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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 04:01:36 AM



Title: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 04:01:36 AM
This thread is the next step in my quest to understand Story Now and how to give it to a new player who doesn't like Simulationism. It continues from What's Narrativist in Zero RPG? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.15), and I'm quoting a couple of points brought up there. I'm letting go of Zero as my example and am using Serenity instead, since I actualy intend to start a campaign with that.

McV did mention Serenity RPG as a possible example of a narrativist game though, and I can say a little something about why/how Serenity isn't narrativist.  Seems like we've likely moved beyond that on this thread though, and I don't want to threadjack,

That's what this new thread is for. Why/how is Serenity not narrativist, but also: can I do anything to make it narrativist. I think the answer lies in understanding Premise and what to do with it.

I believe Too Much Analysis Kills the Fun.   At some point, GMs and Players need to step away from the theory and say "knowing what I have learned, can I make my game session deliver more Moments of Awesome?" and try it out.

Of course I want more Moments of Awesome, but then again, who doesn't? But yes, I want to try it out, and for that reason I want to move into a more practical direction. How to get Awesome in Serenity (in a way that the new guy also considers awesome), and if/how Premise can help me. Or which Premise, and how to address it.

Also yes: games based on TV shows (like Serenity) are often good vehicles for Narrativist Play.  Unfortunately, they tend to be designed around a Gamist/Sim bias: Unless your group is created to be a rag-tag band living on the frontier fringes of a civilized universe, taking whatever jobs they can to stay free, then there isn't really a whole lot of rules to the rule book.  What if the game was designed around, instead of a Guns rating, Jane has a Loyalty rating, and the dice roll isn't whether or not Jane can successfully shoot the Alliance guy kidnapping River, but does he shoot the bad guy or give in and turn over River?  It'd be a very different sort of character sheet.

It is, but to me, that also feels like I'm taking the character's free will away from the player, and putting it in game mechanics.

BTW: I think you nailed the important part of my hypothetical Serenity build: The challenge is directly about how the Story/Plot goes.  Note that that's just an example of how to use System Mechanics to push a game into Story Now mode, instead of using the current Serenity Mechanics, which push the game into Step Up or Support the Dream category.  You certainly can play any type of game with any System: But some Systems have a lot more pain and work on the part of the GM to reward different agendas.

I admit Serenity RPG has lots of elements in common with Step Up and Dream supporting systems, and I don't doubt it can support those approaches well. But it also has Plot Points, which the player can spend on just about anything, including introducing a situation related to Premise or Theme. And the GM can reward Plot Points for anything, including for addressing Premise (although I'm still not completely sure what that means, but that's what this thread is for). Basically, I think Plot Points, how they're spent and how they're earned, can have a huge impact on how the game is played. They're not earned at the end of the session and only spent to get a bonus on a roll, they're earned constantly for doing cool stuff, solving problems, facing your Complications (Disadvantages that make life interesting in the Chinese-proverb sense), and, well, why not for addressing premise in an interesting way?

But I need to get a better grip on Premise first. And instead of vague theorising, I want to get practical about it with examples of premises and how they affect play. Actually, FredGarber already did that for Luke and the Deathstar, but here I want to try to focus on Serenity instead (though if you're unfamiliar with the setting, examples for other settings are good too). Why Serenity? Because unlike Zero or Star Wars, I do want to use that game some day soon (as a replacement for my failed Firefly/Traveller campaign, which could easily fill a thread of its own), and I want to make our new guy happy with a more Narrativist angle.

Fortunately, Serenity RPG is nice enough to identify a couple of underlying themes (in a paragraph labeled "Underlying Themes" (p.167 in case you own the book)): Thrilling Heroics, Hidden Secrets, Outcasts & Misfits and Freedom. Personally, if you want to stay close to the style of the TV show, I think there's at least one more: Keep Flying. I'll get into them below. (I'll make all themes and premises I think I've identified bold.)

First, are these themes the same sort of themes refered to in Story Now? The book tells me:
Quote
Some basic themes can help involve the crew in the story you're creating in your role as Game Master.

It says the GM is creating the story (which is very not Story Now), and the theme will get the players involved in that story. Will it? And, if so, how? Let's look a bit closer:

Thrilling Heroics: The book isn't clear on whether this is about cinematic stunts, or about being the good guys. "Be wary of allowing players to create characters who are nasty, evil, no-good skunks. Some greedy scoundrel-types are acceptable, but there's a limit. Flawed people are interesting, but flat-out evil folk will end up locked up or on the wrong end of a gun barrel." Sounds like they're suggesting Force. But in the TV show, murder is definitely being considered. Betrayal happens. They're definitely not incorrigible do-gooders. Mal (the captain) keeps insisting he's a bad man. Some agree, some don't.

