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Title: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 08, 2008, 11:34:24 PM
A little over a year ago, in the thread [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21952.0), Ron was talking about some GMing techniques and principles, and he said this:
ii) Establish and participate in an assembly-of-equals when it comes to announced actions and conflicts, so that people don't trap themselves in a scared corner (very common!). In other words, anything stated for the first time is available for feedback and editing through full-group dialogue. No one has pre-emptive speaking authority, although someone does have finalizing authority.

The central concept for successful use: in doing this, everyone must focus on and respect what the game (text or played) provides so far. You will find that any and all dispute about "could have," "would have," "but wasn't he there not here" and related stuff - which I have seen occupy upwards of 70% of total attention and dialogue during actual play - will disappear.

(Emphasis mine.) I was re-reading the thread today and this bit leapt out at me. As a matter of fact I jerked forward in my chair and glued my eyes to the screen, 'cause that's been a problem plaguing my games for years. General confusion, jostling and jockeying over who did what and how and if-you-did-that-Id've-done-this--could all almost be a definition of roleplaying at times in my group. And even in our best moments, there's been no small friction along those lines.

Even within the last few days I can recall strong examples. On our regular D&D game last Friday, I was particularly struck by the pervasive "Mother-may-I" procedure at work in everyone's contributions to the SIS. Everyone was constantly asking the GM whether their characters could do and say things, at a teeth-grinding level of granularity. "Did I hear that?" "Have they passed by me yet?" "Am I next to him when he does that?" All within the context of a single scene, single location, with no real action or threat or crisis. Instead of "When you walk out of the cave, I say. .. " it would be "Are they outside the cave yet? OK, then I say. . ." The sheer time and effort of it drove me nuts, to say nothing of the underlying assumption that the GM is the authority on when and how everything happens, as if he were "running" the world in the sense of a computer program, having to actually move all the game entities around in the imaginary space like a Newtonian machine.

My second example, a different D&D game with a different GM on Sunday night, was a lot more fun. But there was an incident of misunderstanding over facts of the SIS, which slowed down play and interrupted flow. The setting was a masquerade ball held at the opulent mansion of a rich and eccentric mage, who was going to unveil a rare and wondrous artifact he had acquired. When I announced that my rogue was going to go sneaking about the hallways in search of the artifact (or anything else of interest), the physical layout of the mansion became an issue. The GM said there was a wide, tall passage out of the ballroom, with two balconies above it. She even drew a diagram showing the passage entry and the two balcony semicircles jutting out above it. There were guards to distract and evade, then some exploration of the manor's passageways. Anyway, when two different factions showed up to to steal the artifact (and my guy high-tailed it back to the action), it happened that the confrontation took place in that same passage beneath the balconies. After forcing the surrender of the first faction, the second faction appeared on the balcony with a hostage. I was like, wait a minute, if the PCs are under the balcony, then we can't see each other. After a good deal of discussion and re-explaining (more diagrams were drawn), we finally found out that the GM meant circular catwalks, like rings, the occupants of which could of course look down on the floor below from the inside rail. It didn't ruin play or anything, but it was certainly a speedbump. And it's pretty representative (I think I'll call it the "20 Questions" effect) of misunderstandings that regularly plague play, usually hampering or preventing a character action after I've already planned it out--"no, you can't shoot that guy, there's a wall in the way!" kind of stuff.

Contemplating these two incidents, my source of frustration is pretty clear to me--I simply detest the micromanaging of time and space wrt the fictional events of play. In the case of the former example, I hate having to run every step, stumble, and sneeze by the GM for "does this work at this precise instant in the SIS" approval, and when I GM I similarly hate having to manage events at such a level myself. My response to a question like this is liable to be "huh? Oh, sure, fine," and if I'm asked often enough I get annoyed. As regards the second example, I prefer not to track physical space on that level of exactitude in the first place, at least without a map/battle grid/dungeon tiles or something. Like with my snooping around, which was conducted bit by bit, as in go down this hallway, turn left, duck into this room, search room, continue down hall, go down stairs, you find hallways going north, west, and south . . . I'd prefer to describe everything in broad strokes (you're in a mansion, it's got a huge ballroom, a garden, some back corridors, a secret underground area, etc) and resolve things at that level too. So with my sneaking I'd want something more like: (roll) "OK, you slipped out of the ballroom," (roll) "you're undetected in the hallways," (roll) "you found the hidden sub-basement," etc.

So to hear Ron speak of an effortless cure for this malady certainly has my attention. Clinton's discussion of IIEE in the Shadow of Yesterday text is a good foundation for addressing this issue, but I'm not sure how to port that (as a practice) out of that game and into another where the players' functional understanding is so different (if I could manage to play TSoY with them I could teach by example, but that's another thing. . .).

So, Ron: I'm not sure if what you're talking about applies to every issue I've raised above, but I think the core principle underlies it all: profound confusion and struggle over SIS input. So could you expand on what you were talking about in the quote--this concept that, when grasped, causes these disputes to disappear? Like, maybe you could unpack "what the game (text or played) provides so far" a bit. What's the "it" that the game provides? Play procedures? If so, then does your comment only apply to a game like TSoY which does have crystal-clear tools, or can I take a game of (say) D&D and use what it provides to this purpose? Or do you mean something besides procedures/rules? If so, what, and specifically how does whatever-it-is address the difficulties I'm describing?

Also, anyone else who has comments on the issue, feel free to chime in.

Peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: David Artman on January 09, 2008, 09:13:25 AM
If so, then does your comment only apply to a game like TSoY which does have crystal-clear tools, or can I take a game of (say) D&D and use what it provides to this purpose?
Well, actually, D&D does provide crystal clear tools--but you say you don't use them:
Quote
As regards the second example, I prefer not to track physical space on that level of exactitude in the first place, at least without a map/battle grid/dungeon tiles or something.
There's a reason D&D is so crunchy with distances, time, etc. There's a reason companies can actually make money selling wire bent into the shapes of Cone of Cold or Fireball areas of effect. D&D is a miniatures game with some role playing elements that *needs* battlemaps, figures, and step-locked timing. You're talk about shifting to the "broad strokes" mode of play (for whatever reason: story flow, relative interest in details, etc) is basically shifting away from the D&D mode of conflict resolution: whip out the map and roll initiative.

It's often a problem in games which, perforce, must switch between "high flow, low detail" play and "crunchy, inch-by-inch, foot-by-foot" play; HERO/Champions has the exact same thing going on. If one switches gears to High Crunch for combat, but keeps the Low Detail for scene setting... well, one gets 20 Questions and backtracking and inconsistencies.

Not trying to say, "You asked for it!" But next time you're in such a play situation, take the five minutes to wipe down the battlemat and sketch in the details that impact visibility, maneuverability, and speed--it doesn't have to be a cartographers wet dream, but it BETTER be able to answer line-of-sight and movement rate questions (two BIG elements of most Crunch systems like D&D and Hero).

HTH;
David


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 09, 2008, 05:36:41 PM
I think you're missing a couple of points, Dave. First, you may have misread: I'm saying that I don't want exactitude. . .without a battlemat or tiles. If we're going to start counting 5-foot squares and areas of effect, I absolutely DO want to use the tools at our disposal as per the D&D rulebook. As a matter of fact I am the go-to guy in the group for battle grids; I've got a mess of Dungeon Tiles in my bag which I'll throw out when needed, setting up the encounter as the DM describes it. I either want to do that, or fall back on broad descriptive strokes as the unit of granularity which matters. What I don't want is this in-between sort of play, where spatial minutia matter, but there's instead of a physical grid we have an assumption that the DM has a virtual battle map in his head, which he disseminates to us, tells us when we're flanking, etc. Which is exactly what happened during combat on Friday.

So, this?
But next time you're in such a play situation, take the five minutes to wipe down the battlemat and sketch in the details that impact visibility, maneuverability, and speed--it doesn't have to be a cartographers wet dream, but it BETTER be able to answer line-of-sight and movement rate questions (two BIG elements of most Crunch systems like D&D and Hero).
Total agreement. That's in fact what I do.

