*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
June 19, 2019, 05:55:27 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Author Topic: Plotless but Background-based Games  (Read 20590 times)
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« on: April 22, 2003, 10:00:39 PM »

This is a split from http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6166">another thread in the "Actual Play" forum.  The essential problem which the poster was posting was his feeling that: "if they fail, then nothing happens and it's over". Even if there isn't a predefined plot, a dynamic developing plot can still be brought to a crashing halt by a failure at the wrong moment.

-------------------------------

One of my possible suggestions for this was a type of plotless world setup .  I don't have a good label for it currently, especially because of possible clashes with other styles.  The style buys in fully to the "Myth of Reality" -- as Fang Langford puts it.  During play, the GM has no pre-planned plot for where things should go.  Instead, he has a bunch of locations and a bunch of NPCs.  All of the GMs decisions are based on what should logically happen given these conditions.  I realize that this really is insufficient to describe how it really works, because it doesn't address the poster's problem of dynamic plots coming to a crashing halt.  Chris Chinn (aka Bankuei) has a new http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/collists/waystoplay.html">column at RPGnet which describes this, where he describes his conditions of "Conflict" and "Character" as his methodology.  

I view it in a slightly different way, first in terms of Scope, Power Blocks, and Relationships.  

The game should be built with an assumed Scope which the PCs are a part of.  The scope also needs to be small enough that the GM can have it adequately detailed, while still large enough to be interesting.  This could be a physical area.  For example, in my Water-Uphill game the scope was at first limited to the Palace.  I had notes on most of the characters there.  It could also be one of interest, though.  In my Worlds-in-Collision game the PCs were among maybe 80 or so superpowered beings on the planet.  Interactions among this small set of characters was clearly the focus, even though they ranged all over the planet. (Since it was modern-day Earth, this was relatively easy to handle.)

A limited Scope means that the games will tend to be more static in location, rather than adventurers constantly wandering.  This approach does not work well with adventurers-for-hire who are likely to wander off to the next country if profits aren't looking good.  You need to design in strong reasons which keep the PCs interest within the Scope.  For example, you might have a campaign based around two warring cities.  You need to detail the two cities, focussing on their military capabilities.  But this is possible.  

I generally divide the Scope into Power Blocks -- these can be formal organizations, clans, or just ideological groupings.  The Power Blocks might be as simple as the two opposings sides in a war.  But often there are more blocks than that, or sub-blocks within a side.  Basically, if you are going to keep a handle on ongoing events, you need to have some abstraction larger than individual characters.  You need to be able to generalize with things like "This PC action will piss off members of Power Block X".  I would say don't have more than five Power Blocks.

Lastly you need Relationships.  You should try to document these specifically, or at least keep them in mind.  How does each Power Block regard the others?  What are important individual relationships?  Naturally there will be conflicts in these -- but you should make sure that the conflicts are long-term ones, not the sort to easily resolve in a few sessions.  

Lastly, you want to limit catastrophic change and especially death.  Basically, you don't want a little push to bring the conflict to a head and then resolve to a dull status quo.  This applies to both PCs and NPCs.  The PCs as a whole should not constantly be in danger of dying.  Similarly, important NPCs should not frequently be killed off.  Watch out for "loose cannons" and try to set up forces initially which would keep them in line.  If change is too frequent and major then it is hard to keep a handle on what is going on.  

-----------------------------------

So how does it work?  I'll take an example from my "Water-Uphill" game.  The PCs were schoolchildren from the modern world who find themselves in a bizarre fantasy world where water literally runs uphill.  The world is rocky and has geysers where water falls in jets up into the sky.  

The Scope of the game, at least initially, was the Palace.  The Palace was a floating island -- a huge upside-down bowl of rock with a reservoir of water underneath holding it up.  It was a big place with dozens of buildings and lots of factions, so it was large enough, but the PCs had no way to leave it, which inherently prevented the scope from creeping too much.  

There were four major power blocks and three powerful independent individuals.  These were the Regent, the Duke, the Nursery, and (not important politically but important for Palace life) the servants and artisans.  The independent individuals were the princess, an unusual warrior, and a giant spider.  