I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?" (Am I correct in thinking this sort of question is what Story Now means by "Premise"?)

Hidden Secrets: There are several of these in the TV show. Particularly: "Why does a priest know so much about crime, military, and shooting people in the kneecaps?" and also: "Why did the government mess with the young girl's brain? And what did they do to her?" and related to that: "Why does the messed-up girl attack logos of a food company?" But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?

I suppose in Story Now, it's vital not to have the answer to these mysteries in advance. The priest's player may not know what his character's history really is, and by addressing that question in play, in the situations the players encounter, bits of the answer might develop out of how the players deal with those situations. I think. Could these questions be personal premises, rather than premises for the entire group?

Outcasts & Misfits: That just describes the group of characters. Hardly addressable as premise, right? The book says: "The kind of folk who get into the scrapes likely to happen in a campaign are not the sort who settle down and raise a bunch of young 'uns. The scrapes they are in may not have been part of their original live-plan, but circumstances have forced them to become misfits who can't find a place in life -- but might find one with a group of other misfits." And suddenly I find myself asking the question: "Why don't you fit into normal society?".

In most RPGs, the characters don't operate in normal society, yet we rarely question why. In Firefly, each character has its own reason to be on the move, on the run, to keep flying. They're all different, and for some of the characters, this is addressed in the TV show (not for all, unfortunately). It could be interesting to do something with that question in an RPG, but how?

Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.

Let's not forget the theme I added:
Keep Flying: It's a popular quote in the game (it's the name of a chapter, even), and a theme of the TV show. Mal (the captain) feels like his land has been taken from him, and now he only has the sky left. "You can't take the sky from me" from the title song. In the pilot, he says "It's getting awful crowded in my sky." He wants to keep his ship flying, and to do that he needs a crew and money. But money is always a problem (and so is the crew, actually), and he often needs to resort to crime. That's easy when its a victimless crime (smuggling), or the victim is impersonal, evil and/or rich, but what if you find out that's not the real victim of your crime? Can you steal from hospitals, even if they're rich? What if you discover that the goods you were stealing are medicines headed for a poor, sickly community that really needs it? "What does it cost to keep flying?" and "Who are you willing to hurt?" Lots of moral dilemmas here, and moral dilemmas sound like a great way to address this premise.

(On moral dilemmas, I get the impression that the way that phrase is used on the Forge has drifted quite far from its real meaning, which is something I discuss in the previous thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.msg260332#msg2603325).)

Now I've got two questions:

1. Do I understand correctly what Premise is? Are all the bold questions above suitable as Premise?
2. How do I (or the players) address this in a game?


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 05:34:16 AM
I messed up a BBCode tag in that post. Is there any way I can fix that? This looks kinda awful.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: lumpley on February 12, 2009, 06:51:46 AM
Got the bbcode for you.

Okay, so, a super-quick summary of Story Now play. Straight outta Egri.

Passionate characters, in action according to their passions. They face opposition across the moral line(s) their passions represent. They're fit to take on the opposition, and the opposition is fit to take them on. They escalate, escalate and escalate, facing and going through the inevitable moral dilemmas that escalating against fit opposition across a moral line creates. Ultimately they reach a crisis, they break the opposition or it breaks them, and they resolve the drives of their passions.

(This process can be layered, at different scales: in Firefly on TV, each episode follows this process, and each episode is also an escalatory step in the larger conflicts of the series. When Mal compromises his "stay the hell away from the alliance" for the sake of his "Shepherd Book is part of my crew, so I save his life," that's a moment of resolution in the episode, and a moment of escalation in the series.)

With me?

So:

I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?" (Am I correct in thinking this sort of question is what Story Now means by "Premise"?)
(You are.) To make "how much of a good guy can you afford to be?" stick as a premise, you'll need (a) characters who are passionately committed to being good guys, in (b) situations where being a good guy is incompatible with surviving financially, with (c) something to force the issue, to bring inescapable urgency to the question.

Quote
Hidden Secrets ... But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?
I don't figure they are either. They don't have much moral dimension, do they? Same with backstory questions like "why don't you fit into normal society?"

Answering these questions is often, not always, part of revealing the characters' passions in action, and they're often, not always, fruitful territory to mine for conflict and opposition - but they don't make passionate characters in conflict with fit opposition across a moral line all by themselves.

