he could accept the offer from the myserious old Maigian who's been stalking him recently, to help him perform some strange task in the desert. Or he could cast his late father's worn old fishing net into the Tigris and see what Allah provides. Or he could take his signet ring, a gift at his birth, out of its hidey-hole and show it to a dealer in antiquities and see what happens.

But of course, if you're providing clues leading in many different directions at every stage, then it's going to be a lot more difficult to have a complete beginning-to-end plan for the adventure. Actually, it's going to be completely impossible.

But you were ready to give up those cumbersome complete plans anyway. Instead, you're going to plan only a scene or two ahead (with even that plan being just as change-able as the plans you made in stage 2). The bulk of your preparation will be in creating a whole bunch of individual "slices" -- like characters, set pieces, ideas for villains' schemes, and interesting locations. All united by common genre expectations.

In stage 2, you had to learn to manipulate and rearrange and reuse those kind of elements in the process of making thorough/limited plan changes. You're still doing that now, you're just starting with separate disconnected "slices" instead of starting with a plan that you have to separate into slices later when you start making changes.

The hardest part of running in this phase is coming up with so many possible connections and clues. It's a pretty much constant effort to keep stuffing enticing possible courses of action into play. You have to be, yourself, very proactive in doing so. Except perhaps in the intro scenes, you can't wait until the players are at a loss for what to do next and then try to throw new leads at them. (Well, actually, you can, but it's harder.) Generally you want to feed in clues for what might come next while they're in the middle of doing what they're doing right now.

By practial necessity, most of the time you'll have only the vaguest idea of where a given clue-dot will actually lead to if the players choose it. But with a tool kit of plot slices at hand, and working within a solid framework of genre expectations, it's not too hard to work it out on the fly. You weren't expecting the player to choose the fishing option, so what should come up in the net? Hmm, well, it could be a person. How about that treasure-seeking crewman NPC you were thinking about for the sea story? Except, if he's being hauled up in a net it should be a mermaid instead of a guy. Have to change a few stats, but not most of them. And because it's a mermaid, the hidden-treasure subplot you were thinking about should be modified to take place under the sea instead of on an island... That's the way planned improv (or is it improvved planning?) works.

Your fallback plan for this stage, if you freeze up or get into what you think is an inescapable corner, is to say, "Okay, I'll have to cut this session short because I have to work out some things about the [person, place, or situation that the players have chosen to explore next]. Sorry, can't plan for everything." Have something else ready to play. Buy yourself some time. With the pressure off, you'll find a way because there's no such thing as an inescapable corner. This also has the benefit of proving to the players that they're no longer riding the rails.

Stage 4. Free At Last

It may occur to you, during stage 3, that if you can decide on the fly how to use genre-expectation slices to create the next scene to connect to a clue that you provided that a player chose, you can also decide on the fly how to use slices to create the next scene to connect to a course of action that a player chose, without your having provided the clue.

And you can.

It may occur to your players, during stage 3, that if there are five obvious ways to proceed and they all "work," then if they think of a sixth way to proceed, that will also "work."

And it will.

So, stage 4 consists of toning down the obviousness of the explicit clues, and rewarding player decisions that don't follow any explicit clue, until players see everything they explore in the game as a potential lead to a possible course of action.

That's when you get proactive players.

Meanwhile, you're doing even less anticipating of what the players might do, because their wider range of choices makes that no longer useful.

You may or may not want to stick with the pre-development of "slices" or plot-bits of any particular kind. The other choice is to use your genre awareness to invent what comes next completely on the fly. (There is a bit of a difference; use of slices usually does imply a bit of anticipating of possible later outcomes, like the possibility of "cutting down the beanstalk" in the Jack example.) Like I said, I have trouble with names and certain other aspects of NPCs on the fly, so I make them up in advance. Depending on the system or setting, it can pay to do the same with monsters, vehicles, or interior locations.

Stage 4 play is actually, I believe, easier than Stage 2 or Stage 3 play once everyone gets on that page.

At this point you've reached (or are very close to) the No-Myth play that Fang described. Note that the GM is still very much the exclusive author of the story, and the players are still playing in a fairly conventional way. The players are empowered in the sense of having unrailroaded decision-making freedom -- though perhaps not, technically, to control them as protagonists. To my knowledge, this is as close to The Impossible Thing as you can get. (And, in my opinion, it's pretty darn triple-blade close.)

You can stop there, or drift farther into Narrativism by adopting mechanics that cede some authorial power to the players. (Note that no changes in the formal mechanics of the game system were needed to get this far, but System Matters A Lot More if you want to go any father.) Your experience with story improvisation should stand you in good stead as a potential "bass player" in Narr games.

----------

This isn't the only way to make the transition. (Roads to Rome is kinda like Stage 2, but different. Intuitive Continuity is kinda like Stage 3, but different. RetCon Illusionism is kinda between Stages 2 and 3, but different.) Nor is it the only worthwhile destination for such a transition

It's possible to play, functionally and indefinitely, in Stage 2. (Call that Adaptive Illusionism, or perhaps Default Illusionism.) I'm not sure if that's true for Stage 3, which I think drifts pretty powerfully toward Stage 4. Even Stage 1 has benefits; illusionism works better when the details are more flexible and the GM is relying more on imagination.