For at least six sessions, their adventures were wandering about the Palace and talking to people.  Since everything was new and bizarre to both the players and the PCs, it made for a pretty good role-playing experience.  An important element was their explorations of magic, but that is too much to go into here.  It was pretty odd as far as games went, and intentionally experimental, but it worked OK.  It was never that punchy as far as pacing, but it was definitely interesting and enjoyable, I think.  

I was adding to the background as we went, and after a while they accepted an invitation from the Duke to visit his castle in an underground city.  The game trailed off shortly after that as my wife and I had a baby and one of the players moved away.  

-----------------------------------

So what is my point?  It just seems that this approach isn't much discussed at the Forge -- perhaps partly because it is a comparatively rare style (at least in pure form), and also perhaps because there is a focus on mechanics rather than background.  Mostly I wanted to toss out a description of the style and how people view it compared to their preferred styles.
Logged

- John
Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2003, 05:08:39 AM »

The only problem I've ever had running in this fashion (used to be my prefered mode) was 'players without a purpose.'  I originally thought that I could create a more dynamic background and that'd create some motivation, nope.  I tried to lean hard, but subtly, on character hooks to 'involve' them, nope.  I even tried pairing them off with 'aggressive' non-player characters, again nope.

This style is fantastic when the players 'know what they want¹,' otherwise how do you deal with player indecision and lack of motivation?  I've found that anything I do to 'get them moving' is taken as a railroading 'trick.'  What's the solution?

Further, there's this rare beast afoot where the players what to seem 'important,' where the decisions of their characters are potent and valuable (often without members of the background knowing it).  Most often I've heard the term 'protagonism' thrown around, but I don't care for it in this context.  The problem, as I see it, is that in a "plotless" game, the players' characters tend to become no more 'interesting' than any other character; what do you do about that?

Lastly, what about 'big events?'  "Plotless," don't 'big events' pretty much happen exclusive of player character presence?  I mean, if you do it any other way it gives the sensation that there's this spotlight on the players' characters and when they're not around, everything freezes.  If you avoid that, being "plotless" don't the players wind up missing 'all the good stuff?'

Just a few concerns I've had.

Fang Langford

p. s. I'm not sure, but I believe this does get a lot of 'electronic ink' around the Forge in two ways.  It sounds like the poster child for Simulationism and there's this veiled impression that it is the 'default' way to play a roleplaying game absent meta-gaming.

¹ It has been argued to me that without substantial knowledge of the background, players are at a disadvantage for motivating in a detailed, though "plotless," game.
Logged

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
lumpley
Administrator
Member
*
Posts: 3453


WWW
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2003, 06:18:30 AM »

I bet it's wicked common.  Everybody I've ever gamed with has played that way, I think.  Like Fang, it used to be my preferred style.

When it's dull, it's easy to see why: you've got characters who're maybe interesting but whatever wandering around maybe doing things but maybe not.  Dull.  

When it's exciting, (accuse me of the beeeg horseshoe but) I say it's because of unrecognized narrativism: somehow the characters got meaningful, somehow a random conflict became about something to the players.  Then zing! it's way cool.

Now John, if you ask me, your Scope, Power Blocks and Relationships, coupled with attention to your players' engagement and direction, especially, especially if you arrange it all with an eye for well-paced conflicts, are narrativism just waiting to happen.

As such:
Quote from: You
Lastly, you want to limit catastrophic change and especially death. Basically, you don't want a little push to bring the conflict to a head and then resolve to a dull status quo.

I agree absolutely with the second sentence, and I think Egri and Ron would too, but I have reservations about the first.  Limit catastrophic change, sure, but over-limiting it is a recipe for dullness.  Catastrophic change is just fine when it escalates a meaningful conflict.  Read this old post of mine here and tell me what you think; I may be overstating your position.

-Vincent
Logged
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2003, 06:24:39 AM »

You're talking about a few things that we have terms for, John.

From the thread on defining Illusionist substyles, you seem to be advocating at first a non-illusionist style that I refer to as Open Play. That is, the GM is forcing nothing to happen, but only responding as you put it "logically" to the actions of the players.