Quote
Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.
The only one of those that really works for me is the last: should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom. (That's because "should" brings the moral dimension, where "are you willing" leaves it out.) Anyway, to address it in play, you need (a) (b) and (c) above: characters passionately committed to their freedom, in a situation where their living safety is in genuine conflict with their freedom, with some internal or external force that makes the question immediate and urgent.

It's really important, while we're here, to point out that for a premise to work, it has to be a genuinely open question. "We died for our freedom" has to be absolutely and genuinely a possible outcome.

Quote
Let's not forget the theme I added:
Keep Flying: It's a popular quote in the game (it's the name of a chapter, even), and a theme of the TV show. Mal (the captain) feels like his land has been taken from him, and now he only has the sky left. "You can't take the sky from me" from the title song. In the pilot, he says "It's getting awful crowded in my sky." He wants to keep his ship flying, and to do that he needs a crew and money. But money is always a problem (and so is the crew, actually), and he often needs to resort to crime. That's easy when its a victimless crime (smuggling), or the victim is impersonal, evil and/or rich, but what if you find out that's not the real victim of your crime? Can you steal from hospitals, even if they're rich? What if you discover that the goods you were stealing are medicines headed for a poor, sickly community that really needs it? "What does it cost to keep flying?" and "Who are you willing to hurt?" Lots of moral dilemmas here, and moral dilemmas sound like a great way to address this premise.
Yep. Especially "what does it cost you to keep flying," meaning, what must you compromise? ("When you have to hurt someone to keep flying, should you?")

Again, addressing them in play is just a matter of (a) (b) and (c).

You left out loyalty! Firefly is a show all about loyalty. The whole crew is in a constant state of "to whom do you owe your loyalty? What should you compromise to stay loyal? How should you respond to another's disloyalty? To, worse, your own? When your loyalty to one person conflicts with your loyalty to another, what should you do?"

-Vincent


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: lumpley on February 12, 2009, 07:02:28 AM
Oh, and whether Serenity the rpg is going to make it easy or hard for you to address any of these, or another premise, in play... I don't know. I suspect hard, possibly prohibitively hard, but that's based on my own prejudice so don't take it too seriously. I haven't read the game.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: FredGarber on February 12, 2009, 11:28:03 AM
Vincent: That's why he's has his own principle...  he explains it all.

As a clarification to my Jane Loyalty roll, after I've had two days or so for my subconscious to work on it, you're right.  That would take the character out of the player's hands too forcefully.  I'd probably come up with some sort of Stat - based challenge, where the GM challenges Jane's Weakness (Loyalty to the crew) by offering him some of his Needs (Violence, Wealth, or both), and Jane's player depends upon his Strengths to give him bonuses to the roll.  If I win, he adds to the story my way.  If he wins, I narrate it his way.  But, that's getting "Thread Drifty," and would belong back in First Thoughts.  This is Actual Play.  Let me dig out my Serenity rules from the Gaming Closet, and maybe by the time I read it, you might have a question left (before all the other brilliant people here give you better advice than I could ;)

I tried to run a Serenity / Traveller game, and ran RIGHT INTO this too.  However, much of my group wanted a sort of game where they were playing out an imaginary Serenity Spin off, and so the game was very much about the "Shared Dream."  There was friction over the crew's choices, but people were more interested in Seeing the 'Verse (Exploring Setting) and witty exchanges of banter (Exploring Characters).  It was pretty Awesome, but not Narrativist play
 
Good luck.
-Fred


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 03:16:33 PM
Got the bbcode for you.

Thanks for that.

Quote
Okay, so, a super-quick summary of Story Now play. Straight outta Egri.

Passionate characters, in action according to their passions. They face opposition across the moral line(s) their passions represent. They're fit to take on the opposition, and the opposition is fit to take them on. They escalate, escalate and escalate, facing and going through the inevitable moral dilemmas that escalating against fit opposition across a moral line creates. Ultimately they reach a crisis, they break the opposition or it breaks them, and they resolve the drives of their passions.

I've seen references to Egri before here. I understand he's pretty important around here, so I did some reading. And my impression is that even the Egri premise is not quite the same thing as a Story Now premise, although it's closer. Where a movie premise is a short synopsis (for example, for Romeo and Julia: "Forbidden love between boy and girl ends in death"), te Egri premise is about the underlying message that the story tries to deliver to the audience ("Love defies even death"), whereas the Story Now premise is an underlying question, rather than a message. Perhaps each possible answer to that question could be an Egri message, I suppose.