Second, it's key to note that I'm not just talking about combat which D&D handles very clearly, but also to this whole wider framework of how a group handles framing ad description at all, including when there's no combat. A lot of that Friday session took place in the context of a freewheeling descriptive mode, where everyone's just throwing out "I go over here," "I do this," I talk to so and so," type stuff. That's where every little detail was fielded to the DM, which not only slowed down play, but I think hindered creativity due to the effort required to introduce something as simple as "I walk across the room" into the SIS. And that's something that, far as I know, D&D doesn't have any procedure whatsoever to address.

Peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Callan S. on January 09, 2008, 08:51:30 PM
Hi Joel,

Quote
"Did I hear that?" "Have they passed by me yet?" "Am I next to him when he does that?"
During this, did any rolls actually happen? Or did all the little questions sort of circumvent rolls that might have otherwise emerged?


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: David Artman on January 10, 2008, 08:14:37 AM
I hear ya, Joel. And you're right: D&D doesn't support that in-between play.

I do think it works with casual narration, though--but you can't waffle. If the group is casually narrating "do this, go there" and then--WHAM!--the fight breaks out and range and AOE become key... well, you can expect confusion and clarifications and even--if you can tolerate it--retconning ("editing" the previous narrations to fit the actual battlegrid). THEN, you get the inevitable "Oh, no, I'd *never* have gone there if it put me out of casting range of our cleric!"

I don't really know what to tell you about how to deal with that. As a GM, I'd just say, "OK, whatever... you  went *here* instead, in range, and that's actually where the Thingie was that you wanted to mess with" and move on. In other words Say Yes. I mean, how often does it "break" the CR of an encounter to tweak the initial positions at first initiative?

Otherwise, you need to stay on the grid system OR have clear demarcations of when you're off-grid and on-grid. For example:
In the dungeon: on grid 24-7
Exploring the surrounding woods: off-grid until the instant a potential threat is perceived (Spot/Listen), then on-grid.
At the gala banquet of the mage: off-grid

Yes, the latter is your example... but that's a sign of your group's (or DM's) disconnect, I feel: HE was thinking of the banquet as an encounter waiting to happen, YOU all were just narrating away and role playing (and being a dirty sneak!). ;)

So the mansion should have been on-grid from the first guest's arrival. Period. We've done it all the time: draw out an area where all the encounters ended up being conversational or social challenges. And ya know what? We *still* had to know ranges and lines of sight and such--overhearing a whispered conversation without being seen listening? Whip out the measuring tape. Can I read his lips? Check lines of sight. Now, maybe you're notion of "casual" doesn't allow for such "tactical crunch" in "merely social/role playing" situations. Hell, maybe you're just playing the wrong system entirely, then, because (as you said) D&D doesn't have a strict, metered method for doing casual in a way that seamlessly shifts to crunch when needed. Yeah, there's some DM advice about pacing play and compressing time for "boring" things like travel or large area searching. But that's all "DIY" stuff--like describing a few light fixtures to someone and expecting them to deduce how they're installed and wired. Thus, the DM has to handle a lot of explication and the players need to be a tad forgiving and flexible, or you gotta be on-grid 24-7. Pick one.

The second example I give above is that very "transition case," and I've been in that situation probably thousands of times. Out of nowhere, the battlegrid plops down and trees and rocks and elevations are being scrawled furiously. I say to the players, "OK, where are you in this general area," indicating an edge of the area I have drawn. Munchkinly positioning and strategizing ensues.

And ya know what? So what? Yep, the PCs will form a neigh-perfect array based on their combat niches. So What? These folks (if not, like, 2nd level) are presumably serious combat machines--adventurers and battlemasters--and so why wouldn't they almost always move (in "casual mode") in proper support array? Every watched a squad of Special Forces walk into a bar together? You ain't getting the drop on them, there will be no unnoticed corners or blindspots, they get back-to-wall almost by instinct (in fact, probably ACTUALLY by instinct). So who cares if the PCs "always" enjoy ideal positioning? Throw some blink dogs at 'em and that will go to shit soon enough. :D

Anyhow, I'm rambling a bit, but I hope the gist of my point is still clear: Say Yes; don't sweat ret-conning; let the PCs be as optimal as they want.


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 10, 2008, 11:31:19 PM
Callan,

During this, did any rolls actually happen? Or did all the little questions sort of circumvent rolls that might have otherwise emerged?

Well, there wasn't really anything roll-worthy in that part of the session, it was all a by-the nose GM-directed plot scene: PCs sent to get a thing from a guy, meet the guy, he leads us to the thing, we get the thing, we're walking back, we find some mages chanting in a grove, it turns into a combat encounter. The meticulous I'm-hear-not-there, do I overhear that remark? type stuff seemed purely aimed at maintaining versimiltude at a highly atomic level--i.e. "I don't want to break down the causality of the world by being ten feet to the left of where I 'should' be!"

There was a series of rolls leading up to the combat encounter--mainly spellcraft and knowledge rolls to determine if the chanting mages (who wouldn't acknowledge us mid-chant) were a threat or hostile or whatever. (Results were all inconclusive; they were then attacked by a mysterious NPC while most of us stood around not having any clear side to back in the fight. But that's a whole
'nother issue.)

Dave,

I don't really know what to tell you about how to deal with that.
Yeah, me neither. Except maybe:
Otherwise, you need to stay on the grid system OR have clear demarcations of when you're off-grid and on-grid.

That sounds like a good baseline for a start. It probably requires some group discussion and explicit buy-in for that procedure. It would cut both ways: if you're on grid, the grid is law, and if you're flanking and AoE's and suh don't work out, too damn bad. And if you're off-grid, then you get appropriate leeway, including the leeway to tweak the grid positioning when shit does hit the fan (to bypass that leeway you have to go on-grid before the shit hits).

So the mansion should have been on-grid from the first guest's arrival. Period. We've done it all the time: draw out an area where all the encounters ended up being conversational or social challenges. And ya know what? We *still* had to know ranges and lines of sight and such

See, that seems kinda over-the-top to me. It's certainly a way to go, but I would find it much more fun to handle these things on a more abstract level, incorporating (say) the success/failure of lipreading into a general sense motive check. 'Cause when the shit does hit, you can always fall back on this:
And ya know what? So what? Yep, the PCs will form a neigh-perfect array based on their combat niches. So What? These folks (if not, like, 2nd level) are presumably serious combat machines--adventurers and battlemasters--and so why wouldn't they almost always move (in "casual mode") in proper support array? Every watched a squad of Special Forces walk into a bar together? You ain't getting the drop on them, there will be no unnoticed corners or blindspots, they get back-to-wall almost by instinct (in fact, probably ACTUALLY by instinct). So who cares if the PCs "always" enjoy ideal positioning? Throw some blink dogs at 'em and that will go to shit soon enough. :D

I too have no problem with going this route, provided we understand going in that that's the way we roll. It's a perfect comprimise between the two modes, allowing me to be freewheeling with my Bluffing scenes and deadly precise with my Sneak Attack. :)

peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Callan S. on January 11, 2008, 01:05:59 AM
Hi again, Joel,

Ah, I'll tell you what I thought might be happening - I'll extend your sentence a bit
Quote
"I don't want to break down the causality of the world by being ten feet to the left of where I 'should' be, because otherwise I'll be penalised by that missunderstanding (either by being unable to do things or having to make rolls I otherwise wouldn't have had to make)"
Looking into what's the problem before getting onto a solution (Ron might be able to swing by with a killer post, but this is how I'm approaching it). Was it anything at all like that, or were they actually enjoying working out every detail of who's where when?


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 13, 2008, 12:43:34 AM
Hi, Callan!