But then later you point out how you are throwing in things as background that will make the game more interesting. This is the lightest application of Force performed after the fact (that is, you only make these things up once the PCs have decided to encounter the sources for he backgrounds, as opposed to having them pre-planned). This is very similar to what GM Skarka calls Intuitive Continuity or IntCon. That is, not only are you "going with the flow" of player activity, but you're retroactively trying to make what is encountered interesting enough that the outcome of eventual play is something like a "plot".

As Fang points out, the problem with a light (or no) application of Force is that you have to rely on something else to produce plot. If the system does this for you (as in, say, Pendragon or Sorcerer), then no problem; you tend to get Simulationist or Narrativist play from this. If the players do this, either by being themselves proactively Simulationist or Narrativist, then, again, no problem. But there are players who are less proactive than others. In that case, in the absence of Force, System, or Players creating plot, you tend to get little happening at all. Even more rarely does it look at all like what anyone would call a story.

The placement of Relationships in front of the characters is another method of trying to hook players into caring about play and being proactive. Ron's Relationship Map is a similar idea; put out a web of deeply entangled people to get ensnared in.

I like that you've broached Scope. The best essay I've seen on that subject to date was in, interesingly enough, Rolemaster's Gamemaster's Law. It also discusses similar, but tangential concepts such as level of detail (do you roleplay buying weapons, or just roll for it, etc). Anyhow, I think it uses the term very much as you do, and I think it's a great topic.

Some games set the scope well up front. For example in InSpectres, you know that you're at the Franchise level, and the Franchise Dice that you have gives you an even more specific scope to deal with as well as a mechanic for changing scope. More generalist types of games leave the decision of scope as an excercise for the GM, which is often fraught with peril. If the GM doesn't consider the scope well before hand, often you get play sliding from one scope to the next and back. And that's potentially disasterous to feel. The classic example is the very small scope group that ends up in one adventure saving the world. Can they really go back to the small scope again after that? Not often.

I'm interested in how you've concretely divide up scope in terms of your Power Blocks. This seems one good way to do it, but I think there are others as well.

Good disscussion.

Mike
Logged

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.
clehrich
Member

Posts: 1557


WWW
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2003, 07:15:18 AM »

Having been in many of John's games over the years (though not the two he mentions), I find it very interesting to see how he works.  My impression is that what he's saying is not exactly what he's being taken to say, though I could be quite wrong about this.

As I understand it, John is trying to maintain focus on the setting, using various devices like Power Blocks and Relationships.  He wants the characters to explore, and help create, the setting in detail; he limits their range (Scope), so that you get deep-and-narrow rather than shallow-and-broad (the usual Heartbreaker setting).

So what he's doing is flinging the characters into the middle of a hideously complicated situation, and encouraging them to become important in it.  The trick is that he really doesn't know the details of this situation; he's got Power Blocks and Relationships, but relatively few known details.  So as the PCs go around talking to people and exploring the setting, they are also galvanizing and clarifying the situation.

Eventually, with luck and perseverance, the PCs more or less discover a Big Plot in which they themselves are deeply involved, and perhaps for which they alone can provide the solution.  By this point, they know the details intimately, having in effect created them, though the devices of GM response make it seem as though they have found what was already there.  They then go and deal with the situation, and get home in time for tea and medals.

This is not, I think, exactly simple to classify in GNS terms, and I'm not sure that's a very useful model here.  The question, as Fang points out, is how to ensure player interest long enough for them to discover themselves as extremely important people, something which they can't be at the outset because there's nothing for them to be important to.

Is this what you're talking about, John?
Logged

Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2003, 07:20:50 AM »

Hi there,

This is almost exactly how I ran Hero Wars, and as long as the 400-lb gorilla of Glorantha was at our side, it worked wonderfully. Which is to say, in agreement with Fang, that the player-characters became invested in the concerns of the setting to such a degree that its story become their story, without me ever telling them what to do. In fact, successful play relied on my putting aside all such expectations, such that play became a synthesis of their decisions and mine (which remained nonetheless separate). Once a certain amount of "what's up" orientation and interaction play had occurred, setting-based surprises or developments provided by me and decisions made by them became indistinguishable.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2003, 08:04:47 AM »

This is certainly a valid way to play.