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(1) The actual nature of such "slices" is a fascination of mine. Note that the "slice" in the Jack in the Beanstalk example is not just a "scene" or a "chapter" or the result of any other traditional way of dividing up a story into separate, chronologically contiguous segments. In fact, a "slice" is usually not chronologically contiguous within the story that contains it.

Like Fang, though less publically, I'm working on systematizing some of these techniques, based on "slices" in a way analogous to Scattershot's "complications." And I'm not sure if what I'm developing will emerge (if at all) as an actual system, or as a new kind of play aid for use with other systems.

- Walt
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Valamir
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« Reply #67 on: April 25, 2003, 10:20:58 AM »

Walt, with this post you've now officially joined Fang on my list of people who give far better GM advice than Robin's Laws.

LOTS of GM advice will advocate finding other ways to get the beans into Jack's possession so the story can continue.  Your "Thorough but Limited" advice sets all that on its ear.  The example was perfectly illuminating.  

Good stuff.  I bow to your superior GM-fu ;-)
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #68 on: April 25, 2003, 12:57:07 PM »

hyphz,

I think what's needed here is real, concrete info about what your players think is the "right" (or a good) way to solve the kinds of problems your initial post talked about.  If it's an Impossible-like Thing situation, what's THEIR solution?  They just banged their heads up against it (a "dead-end" in UA, a story-breaking charcater in M&M, whatever) - they don't need the theory, or even to agree that they're trying to do something Impossible.  They just ran into an unpleasant bit of game play, and are almost CERTAIN to have opinions about it.

Get them to talk about those opinions, and then you can figure out ways to apply some of the various possible solutions people have mentioned here.  It seems to me like you understand the theory and issues involved, but *I* sure don't have a good grip on what your players think at the most basic level, so it seems to me possible you'd get some value from checking into that are more deeply.

Gordon
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hyphz
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« Reply #69 on: April 25, 2003, 01:30:03 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes

For one, I really don't think that Hyphz wants to try this at all. He sounds defensive and scared. In fact he seems to be fighting it tooth and nail making it much harder than it is (its a RPG for chrissake, not brain surgery).


I'm sorry if I sound defensive and scared.  It's not because I'm trying to resist what you're saying.. it's just because, well, to be blunt, I'm shy, and GMing always makes me a bit nervous.  That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, any more than (insert anything which is a bit scary but you like here).  But having a plan is one of the things that greatly reduces the nerves.

Quote
Second, if there is a Magic Bullet to solving this problem, it's playing a game that doesn't allow for the players to play any other way than "No Myth". For example, SOAP, Donjon, or InSpectres (don't need to go as far as Universalis; are these other games also incomprehensible?).


Yes, I've tried those, but they go too far.  The "even the GM doesn't know what's in the dungeon/even the GM doesn't know the mystery" aspect of Donjon/InSpectres puts them off.  At least in the No Myth style that Fang seems to be describing, it isn't directly pushed onto the players to make up the plot; they just have the option of doing so.

And Universalis isn't incomprehensible because it's No Myth.  I find Universalis incomprehensible because it uses so many forward references and terms with unclear scope.

Quote

I mean, if the players are that resistant, and you really, really want to change styles (and Illusionism is just no the way for you), the answer is simple. Get different players. (Cue statements about friends and these guys being the only players in all of London).


I don't mind Illusionism as long as it works, and in both those cases it felt like it didn't.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #70 on: April 26, 2003, 09:24:34 AM »

Hyphz

The only way you're going to extend your comfort zone is by stepping beyond it, but you only need to step a little way at a time.  Walt's given you a hell of a good step-by-step, all you need to do is to decide where your comfort zone is in Walt's scheme and prep for one step beyond.

I suspect that until you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone that your going to continue having sessions go poorly.

You yourself have identified the problem and you're too interested in the solution to pretend that you don't at least want to give it a spin.
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Ian Charvill
jdagna
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« Reply #71 on: April 26, 2003, 11:25:42 AM »

Quote from: hyphz
Yes, I've tried those, but they go too far.  The "even the GM doesn't know what's in the dungeon/even the GM doesn't know the mystery" aspect of Donjon/InSpectres puts them off.  At least in the No Myth style that Fang seems to be describing, it isn't directly pushed onto the players to make up the plot; they just have the option of doing so.


You don't have to go as far as letting players "make up the plot" to incorporate most of Fang's suggestions.

For example, let's say the character are search for an item.  You script out an adventure where they get the job from a local contact, then go interview Joe, the person it was stolen from.  During that interview, they're supposed to pick up that Joe was probably a part of the theft and you expect them to rough him up.  You intend to deliver a clue that leads them to a bar, where some of the patrons are also involved in the theft and will try to do away with the PCs in a dramatic bar fight.  After the fight, they'll find the item in the back.