But I think I get your point. Whatever the premise is, it needs to deal with something that the characters care about. And then the GM threatens it in a way that the characters can deal with, and you see what happens. And then you do it again, but you up the ante. And then again and again, until something snaps.

Quote
(This process can be layered, at different scales: in Firefly on TV, each episode follows this process, and each episode is also an escalatory step in the larger conflicts of the series. When Mal compromises his "stay the hell away from the alliance" for the sake of his "Shepherd Book is part of my crew, so I save his life," that's a moment of resolution in the episode, and a moment of escalation in the series.)

And that might be an interesting example to follow in a Story Now campaign. Each session needs its own resolution, but each resolution is also an escalating step in a bigger story. And I've got the feeling that bigger story could be addressing a completely different premise, is that correct? In fact, would it be possible to have several different premises relevant to the campaign, and address a different one each session? Or would that be too messy?

Quote
I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?"

To make "how much of a good guy can you afford to be?" stick as a premise, you'll need (a) characters who are passionately committed to being good guys, in (b) situations where being a good guy is incompatible with surviving financially, with (c) something to force the issue, to bring inescapable urgency to the question.

That's good to keep in mind. With players used to Sim or Gam, I guess it's easy to end up with characters who are not really passionate about the issue addressed by the premise. Some of my players might answer up front: "Not a lot, really." or: "If there's profit in it." which is of course something that needs to be prevented. The up front part, at least. If during play they decide that being a good guy is just too hard in this setting, then I suppose that's their answer. Then I need to lower the bar, to figure out how low their standards for being a good guy really are. That's (a).

(b) is something that the GM needs to take care of. Shouldn't be too hard, I suppose. Firefly is full of situations where they need to choose between making money or doing what's right. Still, it's important to keep that conflict in mind. It's too easy to screw them over financially (or otherwise) without them having any choice in it, or to let them be heroes without it really costing them anything. I think "winning" means they need to sacrifice something, whatever the win is. The one thing I'm worried about here, is how much of a sacrifice a financial sacrifice really is. Fully detailing the financial situation of the crew of a tramp freighter can be some serious bookkeeping, which goes way over to the number-crunching simulationist side. I've done this in WFRP's Death On The Reik campaign, and tried to avoid it in our recent GURPS Traveller debacle, but the end result of that was that they had no idea what their financial situation was, and they had to take it on faith from me that they'd be short if they chose A, but would make their monthly payments in they chose B. Not satisfying. I think Serenity has some rules about this, so I hope they're easy and lightweight enough that it gives the players a better feel about their finances without breaking out the spreadsheets.

Quote
Quote
Hidden Secrets ... But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?
I don't figure they are either. They don't have much moral dimension, do they? Same with backstory questions like "why don't you fit into normal society?"

Answering these questions is often, not always, part of revealing the characters' passions in action, and they're often, not always, fruitful territory to mine for conflict and opposition - but they don't make passionate characters in conflict with fit opposition across a moral line all by themselves.

I do think they're important questions to consider, however. They're more personal, less about decisions, and not much of a topic for discussions among the characters, but they're still issues that could make for nice backstory if answered in advance (which would be acceptable, since they're not premise), or could add interesting flavour by addressing them during play. Maybe they're only decoration, but they can be pretty anyway. And for a simulationist, the "not fitting into society" might even be necessary to explain why they prefer travelling around in a rust bucket spaceship.

Also, these issues could still be related to something the character is passionate about. Maybe he wants to keep his secret, for example (although I don't really like that, I think -- finding answers to mysteries is more fun than keeping them secret). And in Firefly, Mal is still passionate about the cause for Independence, which is why he doesn't fit into Alliance-controlled society. So there's still options for conflict here.

Quote
Quote
Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.
The only one of those that really works for me is the last: should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom. (That's because "should" brings the moral dimension, where "are you willing" leaves it out.) Anyway, to address it in play, you need (a) (b) and (c) above: characters passionately committed to their freedom, in a situation where their living safety is in genuine conflict with their freedom, with some internal or external force that makes the question immediate and urgent.

I'm not sure if safety is the most interesting conflict for freedom here. Adventurers tend to have very little regard for it. But freedom could still cost them something else: maybe they could get a profitable job working for the alliance. Would they do it? (In Earthdawn, the players hate running errants for Dragons, exactly because it does tend to cost them their freedom.) Or it could be brought into conflict with other things they're passionate about. What if freedom conflicts with heroism? Poor, desperate people really, really need their help, and they're the only ones who can help, but they were actually in the middle of something else entirely, and don't really want to be stuck on a moon for weeks in order to help people for no profit.