At one extreme, if absolutely all GM decisions are based on maximum causal plausibility or consistency with the world setup, the technique has been termed "Pinball Sim." The world is a pinball machine, the players do their thing within it; it reacts to them and they to it, in straightforward cause and effect ways. However, the players are not passive like the pinball is; they have free will and in some sense their free will is more respected in this style of play than in any other. (Also note that this has nothing to do with the pinball metaphor for color versus contraption-ness in game system design, which was discussed on a very recent thread.)

Even in the most rigorous pinball sim, there can be considerable authorial artistry in creating the world setup so as to maximize the prospects for interesting play. The way I see it, Scope, Power Blocks, and Relationships are all about conflicts. Especially, getting player-characters to "buy into" the conflicts embedded in the word setup. In my experience, despite the pitfalls Mike and Vincent enumerate, this can be done pretty reliably in Pinball Sim. What's more problematic is reliably reaching any kind of dramatically satisfying resolution to conflicts by means of cause and effect alone. In Pinball Sim, neither the players nor the GM "author" (in the GNS sense) the story, so story qualities in the outcome are haphazard at best.

As Mike points out, adding to the background during play goes beyond pure Pinball Sim and allows the use of IntCon techniques. This is powerful when building up the conflict and for regulating pacing. But resolution remains a problem; use of background to influence the resolutions of conflicts tends to devolve into unsatisfactory deus ex machina.

It's remarkable how closely your description matches, term for term, the techniques I used in most of my SIL-style LARP games. What you call "Power Blocks" I called "factions." As with your Power Blocks, a world set-up involved multiple factions overlapping and on different scales, so that any single character has relationships to many different factions and therefore a stake in many different potential conflicts. (A big difference is that these LARP characters were pre written, not player created, so the character's position with relation to the factions is part of the world setup. However, we learned that player buy-in to conflicts was still very important. Also in these LARPs all the characters in all the factions are usually player characters.)

What you call Scope was a key element in design, and like you we often used physically bounded settings, situations involving gatherings of strangers, and pre-existing catalysts for conflict (such as power vacuums or mcguffins), some known to all at the start, others discovered during play. A lot of experimentation was done on different Scopes, ranging from cyberpunk-style settings emphasizing individual survival and small-scale opportunism, leading to "day in the life of" outcomes with lots of individual achievements but no large-scale power shifts, to major crises leading to saving-the-world outcomes. These games were 48-hour-long one-shots, so long-term continuity was never an issue.

I'd certainly welcome more discussion of world setup (I use the term "scenario") creation for Pinball Sim or Open Play (or as a starting point for other techniques as well). Discussion here tends to focus on system design and the practice of "play now," and scenario design falls rather between the two. However, essential elements of the craft have been re-emerging in more dynamic player-involved forms, as relationship maps and kickers. Scenario design might have gained a reputation as an unrewarding technique because of too much focus on the physical space and not enough on factions/Power Blocks and Relationships (and another cornerstone, Information Gradients), which are the key elements for successful Open Play.

- Walt
Logged

Wandering in the diasporosphere
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2003, 08:53:05 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
 So what he's doing is flinging the characters into the middle of a hideously complicated situation, and encouraging them to become important in it.  The trick is that he really doesn't know the details of this situation; he's got Power Blocks and Relationships, but relatively few known details.  So as the PCs go around talking to people and exploring the setting, they are also galvanizing and clarifying the situation.  

Agreed.  Where play goes definitely pushes me into putting in detail.  However, I am detailing a framework based on my pre-defined Power Blocks and Relationships.  So, when I write up an individual character, I'm not just creating out of nothing.  I am creating them within the known framework of relationships.  This tends to give the NPCs a sense of grounding in (fictional) reality -- i.e. they aren't created to be opponent's or allies to the PCs.  Instead, they are created based on "What would the leader of X faction have to be like?"  

The other thing is that I generally start out with the PCs already important in the world.  I've gotten better over time with grounding PC background, but I've almost always set up my games where the PCs have major power and/or authority.  In Worlds-In-Collision, the PCs were among 80 or so superpowered figures in the world.  If they set their minds to something they could be devastating (as they proved in-play by conducting a nuclear strike).  Others in the world inherently respected that power.  In later games the PCs often had significant authority as well.  