Yeah, I understood what you were getting at, and I gots no problem with that approach, with the probing questions and so forth. That said, I must stress that I really think it's like I said (without your bolded addition)--a pure permission thing grounded in adhering to the conceit of a "real" version of the gameworld that is observed and reported by the GM. It's like when one player says "I walk out of the cave," a little clockwork model of that character starts trundling along, thus when (and ONLY when!) that model reaches the point of the cave mouth, the second character who is standing there is "cleared" to speak to the character. And since only the GM can "see" the clockwork, "permission to speak" is vetted through him. And if that sounds like a freaking meticulous and slow way to play a roleplaying game, well. . .yeah, it is. :P

I really don't see much "gotta be in just the right square to flank/cast my buff spells/etc" going on in these exchanges. I understand how that easily could be the case, but it's not with this group.

Peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Callan S. on January 13, 2008, 01:46:42 AM
Oh, I don't think I was probing for "gotta be in just the right square to flank/cast my buff spells/etc". That sounds too positive, like the player has a plan and that plan is to be in a certain square. I'm thinking more a player that has no plan and in the past various nasty zaps have launched themselves at him (do you know what I mean - it's like missing one detail and taking alot of damage, or losing gear, and such. It's a bit hard to summerise). I'm thinking players in constant damage control - not toward any purpose, but simply avoiding 'pain'/game penalties. It doesn't get play anywhere, but it's like flinching away from a hot counter top that burnt your fingers in the past - they can't help but keep flinching/hammering out every fucking detail.

Your describing a considerable amount of effort - usually effort is driven by pain or joy. I'm guessing pain (which drives avoidance), cause you havn't described any happy faces. Don't worry, I'm not thinking gamism! Still sounds way off?


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: contracycle on January 13, 2008, 02:24:47 AM
My own solution top the problem of switching from Low Detail to High Crunch has been to stay in Low Detail.  Combat scenes, even with all the crunch, are conducted in much the same way as the usual question-and-confirmation structure of play.

It probably helps that I am not prone to the kind of "zaps" that Callan mentioned, or at least, not for a long time.  As a rule if a player wants to be in a given "square" I will simply allow it.  At other times I am much more assertive and will tell the player whether they are or are not in that square before asking them for an action; I stick a finger in their face and yell "X happens!  Do Something!"  I am also willing to interrupt or reject proposed player actions, but if I do this I will try to provide some sort of compensation, suggest some other thing which the change of circumstances now permits.

The 'little clockwork model' in my head is indeed the only 'true' model, but as long as I am not persecuting the players, and have their trust, then IME it's functional. Because I am not locked into the tactical and map-based approach, I can also introduce normal narration should that be required; it is probable, although of course not certain, that given the situation with the ring balconies I would have described not only the appearance on the balcony but also how the characters could see them (that is, through the ring); just as in normal narration, I am aware of dominating the only channel of communication and that if I don't describe it it isn't there.

And if all else fails, I can always own up and apologise for confusing the players, which at least mitigates the sense of having being unfairly or unreasonably treated.


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Ron Hammack on January 13, 2008, 07:57:44 AM
Well, there wasn't really anything roll-worthy in that part of the session, it was all a by-the nose GM-directed plot scene: PCs sent to get a thing from a guy, meet the guy, he leads us to the thing, we get the thing, we're walking back, we find some mages chanting in a grove, it turns into a combat encounter. The meticulous I'm-hear-not-there, do I overhear that remark? type stuff seemed purely aimed at maintaining versimiltude at a highly atomic level--i.e. "I don't want to break down the causality of the world by being ten feet to the left of where I 'should' be!"

Do you think it's possible that "do I overhear that remark" might have meant "can I roll some dice now so that I feel like I have a little mechanical control over this otherwise by-the-nose GM-directed plot scene"?


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 14, 2008, 12:36:24 AM
Callan,
Oh, I don't think I was probing for "gotta be in just the right square to flank/cast my buff spells/etc". That sounds too positive, like the player has a plan and that plan is to be in a certain square. I'm thinking more a player that has no plan and in the past various nasty zaps have launched themselves at him (do you know what I mean - it's like missing one detail and taking alot of damage, or losing gear, and such. It's a bit hard to summerise). I'm thinking players in constant damage control - not toward any purpose, but simply avoiding 'pain'/game penalties. It doesn't get play anywhere, but it's like flinching away from a hot counter top that burnt your fingers in the past - they can't help but keep flinching/hammering out every fucking detail.

Your describing a considerable amount of effort - usually effort is driven by pain or joy. I'm guessing pain (which drives avoidance), cause you havn't described any happy faces. Don't worry, I'm not thinking gamism! Still sounds way off?

I understand what you're saying, and it's a fairly reasonable conjecture. In fact, if you recorded the game chatter outside of narration, stated actions, etc. I think it might point to this a bit--but I really don't think it applies for the reasons we explored in the Gamist non-affirmation thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25113.0): Everyone talks a Hardcore game, but there's little bark behind that bite, either on the players' or GM's part.

Hi, Gareth,
My own solution top the problem of switching from Low Detail to High Crunch has been to stay in Low Detail.  Combat scenes, even with all the crunch, are conducted in much the same way as the usual question-and-confirmation structure of play.

[SNIP]

The 'little clockwork model' in my head is indeed the only 'true' model, but as long as I am not persecuting the players, and have their trust, then IME it's functional. Because I am not locked into the tactical and map-based approach, I can also introduce normal narration should that be required; it is probable, although of course not certain, that given the situation with the ring balconies I would have described not only the appearance on the balcony but also how the characters could see them (that is, through the ring); just as in normal narration, I am aware of dominating the only channel of communication and that if I don't describe it it isn't there.

That seems like pretty much THE functional way to handle the "GM holds the true model" mode of play, i.e. keep it loose and forgiving in recognition of the players' incomplete or murky information. It can still lead to problems based on, say, a player holding an incorrect concept of the model for considerable time, resulting in ruined plans/nonsensical narration/negated actions when it finally comes to light (this happens to me all the damn time). But your approach beats the hell out of the "describe it loosely, then when the players feed input in, judge it meticulously" approach I see a lot in our games.

Hi, Ron!
Do you think it's possible that "do I overhear that remark" might have meant "can I roll some dice now so that I feel like I have a little mechanical control over this otherwise by-the-nose GM-directed plot scene"?

You might have something there. On the other hand, I've seen similar behavior in less GM-directed (at least seemingly), "free play" type scenes as well.

*          *          *

Honestly, everyone, I feel like I'm getting bogged down in this back-and-forth of analyzing the minute details of the play examples, which is getting farther and farther from my original goal of exploring the larger issue--succinctly restated, "How does Ron [Edwards]' statement about relying on what the game has 'provided so far' apply to the whole spectrum of RPG texts?" Like, does it only work (textually) for a game like TSoY or DitV which lays out speaking authority very clearly, or is there something in this vein to be drawn from even a vaguer text like D&D? Or in the latter case, must one fill in the gaps with their own procedures, and what would that (taking D&D as a test case) look like?

Given how Ron-centric the inquiry is, I suspect I might not get much of what I'm looking for unless he decides to chime in. But there has been some good feedbck and advice in folks' comments so far, and I'd like to keep further replies in that vein.

Peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 15, 2008, 10:44:16 AM
Hi Joel,

Quote
General confusion, jostling and jockeying over who did what and how and if-you-did-that-Id've-done-this--could all almost be a definition of roleplaying at times in my group. And even in our best moments, there's been no small friction along those lines.

I won’t lie to you, man – that sounds freaking horrible. I’ve seen it in other groups and run away from it every time, sometimes remaining as an observer strictly for the sake of forcing myself to believe this is really happening. The thought of being the GM and being held responsible (even internalizing that) for years sounds to me like, well, hell.

You’ve articulated the problem so well, and demonstrated it with examples so well, that it’s been hard for me to post constructively. “I hate biting my own fingers off! It deprives me of useful fingers, it serves no purpose, and it hurts! [explicit examples] Man, this business of getting together and having to do this while we try to play piano together, it’s really getting me down! [explicit examples of specifically why it’s counter-productive] How do I stop?” I guess I’m hunting for something to say besides, “Um, stop doing it?”

I think the topic of “how to describe things” is not really the issue. Your problem will persist regardless of how detailed or how general the immediate circumstances of a situation are described.

