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Team creation / social contract questions

Started by WiredNavi, February 25, 2004, 03:52:21 PM

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I've been thinking a great deal about group character creation and social contracts for players in a team, potentially with team/party-oriented PCs designed to work together - specifically, in this case, a team in the context of a larger game, although for the purposes of this thread I'd be eager to see discussion of players and PCs as a team concept in a more general context.

What spurred this is that a wonderful boffer-style LARP which I've been playing for several years is soon (well, relatively) coming to an end.  There is a sequel in vague planning stages, and I am enthused enough about the game that I'm already thinking about how to do things better in the sequel.  Like many LARPs and, from what I can tell, most boffer LARPs, characters in the game tend to end up associated with a particular team or group, both because of logistics and because it's where their characters end up relationshipwise to other characters.  This is fine and good.

I've been thinking about how one would go about creating a team from whole cloth, to start a game with, and keep it more or less together throughout the game, from both an IC perspective (i.e. what character elements would be good to have in the game) and an OOC one (i.e. what agreements and ideas should be set out among the players of the group).  Obviously, some sort of explicit, or at least openly stated social contract would be good for the latter, and likely for the former as well.

So I've been trying to think about what questions need to be answered during this setup process - not the answers themselves, since those answers would in fact become the agreement.  By answering these questions, the players would determine what they wanted their group to be like, and then would be able to define the group and its makeup almost as though it were a single, collective character - and by further looking at the individual responses, hopefully determine where in this group their individual character would/should fit in.  It helps, when I think about it, to consider the potential group to have a character and 'personality' of its own, composed of the characters within the group and the ways they relate to each other and to the rest of the world.

Upon some discussion with Ben Lehman and another friend of mine, it seems that the questions  can mostly be divided into OOC and IC versions and further divided into G/N/S subsets:

Overarching questions:
1. Would you rather your group be effective in the game, emotionally intense to roleplay with, or interesting and complex to portray?
(Perhaps this could be better stated:  Would you rather your group's focus be on G, N, or S terms?)
2. What about your character individually?
3. What responsibilities does the group have to each player, OOC?
4. What responsibilities does the group have to each character, IC?
5. What responsibilities does each player have to the group, OOC?
6. What responsibilities does each character have to the group, IC?
7. How much of a vested interest do you want in the group, and your individual character?

1. What kinds of challenges do you want the group to overcome?
2. What resources are necessary, in game terms, to deal with these challenges?
3. How should these resources be distributed?
4. What parts of those challenges do you want your character to be focused on dealing with?
5. What challenges are you uninterested in attempting?

1. What story elements do you want to experience with this group?
2. What parts of those stories do you want to experience as a character?
3. How do you want this group to behave as a unit - quarrelsome, smooth, etc.?
4. What personal and moral stances do you want in the group as a whole?
5. Which of these stances do you want to portray?
6. Where do you want the group's narrative, as a whole, to go?
7. Where do you want your individual narrative to go relative to the group?
8. What experiences and questions would you specifically want to exclude?

1. What parts of the game world do you find most intriguing / want to explore?
2. What parts of the game world would you want the group to have explored?
3. What parts of the game world would you want your character to have explored alone?
4. What parts of the game world are you uninterested in exploring?

IC/G -
1. What capabilities does the group need to be an effective team?
2. How much does the group need each of these capabilities?
3. What capabilities do you want your character to contribute?

IC/N -
1. What holds the group together?  What could drive it apart?
2. What goals does the group have as a whole?
3. What goals does your character have individually?  How do they mesh with the group goals?

IC/S -
1. What is the structure of your team - loose?  Formal?  Military?  Friendly?
2. What experiences do you want the group to have had previously?
3. How does your character fit into that experience?
4. What experiences do you want your character to have had outside of the group?

I'm sure there are more aspects to be considered, but these are the ones I could come up with rapidly.  Obviously, all these questions are interrelated, and if you don't have the answer to one, you could potentially figure out a good answer to it by.  Some of these could probably be stated better, folded into fewer questions, etc.

I'm not certain what the best method of determining these things would be at a group level; obviously, you don't want someone to be really unhappy with any aspect of it, but that may be getting slightly beyond gaming theory and well into sociology.   Not that the rest of it isn't headed there.  ;-)

Thoughts, comments, better ideas?
Dave R.

"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."  -- Terry Pratchett, 'Men At Arms'

Mike Holmes

Interesting. Just to be clear, the idea is that one particular group might employ more Gamism and aother might employ more Sim? I think that LARP has different dynamics, and it might work for this applicaiton, but do you think there's a potential for inter-group conflcits in this regard? I mean what if a Gamist group beats up on a Narrativist one? I'm reminded of the PK (Player Killer) phenomenon from MMORPGS.

Is this potentially a problem?

Or is there only one group in the game?