I find it interesting but unsurprising that this is similar to LARP setup, because in LARPs what is my occaisional practice is enforced by the format.  i.e. It is impossible for a GM to create new NPCs or major events on the fly.  The "NPCs" are going off and doing stuff on their own, without being subject to central control.  

Quote from: clehrich
 The question, as Fang points out, is how to ensure player interest long enough for them to discover themselves as extremely important people, something which they can't be at the outset because there's nothing for them to be important to.  

Hmm.  It varies from campaign to campaign how much is laid out prior to the start of play.  The old Worlds-in-Collision game benefitted from having a huge amount of prep time (being a student with lots of time on my hands).  I think my campaigns generally go better from having more stuff worked out of the situation.  Even in my other less-prepared campaigns, though, I think there is a fair amount for them to be important to.  As I mentioned, PCs in my games often tend to have positions of authority: i.e. a starship captain (Star Trek), rulers of a village (Oneiros).  

I think this was something of a failure in my "House Rules" Champions campaign (the one set in Boston).  I had the idea of Hawthorne House as a center of the Scope, but I hadn't really blocked out any important stuff going on -- just the Enclave as a foe and a collection of quirky characters.  If I were to do it over again, I would definitely have more clear blocks of people within the House rather than disparate individuals.

One thing is that Power Blocks are something that can be prepared prior to play.  However, with individual NPCs it is very variable exactly how they will turn out.  I think it is better to leave individuals more to later, but detail Power Blocks in advance.
Logged

- John
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2003, 08:54:23 AM »

I've admitted previously that Pinball Sim, a term that I Coined, was not a good term. The idea was that, if the players are also playing "what my character would do" as though it were as known as the physics of the brownian motion of the molecules of the pinball, that, indeed an almost deterministic game could be created. But there are obvious problems with that notion.

Hence Open Sim. The idea that the GM is not trying to use Force for any agenda. That his responses, no matter what the player's play, are predicated on answering primarily the question of "what would happen if?" As opposed to say "what would be cool to have happen if?"

Again, these are mostly spectra. So there's proably no GM who doesn't use the flippers to some small extent, and some go further and nudge the machine to their benefit. As Marco puts it, given two equally reasonable outcomes, why not choose the one that's more likely to lead to something dramatic. Indeed, why not? The question is whether the pressure applied counts as Force or not.

So I think there are no, or very few purely "open" GMs in a Sim sense. This example has been analyzed before (in fact using the exact same game), and there was some question as to whether or not it was Sim or Narrativist. What's interesting is Chris' clarification of the style. I think that from what he says, that we can see where the Narrativism comes in. Basically, it's John's hope that the relationships presented, including the Bower Blocks will attract the attention of the players as they work to find ways to entwine themselves with these things.

These are like very light Bangs. Basically, what I'm saying is that the touches that John provides are not Force at all. They have no agenda, other than to get the players interested and creating their own story. As such, this is simply light Narrativist GMing. With players inclined towards Narrativism, this should work great. (This analysis seems to coincide appropriately with Ron's description of his play as similar).

Further, since it's completely "Vanilla", there are few times when a player has to lose his SpecSimInt feel. The player will often feel that they are deciding to do things almost entirely "because that's what the character would do". Which is further why speculation about "El Dorado" play hovers at about this point (and hence why players like myself like it so much).

This is not to say, by the way, that this is a common form of play. Play similar to it, is claimed to be common, but I'm not so sure. At the very least, there are specifics about how John goes about things that are very unique to his game.

So, to get to some more of those particular points, John, I'd like to get to the use of the term "background". From what you've written, I see it as mostly a setting thing. Do you require players to provide character background that mesh's or anything? Or is that DIP?

Also, what kind of techniques do you use with "loose cannons" when they occur? If you're not into using Force, then how do you make a player comply when he decides to break the Scope open? That seems problematic. The usual theory around here is to use up-front social contract, have character generation that doesn't allow for the "wrong" characters, and mechanics of play that serve to do this automatically. Do you ascribe to any of these, or do you have some in-game technique that you use?

Mike
Logged

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2003, 09:48:07 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
 You seem to be advocating at first a non-illusionist style that I refer to as Open Play. That is, the GM is forcing nothing to happen, but only responding as you put it "logically" to the actions of the players.