In Big Model terms, we have to start ‘way up in Social Contract, which to be successful in this way, must include the concept of “we play by our procedures,” as opposed to “each person brings his or her accustomed notions and we sort it out as we go.” The terrible thing is that if a group starts with the latter, then they do develop a way of their own, but it’s a humpbacked coping-way, not a reliable and fun way.

That’s a Murk issue, by the way. It’s no good being all expert and consistent with modifiers-to-hit if the larger-scale issue of who’s were, who’s doing what, and who can go now is all kerflooey.

The bad news first: the reason this situation persists is because one or more group members are used to exploiting it for minor advantages. One GM is simply not up to the task of managing general confusion, and general confusion can be maintained with only very minor additions at key moments. It provides a context in which a person can maneuver his or her character into maximally-advantageous positions, both in imagined time and in imagined space.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that one or more players is maliciously sabotaging the fun of everyone else. I am saying that a person can functionally instigate this sort of confusion even when he or she is “just trying to do stuff” or “just trying to find out what I can do.” It may even be that that person’s experience says, if I don’t do this, I won’t be able/allowed to do anything. The usual tactic involves a certain amount of verbal interruption as well, but in long-standing groups who purport to care about the game content, then it can be employed without such obvious telltales.

The good news is that there are many, many solutions. There are so many because the solution is not a matter of Techniques, but rather a more general, better existing interface between social contract and SIS. If your group doesn’t want to work on that, either because a person is a culprit or because he or she is so immured in this mode that they cannot conceive of an alternative, then there literally is no solution. You can’t enjoy playing piano with people who are convinced that the activity must include biting off fingers.

So now we drill down into the SIS level, and clearly, this is all about Situation, and the hell of old-school play is that it assumes Situation is always plainly and simply emergent from people saying “I do this” and “I do that,” in the Murk. Which it isn’t.

OK, since it isn’t, we have to talk about Techniques relevant specifically to Situation, and fortunately that was a topic of a thread a while back - this is an Authority issue. Specifically, Situation Authority. As with all the Authorities, that does not mean that it needs to be centralized, but rather that however an immediate Situation is established, the group knows that’s how it’s established. The means are legion. What matters is that the ends (everyone knowing what’s going on, and for that to be effortless and expected) must be known and valued.

Quote
So, Ron: I'm not sure if what you're talking about applies to every issue I've raised above, but I think the core principle underlies it all: profound confusion and struggle over SIS input. So could you expand on what you were talking about in the quote--this concept that, when grasped, causes these disputes to disappear? Like, maybe you could unpack "what the game (text or played) provides so far" a bit. What's the "it" that the game provides? Play procedures? … Or do you mean something besides procedures/rules? If so, what, and specifically how does whatever-it-is address the difficulties I'm describing?

Well, any and all solutions to the problem operate at a much “higher” level of play than merely the resolution procedures which necessarily include IIEE.* IIEE is certainly part of the solution for a given game and a given group, and that does speak to procedures, but it’s an expression of the solution rather than its core, or a means to it.

In other words, I think if you played The Shadow of Yesterday or Sorcerer with this group (both games being crystal-clear about what is said prior to a roll and what a roll means, and who goes when for both player and character), you’d run into the exact same problem. People would play as if the game offers no such structure and substitute the confusion in an attempt to impose structure (at best).

I’d like to write more about the various different ways in which that positive, expected, and according-to-me effortless approach to Situation Authority may be established. However, I’ll stop here to see how what I’ve said sits with you, and how it might or might not apply to this group as you see it.

Best, Ron

* I am the author of IIEE. I refer to it obliquely in the essay “GNS and other matters of role-playing theory,” and Manu asked me about it after that essay was published, leading to two important threads which outlined the steps. The text in The Shadow of Yesterday is inspired by and to some extent repeats my posts there. If you do a search on “IIEC” (note the different initials) you can find the threads.


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 16, 2008, 10:16:21 PM
Hi, Ron!

OK, to digest tis I'm going to have to break it down into chunks. I'll try not to make it to staccato or disjointed.

You’ve articulated the problem so well, and demonstrated it with examples so well, that it’s been hard for me to post constructively. “I hate biting my own fingers off! It deprives me of useful fingers, it serves no purpose, and it hurts! [explicit examples] Man, this business of getting together and having to do this while we try to play piano together, it’s really getting me down! [explicit examples of specifically why it’s counter-productive] How do I stop?” I guess I’m hunting for something to say besides, “Um, stop doing it?”

Hah! Drastic as this metaphor is, I can't say it's a bad analogy. Though there's also a dimension of communication inherent in the problem and solution, I think-in other words, "How can I say to my friends, 'I'd really like to play the piano together without biting our fingers off' in language they'll understand?"

About the Murk: hell, yeah. When you talked about Murk, I recall some folks were like, "Oh hell, please not another Jargon term." But not me. I was going, "Yes!! THAT'S what I've been going through for years, and now I have a name for it! Murk! Oh my GOD, yes!" So, I'm on board with that whole concept and its attendant discussion. But unsurprisingly, being mired in Murk is not a strong position from which to recognize solutions.

The bad news first: the reason this situation persists is because one or more group members are used to exploiting it for minor advantages. One GM is simply not up to the task of managing general confusion, and general confusion can be maintained with only very minor additions at key moments. It provides a context in which a person can maneuver his or her character into maximally-advantageous positions, both in imagined time and in imagined space.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that one or more players is maliciously sabotaging the fun of everyone else. I am saying that a person can functionally instigate this sort of confusion even when he or she is “just trying to do stuff” or “just trying to find out what I can do.” It may even be that that person’s experience says, if I don’t do this, I won’t be able/allowed to do anything. The usual tactic involves a certain amount of verbal interruption as well, but in long-standing groups who purport to care about the game content, then it can be employed without such obvious telltales.

Hmm. While I did spend some considerable effort fending off Callan's speculation (Sorry, Callan!) that advantage-jockeying was a key cause, I think I can see what you mean here. We used to have a particularly disruptive player in the group who I believe did maliciously exploit the situation to fuck with people. And even with him gone, I can think of instances that look like what you're talking about, particularly circumventing of rules-resolution via fictional jockeying: "You can't have him roll to break free of my hold! The hold I described is unbreakable!" "What do you mean he's still alive 'cause he's got one hitpoint left? That was a killing shot, through the throat!" It's much like Erick Wujcik's old "Diceless" article, only expressed sporadically.

Myself, I wish I knew how to exploit it. It seems to me (in my biased memory at least) that I tend to be on the losing end of the "who's what and where and how" game-unable to take a desired action, at the mercy of someone else's action, etc. I do notice that I tend to play pretty cagey with my own intent, stating discrete actions without "tipping my hand" as to their overall purpose: "I go to this end of the room," "I talk to so and so," "I sneak down this hallway," "I search this room," etc, without ever communicating "The purpose to all this is to commit a daring theft of a priceless artifact out from the noses of the assembled aristocracy!" It's kind of a catch-22. In hiding my intentions, I rarely accomplish them, but if I do reveal my goal, it'll be considered crass (I feel) and be denied. So I muddle along being frustrated that nothing ever turns out as cool as I think it will be in my head.

And this is a pretty group-centric thing, too. A lot of that behavior disappears when I play with other folks.

The good news is that there are many, many solutions. There are so many because the solution is not a matter of Techniques, but rather a more general, better existing interface between social contract and SIS. If your group doesn’t want to work on that, either because a person is a culprit or because he or she is so immured in this mode that they cannot conceive of an alternative, then there literally is no solution. You can’t enjoy playing piano with people who are convinced that the activity must include biting off fingers.

So now we drill down into the SIS level, and clearly, this is all about Situation, and the hell of old-school play is that it assumes Situation is always plainly and simply emergent from people saying “I do this” and “I do that,” in the Murk. Which it isn’t.

OK, since it isn’t, we have to talk about Techniques relevant specifically to Situation, and fortunately that was a topic of a thread a while back - this is an Authority issue. Specifically, Situation Authority. As with all the Authorities, that does not mean that it needs to be centralized, but rather that however an immediate Situation is established, the group knows that’s how it’s established. The means are legion. What matters is that the ends (everyone knowing what’s going on, and for that to be effortless and expected) must be known and valued.