So... let's say the PCs don't pick up the fact that Joe was a part of it.  Uh oh, time to fudge the numbers, right?  Wrong.  Think about your plan - the characters were supposed to go to a bar and have a fight.  Without the clue they wont go to the bar, but what's to say people won't come to the players (wherever they are) and start the fight anyway?  Those people may leave a connection to the bar.

By doing this, you're still firmly in charge of the plot - only the scenery and dialogue changed.  In addition, you haven't just handed anything to the players.  Why?  Well, if they have to fight twice now (once to get the clue they missed and again at the bar), they're not exactly being rewarded for sitting around waiting for the plot to come to them.

This is just a very simple example with a very simple plot, but it may be more your speed.  It's more my speed too - games like Donjon are kind of fun, but make me feel very out of my element.  I'm happier mixing and matching features of various styles.
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Justin Dagna
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« Reply #72 on: April 26, 2003, 01:54:04 PM »

Great example Justin!  The Complication (a fight) remains the same, but the Detail (a bar and its patrons) are changed to protect the innocent.  Right in line with what I've been describing.

And Walt, man, that was beautiful.  It very much scripts how to travel from a specific style to No Myth via sustainable 'nodes' (that don't need to be abandoned if desired).  I couldn't have explained it that well.  I hope your interpretation bears some similarities to Hyphz style; I couldn't make that guess.  It's a symphony of Transition.

What I'm hoping for is some feedback on both your post and mine about 'in between' Transitional 'nodes.'  How about it Hyphz?

Fang Langford
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hyphz
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« Reply #73 on: April 27, 2003, 03:24:34 AM »

Well, about transitional modes, I was trying to think of an example of such a thing.. now, I'm not sure if this actually *counts* as an example, but if it doesn't, the fact that it doesn't will be useful to learn..

Feng Shui.  I submit that this is a 'No Myth' game as far as fights are concerned.  After all, the players are invited to make up cool things they do, and to suggest things might exist in the location even if the GM hasn't stated that they do.  You don't need a map, but you can use one if you like.

Now, these same players have played Feng Shui very well before (of course, it helps that many of them are HK movie fans) and had no problem with this aspect of combat. The reason for this is that, I think, the famous Feng Shui rule that "if there's an easy way and a hard way, doing it the hard way is no harder on the dice than doing it the easy way" actually goes both ways; it also reassures the players that "anything you can do by 'no mything', you could have achieved without it (easy way), so it's not cheating to use it."

Now, the players have balked before at InSpectres and Donjon because there, they *have* to make up the running plot as they go.  (If you roll a 6, you *have* to narrate.)  In FS, the GM is still in charge of the plot, but the details of the scenes within it (which, if you follow FS's advice, is the majority of the game anyway) is in their control in a limited fashion.

What Fang and others seems to be suggesting is a similar thing; where the players don't make up anything other than their character's actions (and possibly the odd side fact to facilitate them) but that these actions create the game world by their implications.

Now, I can understand this to some extent.  And I think that the players would, in actual honesty, not have too much trouble thinking to go to the police station or to visit similar places to that.  What gets difficult is when they have to make a leap of reasoning.. like 'working out where the killer is hiding now', or 'working out what's really going on here'.  This last one is especially essential in UA, and UA actually has setting rules that try to facilitate it (such as, Stonehenge might not have been mystical when it was built, but it is now because so many people think it is.. basically, whatever your players think has mojo, probably actually does).  

Now, the problem here is: how do you deal with this?  They can't actually solve it as a puzzle because under 'no myth' there is no real solution.  Simply not having this kind of thing in the game is quite a loss IMHO.  And it is possible that the players will work *something* out from the things you've thrown at them so far in the 'no myth', and you can then arrange that it's right - but there's likewise the possibility that they will just say it's all too hard and begin to idle.  

And that's part of my worry.  I mean, for the UA thing I've been planning, I have a basic theme, a kicker beginning and a planned end (that can be moved around and altered if necessary) but I have no idea what to put in the middle, and under 'no myth' I would have no idea of how to do it without surrendering the basic theme - and without that, the PCs aren't liable to achieve anything because they don't yet know where to look for weird stuff.
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #74 on: April 27, 2003, 10:12:06 AM »

Quote from: hyphz
Now, the players have balked before at InSpectres and Donjon because there, they *have* to make up the running plot as they go.  (If you roll a 6, you *have* to narrate.)


I think people see it as unusual=scary when in reality, it's not scary at all. Whenever someone rolls the dice, they have in mind at least ONE possible beneficial outcome (the dice do what they want) and at least ONE possible negative outcome (the dice fail them and the GM tells them what happens).* So when they roll a 4, 5 or 6 in InSpectres, it's not "okay, now make up the plot on the fly" -- not at all. Rather it's, "Okay, tell me what you wanted to happen and that's what happens." Ideally, the player will use this narrative power to do cool things but if he says, "Um, I hit?" well, that's what he wanted to have happen. Easy.

- J

* IMO, if the player doesn't have two possible outcomes in mind, then he or she shouldn't even bother rolling the dice or trying to do that thing...
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