But then later you point out how you are throwing in things as background that will make the game more interesting. This is the lightest application of Force performed after the fact (that is, you only make these things up once the PCs have decided to encounter the sources for he backgrounds, as opposed to having them pre-planned). This is very similar to what GM Skarka calls Intuitive Continuity or IntCon. That is, not only are you "going with the flow" of player activity, but you're retroactively trying to make what is encountered interesting enough that the outcome of eventual play is something like a "plot".

Well, actually in my initial post I was talking purely about what someone else called "Pinball Sim".  I add detail after the game starts, but I do not retroactively try to make things more interesting.  That is, in the pure form of this style.  My Worlds-In-Collision game and my Water-Uphill game were both nearly-pure examples of this style.  I am not "advocating" it in a One-True-Style sense, but I am at least holding it up for discussion and saying that it is valid.  My current game is not of this form, though there are definitely elements of my discussion that apply.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
 But there are players who are less proactive than others. In that case, in the absence of Force, System, or Players creating plot, you tend to get little happening at all. Even more rarely does it look at all like what anyone would call a story.

Well, I agree in one sense.  No style works perfectly for all players.  There are various things you can do in the setup and character design to encourage the players to take an interest in doing things within the Scope, but it is definitely true that this isn't for everyone.  

However, I disagree that player inaction leads to "nothing happening".  If that is true, then you have made an extremely dull setup -- or more likely you simply aren't playing in this style at all.  If you have a Scope and conflicting Power Blocks, then each of the sides should be taking actions to further their cause.  

Ideally, the PCs should be designed as part of the Scope rather than disconnected strangers who wander in.  (Well, darn, I did that in Water-Uphill, but they were special strangers who wandered in.)  Then people will come to the PCs to interact with them: trying to get stuff out of them, or ensuring that they won't be an obstacle, or what have you.  

However, as you say, even given all this, there are certainly some players who aren't suited for and don't prefer this style.
Logged

- John
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2003, 10:07:09 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
 So, to get to some more of those particular points, John, I'd like to get to the use of the term "background". From what you've written, I see it as mostly a setting thing. Do you require players to provide character background that mesh's or anything? Or is that DIP?  

Hmm.  The two examples of my "Pure" Open Simulation campaigns didn't require any meshing.  The PCs in Water-Uphill had detailed background of their home and school life, but of course none of it meshed with the fantasy world they found themselves in.  However, that may just be a coincidence.  

In many of my other campaigns which use some of this I definitely mesh the PC backgrounds with my world backgrounds.  For example, my Oneiros game had the PCs were all members of the noble household which ruled the village.  They included the heirs of the Baron as well as a number of retainers (the House Mage, the Sergeant-In-Arms, etc.).  This is pretty common for most of my games.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
 Also, what kind of techniques do you use with "loose cannons" when they occur? If you're not into using Force, then how do you make a player comply when he decides to break the Scope open? That seems problematic. The usual theory around here is to use up-front social contract, have character generation that doesn't allow for the "wrong" characters, and mechanics of play that serve to do this automatically. Do you ascribe to any of these, or do you have some in-game technique that you use?

Well, I definitely ascribe to the above -- but I also try to design my setup to discourage loose cannons.  In my Worlds-In-Collision game, I established that the real-world powers simply would not suffer a public telepath to live.  Too many factions have secrets that need keeping, and trying to control or restrain someone with unknown mental powers is impractical.  It was widely understood that if one showed up, she would simply be killed.  

This came up vitally because one of the PCs (called "FarSlayer") had telepathic powers, as well as the power to mentally kill someone at almost any distance.  However, I required that the target always recognized who it was that was contacting.  As it turned out, FarSlayer almost never used either his telepathy or his farslaying in game.  I think that this was mainly because of the understanding that the consequences of his actions would be followed without any moderation.
Logged

- John
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2003, 10:26:16 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
However, I disagree that player inaction leads to "nothing happening".  If that is true, then you have made an extremely dull setup -- or more likely you simply aren't playing in this style at all.  If you have a Scope and conflicting Power Blocks, then each of the sides should be taking actions to further their cause.  