OK, let's assume that my group does want to work on that SC-SIS interface. I still don't know how to communicate what that means in a concrete manner: "Hey guys, instead of A, ho about we do B, which will cause less X and more Y?" I trust though, that you're moving step by faltering step in the direction of working this out. You may read this as anticipation.

I have to confess, when I read the stuff on Authority, it all made sense to me academically--I could tell (I think) what is meant by each kind of authority and how they differ. But I was (and still am) at a loss regarding how to aply it to play: so there's this Situation Authority, yah? Groovy, but how do I work out the particular social contract model of Situation Authority for my group?

Well, any and all solutions to the problem operate at a much “higher” level of play than merely the resolution procedures which necessarily include IIEE.* IIEE is certainly part of the solution for a given game and a given group, and that does speak to procedures, but it’s an expression of the solution rather than its core, or a means to it.

In other words, I think if you played The Shadow of Yesterday or Sorcerer with this group (both games being crystal-clear about what is said prior to a roll and what a roll means, and who goes when for both player and character), you’d run into the exact same problem. People would play as if the game offers no such structure and substitute the confusion in an attempt to impose structure (at best).

Well, damn, there goes plan A. :) OK, I still do want to play TSoY with the gang, but you're saying there's something more to do at a fundamental level before even a game like that will be used properly and functionally by the group. Which was my fear. I've been kind of schitzophrenically longing and dreading playing Dogs of Capes or TSoY with them, 'cause if I do, and it's still suck, then that's in, then, no? Game over, I'll have no social currency to suggest or enact change, 'cause my wierd hippie games are no different from the usual muddle.

So what is that something more? You say it's the core to which TSoY's IIEE procedures are but an expression. I'm all ears.

Peace,
-Joel



Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on January 17, 2008, 01:41:36 AM
Hi Joel,

That’s a tough one. Here’s one technique Harald (oliof) has been known to talk about. It only works if you’re the GM and if there is no immediate player vs. player conflict in the game. In German, the technique is called “das gelingt dir”, which basically translates to “you can do that”. I have used it to some success myself.

The roots of what you are talking about often lie with a nasty dysfunctional sort of “Gamism by habit” where the GM always tries to counter the plans of the players because “it must not be too easy”, which is why (as you perfectly describe) the players don’t tell the GM their plans, which is why he doesn’t know their intentions with the actions they state, which is why he decides randomly “who is where when”, which is why it only works out if the players pull the most detailed information out of the GM’s nose beforehand in a painful question and answer procedure.

Now, if you GM and basically always rule in the players’ favor, there is a chance they eventually notice and ease up. Player asks you: “Where am I right now?” You say: “Where do you want to be?” Player asks you: “Can I do XY?” You say: “Yes, you can.” Also, don’t be afraid to rewind. Player anounces action. You anounce NPC’s action. Player says: “Oh, he was over there?” You say: “Yes, I thought so. Do you want to restate your action?” Make sure to comment on related imaginative context (who’s where, what does it look like etc.) as you go along, adjusting your own picture to the player’s.

It’s not a foolproof recipe, but it’s the best one I know. It helps you get around all of those conceptions of “if I tell him what I’m up to, he’ll deny it, so I’ll have to trick him”. Once you’re past that point, you can start working on how to better establish imaginative context in the first place.

Hope that helps.

- Frank


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 22, 2008, 07:51:03 AM
Hi Joel,

I’ve singled out a few parts of your post that seem most important to me. I hope it makes sense that this is all provisional - I don't know you and the group, and I can only really compare what you write to my own experiences and observations. None of what follows is meant to be a diagnosis, but more like a portrait which you can say is or isn't on-target in one way or another.

Quote
"How can I say to my friends, 'I'd really like to play the piano together without biting our fingers off' in language they'll understand?"

Unless, they too do not want to bite off fingers (for whatever reason, even if it’s only habit), then you cannot. You cannot. You can’t save people, or a group. From what you’re writing and describing, I’m not seeing any indicators that anyone in this group shares your stated goal, to play the piano without biting fingers off. Perhaps you’ve left something out, but so far, it ain’t showing up.

The good news is that, if they do agree, and unless there’s some social mess going on that precludes human conversation, then it should be simple and easy as pie. The rest of this post is about that.

Quote
… We used to have a particularly disruptive player in the group who I believe did maliciously exploit the situation to fuck with people. And even with him gone, I can think of instances that look like what you're talking about, particularly circumventing of rules-resolution via fictional jockeying: "You can't have him roll to break free of my hold! The hold I described is unbreakable!" "What do you mean he's still alive 'cause he's got one hitpoint left? That was a killing shot, through the throat!" It's much like Erick Wujcik's old "Diceless" article, only expressed sporadically.

OK, so there’s some history with this, in this group. This is exactly what I’m talking about – especially if it does not include egregious and disruptive versions, but is more-or-less the basic assumed standard for how to do anything effectively during play.

Quote
Myself, I wish I knew how to exploit it. It seems to me (in my biased memory at least) that I tend to be on the losing end of the "who's what and where and how" game-unable to take a desired action, at the mercy of someone else's action, etc. I do notice that I tend to play pretty cagey with my own intent, stating discrete actions without "tipping my hand" as to their overall purpose: "I go to this end of the room," "I talk to so and so," "I sneak down this hallway," "I search this room," etc, without ever communicating "The purpose to all this is to commit a daring theft of a priceless artifact out from the noses of the assembled aristocracy!" It's kind of a catch-22. In hiding my intentions, I rarely accomplish them, but if I do reveal my goal, it'll be considered crass (I feel) and be denied. So I muddle along being frustrated that nothing ever turns out as cool as I think it will be in my head.

Ah, that might answer the question of who-it-is, doesn’t it? You are exploiting it for purposes of being socially and creatively accepted, i.e., not belittled or stifled directly, which come to think of it is a pretty spotty version of acceptance. Clearly you are blocked from doing things during play, and the key is that you are now blocking yourself from addressing the blocking. So yeah, you are the problem person (or one of them), sort of in the same way as in poker, when you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.

What I can’t figure out is why that seems important to you during play. So here we go, to address that.

Quote
And this is a pretty group-centric thing, too. A lot of that behavior disappears when I play with other folks.

Please imagine me with a predatory yet Viennese smile. If that’s so, then most likely what we’re talking about is some priority or dynamic that exists among you and these specific people which you do not want to examine. Here is a real-world example whose names I will keep to myself (although I am posting with the main person's permission):

Example: A person joins a group with his friend from high school and former gaming partner from years ago, with the GM being the friend’s wife, who is a hard-core My Story My Way sort. He soon comes into constant conflict with the group in general about minor aspects of play (e.g. what he can and cannot describe), but particularly in terms of reflecting upon play. He frequently is surprised by the wife responding as if she’s attacked, then “forgiving” him. He doesn’t have a whole lot of fun during play, but feels as if he’s part of the social scene and wants to preserve the friendship, and so continues to play as an expression of that friendship.

The interesting thing is that the Forge is part of the argument; the guy is interested in the ideas here but finds that the wife, in particular, hates any mention of it, not based on the ideas, just as an outside influence of any kind. So he finds himself in a power battle when he’s trying to raise ideas for discussion, and perceived as a kind of foreign agent of the Forge. Whereas here, on-line, he finds himself in the difficult position of defending or preserving the image of the group as functional, because he wants it to be, and starts to resent the Forge. He’s trapped!

Eventually, an argument comes to a head and he realizes to his horror that the friend perceives him as an ongoing threat to the marriage (in part because the wife can’t stand him) and doesn’t want him around. Whoa. This changes everything – the whole time, he was in this because of the friendship, period. He re-assesses the situation in full and decides that he needs to leave the role-playing with these people, and either to cast his friendship with them in an entirely different light, or to step away entirely, with only the high school memories as the real value added to his life.