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Yes, there is generally more than one group per LARP, and yes, there is a potential for inter-group conflicts.  But regularly beating up on other groups is going to get you nowhere, because A: all the other groups are going to mistrust you and probably beat you up in turn, and B: you're almost certain to need their help at some point - likely many points.

As far as 'goals of the group' are concerned - it's less a danger that one group will decide to just PK a bunch of others.  The question was more, Is your group focused on fighting?  Healing?  Helping others?  Information gathering?  All of the above?  Those are the 'challenges', generally.  While other groups could be considered a 'challenge', usually the social dynamic of the LARP is enough to stop that from being any sort of successful solution.

And yes, one group might well prefer more Narr or Sim or Gamist play.  But in a more general way, these are the kinds of questions any group should be asking, whether in a LARP or elsewhere - I think that these would work just as well for a tabletop adventuring party.  Any situation where your characters could be assumed to be working together.  I had hoped that this team character generation technique would be applicable beyond LARPing.
Dave R.

"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."  -- Terry Pratchett, 'Men At Arms'

Ben Lehman

Hey, Dave.  Thanks for posting this.

I think that this impulse, to arrange things somewhat beforehand, springs from some degree of incoherency in the previous Boffer LARP, cool as it was (LARPs, for those unfamiliar with them, are big and thus, I think accomodate incoherency and coherency in different places at different times.)

Some simple examples of possible incoherency:
"Why didn't you life me?  You were off angsting and now I'm dead."  Gamist vs Narrativist.
"I don't think you should know that in-game, so we can't talk about it out of game."
Sim vs. Nar
"You didn't really make a character -- you just made up the best stats."
Gam vs. Sim
"I was in the middle of a great scene when more stupid random monsters attacked and broke it up."
Nar vs. Game

Boffer LARPs are usually all weekend affairs, where a great deal of time is spent fighting and in tactical challenges (gamist) and the entire thing is supposed to be spent "in character" (hard core sim).  This particular group has a prediliction towards moral suffering, although mostly it is front-loaded by the GM or through backstory (illusionist, dormant Nar).  These are all fine priorities, but this agreement is saiyng that it is important to set out a heirarchy amongst them, something revolutionary for this particular social group.  Also, the idea of discussing things beforehand leads to a more healthy Narrativist play, which doesn't conflict needlessly with the Sim expectations and the Gamist undertones of the Boffer LARP.

I think that the idea behind this social contract is, largely, to clear up such instances of incoherence -- at least, in-group incoherence -- before they start.  My grand vision would be to extend it to the GM and all the groups within the game, thus ushering in a glorious revolution of collusive role-play but, hey, one step at a time.

(note: Dave, feel free to correct this, if necessary.)



QuoteI think that the idea behind this social contract is, largely, to clear up such instances of incoherence -- at least, in-group incoherence -- before they start. My grand vision would be to extend it to the GM and all the groups within the game, thus ushering in a glorious revolution of collusive role-play but, hey, one step at a time.

It could be done.  That's not my goal, in particular.  Again, though this was spurred on by said LARP, I'm not really devoted to considering it within that framework.  But I think it becomes more important to explicitly define social contract issues (these group issues being the most prevalent and pressing of them, from what I've seen of roleplaying) in a long-term, long-session, high-intensity game with no out-of-character moments.

For instance, I have seen examples of people breaking Sim with their characters and doing things that their characters wouldn't normally do because they are uncomfortable with the direction a particular scene is taking.  I have seen people become very angry with other players because they believed that some actions they took IC endangered or disrupted the flow of the group - breaking the implicit social contract, from their point of view.  If these kinds of things could be worked out beforehand, I think it would lead to better roleplaying from all three perspectives - more enjoyable and better Gamism (because working together is generally more effective than not), more complete Sim (because it's easier to do what your character would do when you know that the buttons you absolutely don't want pressed will not be pressed), and more capability for Nar (because discussion will allow better opportunity for those issues and questions you would like to explore).
Dave R.

"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."  -- Terry Pratchett, 'Men At Arms'

Mike Holmes

Trying to facilitate all three. Hmm. You're aware that many here would say that this is asking for trouble? The argument would go, that OK, you're telling Player A that it's OK to go for their favored mode of play and here's extra support. Then player B gets the same message for another mode. But that's just asking for more trouble.

See, you'll note that Ben's examples (well done Ben), are all about one player complaining to another about their play. Well, now you have players even more hellbent on doing things their own way, supported even more, and they're annoying those other players even more.

GNS is about having what we term a coherent vision of play. Meaning that the mode or modes as they're presented will not conflict. By asking what people want to do, and saying that it's OK, you only make it more frustrating when each player plays their own way, and it annoys another.

Now, maybe this is something that you can't get away from in LARP. But the solution to the incoherence problem in tabletop that most often gets suggested is altering the system. Once you have your questionaire back, what you'll find is that you've got all sorts of different players looking to essentially play different games. The only way I could see this working is if you were to give each coherent group their own game.

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