Ideally, the PCs should be designed as part of the Scope rather than disconnected strangers who wander in.  (Well, darn, I did that in Water-Uphill, but they were special strangers who wandered in.)  Then people will come to the PCs to interact with them: trying to get stuff out of them, or ensuring that they won't be an obstacle, or what have you.


That's very clarifying. Very narrativist in terms of set-up. You're saying that you are:
A) Ensuring that the PCs are hooked into what happens in the Power Blocks, and

B)that the Blocks are doing something that doesn't allow for character inaction.

Assuming that the players give at damn about their character's link to the current situation and events, then, yes, there will be a Narrativist response. As Ron says, this is exactly how you get Narrativism out of setting and situation as per Hero Wars. Having things like a "Clan" rating reinforces this mechanically.

So your statement, "I do not retroactively try to make things more interesting" means that you don't do anything but apply the set-up principles as possible Bangs. That is, if the players are invested in these things, just having a character come up to them and do "what they would do", could be a "Bang".

Because you prefer not to make "conscious" Bangs, it seems to me that you'll tend to get the aformentioned mix of Sim and Nar. If the players find the current situation to be morally, ethically, or emotionally weighty to them the decision will tend to be Narrativist. To the extent that they find the situation as it happens to be more neutral to them (again as players), they'll tend to make more Sim decisions.


Anyhow, all this talk of this play style has me itching to play something like it. I can't seem to get into a game with it. Any chance that you'd be interested in some online play (see the sig)? :-)

Mike

P.S. just to be clear, by "inaction" I mean that the player does not take any proacctive action to seek out plot. If you bring decisions to the player, they cannot but help to make decisions, it's true.
Logged

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.
Bankuei
Guest
« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2003, 01:09:06 PM »

Hi folks,

I'm finding this to be an interesting thread, as everyone is basically talking about the same goal, with different methods or techniques towards acheiving it.  

My first encounter with "non-predetermined" play without going "freeform" was really what Ron was pushing for in Sorcerer and Sword.  What made it really interesting to me was that this sort of play, when combined with the Relationship Maps in Sorcerer's Soul, was that here you have no predetermination of actions, or what "must or should" happen, yet a tool that allows you to understand that without having to wing it.

Which kickstarted an idea in my head;  The players come to the table every time, not knowing what will happen, but the full confidence that their understanding of their character is sufficient to allow them to adapt during play and cause interesting things to happen.  In other words, the character serves as a tool for the player to be able to understand "how to play" and "what to do next".  What sort of interesting things would "this guy" do?  

Taking this idea over to the GM, the tools the GM uses should likewise be flexible and be that "creative springboard" that Ron speaks of.  Looking at how he was using Bangs, Kickers, and R-maps, I realized that was really what he was creating:  A set of flexible tools to replace the classic 1-2-3 adventure or flowchart.  For me, I found that the key components I need to identify to bring this sort of play about was what was the main Conflict("What is the focus/theme of this 'episode?") and understanding character motivations.  This is not very far from Stakes in Trollbabe or SA's in TROS.  

Looking over at what John is talking about, Scope is also related to Stakes on a level, Power Blocks are "Who's in conflict and why?", and finally, Relationships- who means what to who, who's allied and against who? etc.

Its very interesting to see how everyone is approaching this differently, and provides quite a bit of insight on how others are doing it.

On note of "stalled play"-

The key component towards avoiding this is goals.  Fang states it as "knowing what you want", Ron slides it in Kickers, TROS has SAs, etc.  Once a character has a Goal, there is something that can be hindered, blocked, threatened, and from that can come conflict.  If there is nothing to threaten, there is no conflict.

With a Goal, a character(player or GM controlled) can take an active role towards completing it.  Without it, they're just sitting there in the water.  For me, I use motivations or the emotional logic behind goals, since goals can change.  Using the classic example of Star Wars, we have Darth Vader go from:"Tempt my son into the Dark Side so we can be together" to "Kill the Emperor before he kills my son".  The Goal changed, but his basic love for Luke was the Motivation that held them both together.

So I tend to use Conflict and Motivation as my two foci to work with.  Conflict helps me keep the game focused, from wandering all around, and Motivations work the same way as "characters" do for the players, they allow me to understand "what would this guy do" to any given situation that might pop up.  