However, despite my sympathy for the rather painful actual social situation going on, I am not surprised to learn that the bushel of detailed debate over this and that techniques, whether it was “real role-playing,” and the general conflict over the Forge vs. the group, were all totally peripheral to the real conflicts among the real people. The misunderstandings and compromises among them that caused all the trouble would have applied to any social activity that they tried to undertake.

You cannot imagine how annoying it was for me, here at the Forge, to deal with the unspoken consequences of this situation during our dialogues with this person, and for that matter, with the GM in question when she deigned to post as well. Over and over, argumentative bits and quibbles and defensive dodges; over and over, trowelling over the fact that highly consequential and painful personal conflicts were flaring up constantly among these people, and that the game, and dialogue about the game, were merely a shuttlecock, like anything would have been, within a desperately broken social situation that no one was willing to call out.

I’m not saying that your case is so hopeless as to need the same level of drastic solution. I’m saying that a similar sort of examination may be called for, on your part.

Quote
OK, let's assume that my group does want to work on that SC-SIS interface. I still don't know how to communicate what that means in a concrete manner: "Hey guys, instead of A, ho about we do B, which will cause less X and more Y?"
Quote
I have to confess, when I read the stuff on Authority, it all made sense to me academically--I could tell (I think) what is meant by each kind of authority and how they differ. But I was (and still am) at a loss regarding how to aply it to play: so there's this Situation Authority, yah? Groovy, but how do I work out the particular social contract model of Situation Authority for my group?

The following is presented with the following proviso: that is a whole lotta assumption in your first sentence I quoted. Like, a fucking bucketload. I am not comfortable entering into that assumption, given what you’ve described so far, even for discussion purposes.

But that said, my answer is the same for both quoted bits, in two parts. You tell them so, with full authority and respect as a fellow human in a mutual activity, just like you’re saying so here.

My question is, why are you reluctant to do that? Why is that kind of explicit interaction so off your radar that you are seeking some magical game rules or some sneaky social tactic to bring the issue to the group’s atttention, rather than, well, bringing the issue to the group’s attention?

You can tell right off, by yourself, without my help, that your plan A was no good. One good look did it, right? I know! I’ll play the perfect game which is nothing like what they want, nothing like what they conceive of as role-playing, and nothing like they’ve ever seen, and it will change them into exactly the sort of people I want them (specifically) to be!

Quote
… but you're saying there's something more to do at a fundamental level before even a game like that will be used properly and functionally by the group. …

So what is that something more? You say it's the core to which TSoY's IIEE procedures are but an expression. I'm all ears.

It’s the relationship among the real humans that embeds the SIS firmly with Social Contract. Jesse wrote about it recently, calling it the Social Mandate, and I will quote myself from the infamous awful Brain Damage thread:

Quote
To engage in a social, creative activity, three things are absolutely required. Think of music, theater, quilting, whatever you'd like. These principles also apply to competitive games and sports, but that is not to the present point.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue


My claim is that the hobby of "story-oriented" role-playing as expressed by its most aggressive marketer of the term, and as represented and imitated by countless others, fails on all three counts.

The key for me is that this idea apparently does not exist among you and this particular group of fellow players. Please check me on that – I don’t want to claim pure knowledge; this is my perception based on what’s been posted so far.

They aren’t the same people that you played with as described in [OTE] A paper trail to nowhere (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20477.0), [OTE] Rewards (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20729.0), and [OTE] Cats successfully herded (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20465.0), are they? I’m pretty sure not. What’s the difference, socially? Only you can answer that. I’m not demanding that you do so publicly, but answering it may be the key to your situation.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 23, 2008, 06:29:48 PM
Ron,
This is getting pretty personal, obviously. That's not a complaint or plea for mercy; I want to proceed. I'm not comfortable, but I'm willing, if you will. This is too important to slough off or re-bury, ad if an internet forum is my source of personal revelation and clarity, so be it. I hve been feeling like things are coming to a crisis point with me and this group, so I (wincingly) welcome the opportunity to sort myself out and cut through the social tangle.

(Also: I welcome insight from anyone else as well! Unless Ron thinks it should wait, anyway. We've definitely shifted from "explain X feature of roleplaying" to "brutally examine your group dynamic" as a topic, but if anyone has anything to contribute, by all means. Just bear in mind that my posting time and speed is limited right now.)

I hope it makes sense that this is all provisional - I don't know you and the group, and I can only really compare what you write to my own experiences and observations. None of what follows is meant to be a diagnosis, but more like a portrait which you can say is or isn't on-target in one way or another.

I do understand that, and it's actually got me feeling somewhat. . .apologetic, since you're having to fire a lot of shots into the dark and expend considerable energy to analyze the situation. There's noting for it but to forge on, I guess, and try to be as clear as possible. it's impossible over this medium to present a complete picture, but I'll do my best.

So:

Exploiting socially. . .that's honestly a dimension that had escaped my notice, but you're right. It's not what I'd consider an ideal situation, but that doesn't change the fact that it IS the situation that's emerged over time, and I'm interacting with it in a certain way. So, hmm, plugging that back in to "the situation persists because someone's exploiting it," what happens if I stop exploiting it? What does that look like? (this is me thinking out loud here) I guess it'd mean speaking up and being absolutely clear about intent in the game, regardless of reaction to that. Which would have one of two effects i can think of: a) my manner of contributing to the game is denied, blocked or ridiculed, or b) my manner of contributing is acknowledged and accepted. In the case of a) this could cause considerable friction and make the game untenable to one or more members (including me), or it might not. in the case of b) this could cause the direct contribution method to be adopted by the group, or it might not. Every possible outcome looks better than continuing in the murk.



Following on the heels of your utterly chilling example, maybe I should describe the social dynamic a bit. Matt is my brother and his wife Colleen GMs several games. J is another GM in the group, and the three of us rotate campaigns every few weeks. Colleen invited me, Matt, J and C, a friend from work, into the group at various times. S and B were friends of a former group member and came in through him. And J's friend M came in through him--he found out J was playing with us after a long absence and asked to be let back in too.

M has a history of passive-aggressive social manipulation within the group, mainly aimed at Colleen, and somewhat at Matt, nasty poisoning-friends-against-each other stuff. Colleen said she'd have to have a serious talk with him about that stuff before she agreed to have him back, but she never actually had the talk and M just sorta ended up back in anyway. M got to know the new guys (B, S and C), and they (plus J) started playing another D&D game with M GMing, first on another night, but now due to schedule constraints they play early on Friday night, butting up against our main late-Friday game.

S recently confided to Matt and Colleen that M is up to the same old stuff, talking behind people's backs and being divisive, particularly sowing dissent toward Colleen as a GM. S hates it and wants everyone to be friends.Meanwhile, M's game tends to infringe on or at least crimp our regular game time, and it's starting to feel like a competition.

Some interesting stuff about the relationships: Colleen used to be kind of the social hub of the group--she invited me, Matt, J and C plus many others who don't currently play, into the group over the years, and runs several campaigns and has a lot of affection for the group except maybe M. Now it seems like social dominance is shifting over to J, with M in kind of a lieutenant role; all the guys save me, Matt and Colleen kind of do everything together, travel to game together, go to Shari's afterwards together, have other campaigns together, etc. and J is endowed with a kind casual authority within the group, especially on D&D stuff. Also, there's some resentments within the group in a variety of directions and degrees: M seems to have it out for Colleen, Coleen, Matt and I and now S are unhappy with M's manipulations, I've got some issues with J, Colleen's got some issues with B and a bit with C. . .I was talking about this with my wife, and her comment was: "You've got a social situation where everyone involved wishes someone else wasn't part of it-that's sick!"

And I can't really disagree with her.



Now, about the communication issue, You seem to have understandably but erroneously assumed that I haven't communicated with the group about these issues. Here's where I get all apologetic for being unclear or leaving out key info. But anyway, I have, in fact had discussions with the group about play goals, group engagement, who-says-what-when-how authority, clarity on what the dice decide, etc. It hasn't gone all that smoothly; I've gotten a lot of confused stares, "I get that you're dissatisfied but I don't know how to help you," "that wouldn't work because," and the like. The talks have borne some fruit, but it's spotty and hard to maintain the progress; group procedure and sensibilities tend to slide slowly back into that swirling mass of Murk. And I feel like I'm becoming the un-fun, "Serious Discussion Guy," with his impenetrable desires and crazymoontalk theories on what makes fun.