If things slow down, then I just look down the list of NPCs, pick someone, look at their Motivation and consider it in light of the Conflict, and just like "reality tv" producers, I figure out which player characters would work well or not well with a particular NPC in a given scene, or create an great misunderstanding.

Basically all the tools we are talking about are designed with a single goal in mind, "To make interesting stuff happen".  What is interesting?  Well, that's where GNS steps in...

Chris
Logged
clehrich
Member

Posts: 1557


WWW
« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2003, 08:03:59 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: clehrich
 So what he's doing is flinging the characters into the middle of a hideously complicated situation, and encouraging them to become important in it.  The trick is that he really doesn't know the details of this situation; he's got Power Blocks and Relationships, but relatively few known details.  So as the PCs go around talking to people and exploring the setting, they are also galvanizing and clarifying the situation.  

Agreed.  Where play goes definitely pushes me into putting in detail.  However, I am detailing a framework based on my pre-defined Power Blocks and Relationships. ... The other thing is that I generally start out with the PCs already important in the world.  I've gotten better over time with grounding PC background, but I've almost always set up my games where the PCs have major power and/or authority.  In Worlds-In-Collision, the PCs were among 80 or so superpowered figures in the world.  If they set their minds to something they could be devastating (as they proved in-play by conducting a nuclear strike).  Others in the world inherently respected that power.  In later games the PCs often had significant authority as well.  

Oh.  That game.  This worked like you say here?  Amazing.

Okay, for the rest of you, I actually was in this game, oh so long ago, and for the life of me I would never have recognized it from the description.  Sure, we clearly had lots of power and all, but it seemed all the time like there was this Big Secret that we had to figure out.  Once we figured it out, we went to the now-mostly-collapsed Soviet Union and stole about 500 megatons of nuclear weaponry, then in effect pushed it through a portal to the other world with the fuse lit, and closed the hatch.  We got back to find a glassy crater where the bad guy's castle used to be, and a guy whose power was to be totally invulnerable, walking slowly and dejectedly around the pit (he couldn't actually get out, not having any abilities beyond invulnerability, nor any clothing or equipment since it had been vaporized).  

So now it sounds like actually a lot of it was constructed more or less reactively, which is amazingly different from how it felt.  At the time, I sometimes thought John was skirting perilously close to the Ken Hite Railroad.  (For those of you who don't know him, Ken takes railroading to such artistic heights that it's sort of like the Orient Express in the old days: ultimate luxury, danger and excitement, romance and mystery -- but it still only goes Calais-Istanbul).

This leads me to ask something about technique, John.  In a thread about Star Wars gaming in Actual Play, Fang was explaining how to do something not unlike what you describe here.  But he agreed that the true mystery is one of the most difficult, because the GM actually doesn't really know what the real story is, and has to react in such a way that the players think he does.

Now working from your structure of Scope, Blocks, and Relationships, how in hell did you make it seem like the whole thing was pre-determined?  I mean, this was an entire campaign, not just a single mystery.  I think this may get at why what you're describing isn't really identical to Illusionism, or Narrativism, or whatever.  In a way, it's like reverse Illusionism: the illusion is that the GM is in control.

Thoughts?

[edited for clarity]
Logged

Chris Lehrich
Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2003, 08:52:47 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
This leads me to ask something about technique, John.  In a thread about Star Wars gaming in Actual Play, Fang was explaining how to do something not unlike what you describe here.  But he agreed that the true mystery is one of the most difficult, because the GM actually doesn't really know what the real story is, and has to react in such a way that the players think he does.

That would be this thread; the funny thing is John and I are talking about way different styles.  The Star Wars example was the original description of "No Myth" gamemastering.  You'll note a flagrant disregard in the permanency of the unspoken background.

John is talking about games with concrete backgrounds, a whole different animal.  His works for a "true mystery" provided the players can actually solve it; otherwise the gamemaster is bending the background to satisfy some meta-game goal.  Mine is only hard if you don't have a keen analytical mind that can stay one deduction ahead of the players (probably a rare talent, but so far I haven't found a player who wants a "true mystery" game).

Thanks for reminding me, I need to see how far back I've been writing about this style, 'cuz I still can't seem to 'splain it.

Fang Langford
Logged

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!