I think that's the place that "Plan A" is coming from: I'm feeling like: "just talking about what I want isn't working; if I could just show them it'll sink in, and give them a chance to see (ihopeihopeihope) if they like it themselves!" Which, I can definitely see is fraught with peril, especially the more I've blathered on about this super-plus-fun thing I want desperately to try.

I totally cop that I could be a poor communicator on this. partially for emotional reasons, I get clenched up in confrontational situations, don't know what to say, feel a huge sense of dread and can't look people in the eye. I lost my temper bad on one occasion over an in-game issue, and that's contributed heavily to the web of resentments I mentioned, and I think it puts me on thin ice for even constructive and appropriate addressing of my desires and frustrations. I did have a talk more recently about growing frustration in the game which went much better and may have put me back on some footing of respect, and has resulted in some slight improvement. But it's hard going. I''m not keeping mum because I don't dare show my dissent; I'm keeping mum because I've tried and failed.

Which brings me to another issue with your post. You wrote:
They aren’t the same people that you played with as described in [OTE] A paper trail to nowhere (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20477.0), [OTE] Rewards (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20729.0), and [OTE] Cats successfully herded (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20465.0), are they? I’m pretty sure not. What’s the difference, socially? Only you can answer that. I’m not demanding that you do so publicly, but answering it may be the key to your situation.

And I can only answer, sheepishly, um. . .er. . .yes, they are. Same group, same social situation. I'm sorry if my descriptions are confusing or contradictory to you. I'm pondering what could have made you think they were different, and I can only guess based on the context of this discussion, that it's because I indeed describe discussing these issues with the group in those post, and it had a positive impact on play. And indeed i did, and it did. This is the "the talks have borne some fruit" I just mentioned. Discussion did have a local positive effect, but not necessarily across the group over time. Like I said, changes on my part tend to "take" for a while, then "backslide: the sessons in those posts represent a time period like a shining island floating above the sea of Murk. Also, it varies by campaign; in my own game I seem to have much more sway (though still spotty and a bit brittle) over how we approach play, in Colleen's campaigns, much less, and in J's game, least of all. My OtE is still benefiting from those discussions and reforms, though not as much as when the clarity was "fresh." Does any of that make sense? And what impact does it have on your comments so far? If the play accounts still seem incongruous with my posting in this thread, please note that a lot of the problems I'm describing here do show up in the old discussions: M's passive-aggressive behavior "yeah, I understand that even if I come over you'll be playing the campaign I've chosen to opt out on" followed by "what? I'm here, aren't I? Might as well play."), my issues with others' play that spills over into real-people relationships (J just wanting his character to do paperwork, and me feeling offended that my effort to interact with him is being shat on), and confusion over Authority and the range of "how you do things in roleplaying" (Colleen's "I can't choose the next scene to play, I'm not the GM!").

Finally, regarding your Social-creative activity requirements:
It’s the relationship among the real humans that embeds the SIS firmly with Social Contract. Jesse wrote about it recently, calling it the Social Mandate, and I will quote myself from the infamous awful Brain Damage thread:

Quote
To engage in a social, creative activity, three things are absolutely required. Think of music, theater, quilting, whatever you'd like. These principles also apply to competitive games and sports, but that is not to the present point.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue


My claim is that the hobby of "story-oriented" role-playing as expressed by its most aggressive marketer of the term, and as represented and imitated by countless others, fails on all three counts.

The key for me is that this idea apparently does not exist among you and this particular group of fellow players. Please check me on that – I don’t want to claim pure knowledge; this is my perception based on what’s been posted so far.

Well, let's check off on the three items within the group:

1) There is little agreement on what procedures we even use, and still less on what given procedures mean or how they work, so a resounding "no" on tis one.

2) I'd say it's a spectrum. There's 2-3 people about whom I definitely feel "yes, with these people!" which is mainly what keeps me coming back. A couple of people I really, realy wish I wasn't playing with, and the rest fall into a middle ground where I sometimes enjoy playing with them but could probably take or leave them. As for the others, M seems planted squarely in "anybody who'll let me" territory, aside from his friendship with J. C is more focused on "with my friends, and oh, it's roleplaying? Sure." S is also "Hang out with my friends" focused, but still very psyched about folks' game contributions and how they mesh together.  J seems to vary somewhat on "do this, here, now, but tends toward the complacent end of things, hence my issue with him in "Paper trail to Nowhere." Colleen has issues with M but is very attached to J, and she's confessed that she loves to hang out with C but wishes she hadn't invited him to roleplay (which is pretty much how I feel, too. And like I said earlier a bunch of the guys have formed this sort of posse around J, which seems pretty tight socially and somewhat gaming-wise as well.

3) I feel like we fall down pretty hard on "reflect meaningfully." An underlying assumption of "the stuff in the game comes about by 'just playing our characters'" impedes reflection, as does various folks' personal, social investment in various versions of "How Things Are Done in Roleplaying" (yes, including me).

So I'll kick it back over to you; hopefully this post is coherent enough for you to work with and doesn't derail too much of your conjectures so far. This is really hard to talk about, not just on the emotional level but also issues like what's pertinent and what can be left out, what kinds of description will be received what ways by you, of those, what requires clarifying and correcting, and so on. Thank you for all the time and effort you're expending on what is really just a personal problem on my part; no matter how much I may squirm, I truly appreciate it.

Peace,
-Joel


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 23, 2008, 06:58:47 PM
Yoicks!

Um, I sort of didn't require all of that to be aired publicly. But I am also honored that this forum could be a healthy enough place, as you see it, for you to post this. I will do my best to live up to that perception and I strongly hope that anyone else who posts here will do the same. (burning look toward all and sundry)

I'm not sure what to add. I think your wife nailed it. You also clarified the relationship between this thread and the OTE threads, and what you say about that makes perfect sense to me.

I also want to point out something about my #2 in my little list. When I say "these people," it has to mean "all these people" to be functional. Even if there are people whom I like better than others in a given social group (say, a martial arts studio), I have to want to be there with them as a total dynamic, period. To put up with someone you really, really do not like to interact with in such a group, and to have essentially to pretend that you do like the total dynamic when you actually don't, only leads to suffering.

So, uh, not to be too mean about it, the group apparently fails on that point as well.

Finally, about that communication issue. I am partly guessing and partly relying on your description, but it does not appear to me as if you communicated to them what you wanted them to do, as a baseline requirement for your participation. I'm not talking about blackmail ("do this or I quit!") so much as saying (approximately), "This is what I want from my role-playing, socially and creatively, with all of you," speaking as a peer whose voice counts among them.

It's sort of rough to say this next part ... um, and clearly this is a function of my personality and choices in life, which have been known to carry their own prices; since we're not the same person, this cannot be taken as actual advice. It's offered as a thought or, perhaps, some reciprocal sharing. Here it is: if your voice does not count as a relevant social member in the activity, for whatever reason, then why do this at all? Even in a hierarchical, structured environment like a martial arts class, one's voice still matters in the context of one's rank, or it should. If one's voice does not matter ... then, um, it seems as if the person is accepting a second-class, subordinated, essentially not-quite-human role in that situation.

I guess in some cases, it might have something to do with the issues Chris Chinn has written about so well - the idea that everyone can bring individual expectations to role-playing, and if we all "just do it," and if we "do it right," then magically everyone should get the kind of enjoyment they want. I have noted that in many internet discussions, people will defend this phenomenally in-denial concept to the point of hysteria. Or rather, beginning with hysteria, because there is no way to present it rationally or experientially. I don't know if that applies here or not; it's merely what comes to mind when I think about previous discussions.

Well, anyway, that's what I have. I'm not a counselor or a spiritual guide or anything. The only advice I can give as an equal (role-player, Forge participant) is to consider the words of someone you trust and who wishes you well ... and you have already done that, so there you go.

Best, Ron

Lookit all those 'uh ums.' I typed this post straight through, just thinking as I went.


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on January 23, 2008, 09:28:06 PM
Ron,

Um, I sort of didn't require all of that to be aired publicly.

Don't worry, I know you didn't. It was entirely my choice, and yes, I made it because I feel it's a healthy enough place for it, as healthy as it can BE as an internet venue, anyway. Hell, (not to get all kissy-huggy on you, but. . .) I'm honored to be a member of this community to the point where I can post this. Anyway, rest assured that I am taking your role to be exactly as you stated. I don't want to cast you as some sort of counselor or confessor.

I also went on like I did because as I said I'm having trouble sorting out how to describe this and what's relevant so I went ahead and let it all pour out. I think I know now how Callan felt over in this other thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25571.0). (And for the folks playing at home, what Callan describes runs rather parallel to my tangle over here, especially his self-castigating internal monologue: "Idiot, say something! No, that won't work, say something else! Hah, too late now, bucko, you lost your opportunity and implicitly agreed to it!. . .")

About communication, I have done the "what I want you to do" talk, but I think I've done it fairly ineptly, being both too vague about the "what" as I flounder for words, and too evasive about the "you" in my attempts to be diplomatic and nonconfrontational, avoiding any version of "you, specifically, are playing bad/wrong."

I guess in some cases, it might have something to do with the issues Chris Chinn has written about so well - the idea that everyone can bring individual expectations to role-playing, and if we all "just do it," and if we "do it right," then magically everyone should get the kind of enjoyment they want.

Yes, totally. I've found Chris' writings on this stuff right on the money, painfully so. And they're an eye-opener fr msyelf as much as for my friends' behaviors, 'cause I was able to see that I too was bringing a load of assumptions about "what roleplaying is, which everyone should automatically know" to the table. The current discussion is a potent reminder of that for me.

And finally, regarding your further comments on "with these people," I totally get it, and agree. This struggle (or current phase of the struggle) comes as I reevaluate a lot of areas of my life for "what's really important to me, what am I getting out of it, what am I willing to do for it?" type criteria, and roleplaying's been a big, almost assumed, part of my life for so long that it's a particularly thorny hedge to prune. And particularly painful, since there are some members that I personally count fiercely among "with these people," and don't want to lose roleplaying with them, and so am scared to leave the group and risk them not following. When I went through a similar process this past year with my volunteer choir, my decision was eased and emboldened by a contingent of likewise dissatisfied people, enough for us to form our own group with an established social-creative relationship we were satisfied with. That I'll leave this group and not be able to replace it with a functional one is my big fear. . .but y'know, I'm in my thirties and it's time to stop living in fear.

Peace,
-Joel

edited to fix link - RE


Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Andrew Cooper on January 30, 2008, 10:39:52 AM
Joel,

Thanks for posting this.  I've been in group like you describe before and it's painful.  If nothing else this thread has underscored for me why the social dynamic between the players is so important and foundational to functional play.   I hope you sort things out.



Title: Re: Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on February 01, 2008, 06:18:46 PM
If nothing else this thread has underscored for me why the social dynamic between the players is so important and foundational to functional play.

True that. The difficulty now is figuring out how to achieve a functional dynamic. I'm kinda sitting here going, "Functional. Yeah, that sounds good. Hmm, functional. . .so, uh, yeah, how do I do that?"

I can think of two approaches, broadly speaking: One is to form a new group. Possibly with some overlapping membership with the current one, possibly not. The other is to work toward healing within the group. To that end. . .

I had a talk with my brother Matt yesterday. I told him I'd been talking to Ron, and related to him the 3 components of a Social-Creative Endeavor. In the abstract: He was pretty on board with the first one, Trusting the Procedures, except that I threw something in about agreeingto the rules, to which he went eh, I dunno if loyalty to a written ruleset is realy the point. I backpedaled and talked about system as a whole being the whole agreement between participants, not just written rules, but I think perhaps I made a mistake (, not tactically) in bringing rules in at all. for 2 (it now, with these people), he was in perfect agreement, especially about the contrast between "with anyone who'll let me." but for 3 (Reflect Meaningfully), he balked--"I don't think that's necessary." I think he was stating conceptual belief, not necessarily preference--that is, not "I don't want to reflect meaningfully," but rather, "regardless of whether I want it, I don't think it's necessary for Social-Creative activity." I replied that I know it's something that I, for one, want, and that I'm not getting.

And with that, we got down to cases. I said the deepest our game reflection generally went was , "Wow, it was cool when [fictional character] did the thing!" Matt suggested that perhaps that was sufficient reflection. I said that what's missing is the feedback of "Hmm, that cool thing, how did we achieve that? What did people like, and what could be done better? What worked and what didn't?" Matt did then understand and agree that that was valuable.

We didn't really talk much about #2 and its failings across the group. But I know from previous conversations that Matt understands and largely agrees about the social muddle that our group is. What he thinks about Ron's claim of needing that "these people" buy-in is anybody's guess.

We talked a lot about #1 in relation to our group. The conversation kind of cafreened all over the map and became a bit more about "why Player X was/wasn't justified in doing whatever." Matt was understanding of my frustration at micromanaging time and space, even if he's less bugged by it. He seemed to get me when I talked about everyone bringing their own disparate understanding to the table and each thinking that's "what roleplaying IS--Matt's especially in agreement in the case of D&D. I think I started to lose him a bit when I talked about the Murk giving me no clear expectations of what my input will mean. I talked about both J and Colleen as GMs (and me at one time--check out I was an Illusionist Wanker! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21641.0)) constantly calling for rolls out of the blue with no explanation--just "roll a D[whatever]." I said I'd much rather know what I'm rolling for and what effect it'll have. Hekind of got it, but advocated in favor keeping some rolls mysterious, so that he as a player can be in suspense about some things. I'm not entirely sure if this is a fundamental misunderstanding of roleplaying or just differing play preferences on both our parts.

When I talked about my issues specifically with Colleen, I brought up the whole "I'm gonna be a daring thief of priceless artifacts!" thing not seeming to pay off. I talked about my part in the failure, and the need to be more direct about intention. Matt said that he definitely saw no problem in being upfront about intent, so I'm thinking I may have the social support to try that. Yay! Also, having played a couple more sessions since I wrote about it here, I think the issue is partially pacing--Colleen's not necessarily blocking me from my goals, just allowing their pursuit to follow a slower path of development. I think my problem was not that I wanted to commit the most outlandish theft the city has ever seen in the first session, but rather that I didn't have any opportunity for a more minor heist to establish my cool piratey-ness. It was all, "you come to the city." "OK, I gather Information on cool thieving leads." "Well, there's this priceless artifact being unveiled." "Cool! Ima totally going to nab it!" ". . .uh, you can try, but there's no way you'll pull that off."

I talked about being more intentional in all working toward cool stuff for our characters, instead of just kinda "winding up" everything and letting them "play out," and the cool stuff will just sorta happen, right? Matt said that Colleen was just trying to slot my character into what was already going on, which I said was all fine and cool, but it felt like I was slotted into a situation that I wasn't allowed to really affect, and it was the only situation I'd been provided with, so I was kinda impotent. Matt didn't quite share my perspective but suggested that I talk to Colleen about  my frustrations and work more closely with her to come up with cool stuff for my guy to do. Which was my intention anyway; I just haven't hat the opportunity yet to sit down with her. But it was nice to test the waters with Matt before having a discussion that's more directly confrontational, even if Collen is one of the people in the group where I feel there's mutual respect and some degree of understanding.

So that's how that went, more or less. Interesting, a little rocky, but a step toward real honest communication. However, that's the easy part; Matt's one who I talk about serious stuff with all the time. Working that base of communication and understanding outward through the group, that's the challenging part. I think I'll talk to S next, as I know secondhand that he's dissatisfied with the social context of our game as well, but I haven't been able to discuss it directly with him.

Peace,
-Joel