Now I suddenly find myself wondering if it's really about answering deep questions, and not simply about characters having different things they care about and making them choose between them? That's pretty much your basic, classic moral dilemma, right? Except that morality is about ethics, not passions. Hm....

I need to think about that one.

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It's really important, while we're here, to point out that for a premise to work, it has to be a genuinely open question. "We died for our freedom" has to be absolutely and genuinely a possible outcome.

But it's not good for the longevity of the campaign. But perhaps having a dramatic ending is better than having it bleed to death, as so often happens.

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You left out loyalty! Firefly is a show all about loyalty. The whole crew is in a constant state of "to whom do you owe your loyalty? What should you compromise to stay loyal? How should you respond to another's disloyalty? To, worse, your own? When your loyalty to one person conflicts with your loyalty to another, what should you do?"

Or when it conflicts with one of your other passions? Because that's the fun part, isn't it? Each character has a number of passions, and they all conflict. For Jayne, for example, both money and safety often trump loyalty. For Mal, on the other hand, loyalty trumps just about anything else. Zoe is I think the only one with conflicting loyalties: to her husband and to her captain (who would both be player characters if it was a RPG, so I'm not sure how that would work out in actual play).

On the one hand, I've got lots of good ideas now, but on the other, I've got a nagging feeling that I'm dilluting my new found understanding of what Story Now is. On the gripping hand: does it matter? The most important issue is that we get exciting play where we deal with issues that the characters care about.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Callan S. on February 12, 2009, 03:45:40 PM
Hi mcv,

Is there anything that...scares you about your own life? It's a bit of a private question - I'm asking merely to raise the idea rather than asking for an answer here. For example, a hard one is, what if I conceive a child and it has down syndrome? Would I get an abortion?

I imagine there's a short shocked silence to that one from all reading, but that's exactly my point - I'm not bringing up some fantasy, far away moral dilemma. If it was too much, just dismiss me as another internet weirdo and skip the rest of the post, that's ok.

With some things that scare you, perhaps you've made your choice. But with other scary things, you may have doubts about how to deal with it (perhaps even as you deal with it a certain way in real life).

Can you imagine exploring those doubts in a game? Perhaps draping it in metaphor and space ships, to make it less horrifically close to home? But basically it's those doubts actually explored.

I don't definately know myself if that's to do with the definition of nar. But I do tend to think that pure fantasy moral dilemmas that are harmoginised and sealed off from what shares the shit out of you probably will have you indeed dilute your understanding of story now.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: JB on February 12, 2009, 03:56:32 PM
Wow. I think Vincent covered the 'themes' so I'll keep my comments there to a minimum. 

I'd second the idea that some of the 'themes' in the Serenity text aren't 'Themes' or Premises in the specific sense that we're using the word, but are more like motifs or tropes.  They're not using the word to mean something as specific as we are here though, and the Premises have been identified, so no problems there.

I'd also emphasize that you absolutely must give the players the authority to decide what side of the issue they come down on, and the power to influence how they addresses that issue.  You and the whole group needs to be open to the players answering 'yes' OR 'no' to the 'premise question' and for them to go into tragedy OR triumph to make their argument.  Some of that can be established before you start playing, but some of it is going to have to come from the play itself.

Got a game of my own to get to, so I'll have to leave off here. I'll try to get an analysis of the Serenity RPG up tomorrow, along with what I see as the potential stumbling blocks to using it as a vehicle for Story Now, as well as some thoughts on what you might do to get around those.  I'm also not convinced it's worth the effort, but I really sympathize with your situation so... Onward!

I also see there's a couple of new posts up since I read through this thread earlier, so my apologies for any confusion if this is crossposted.
 
Cheers,

J


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 12, 2009, 04:19:26 PM
MCV, I want so much to say, "Use all the cool setting stuff from your Serenity RPG book (because it is pretty damn cool), and use my game The Rustbelt with the Frontier Suns mod included therein for everything else," because it presents so damn clearly a particular take on the Firefly thing (i.e. my particular take on the coolest, most cutting Premise that can be derived from it), with a built-to-specs system for that take.  Because, even if it isn't your take, or a take you like, I think you'd find it helpful.  But the damned thing isn't ready yet.  That, and I'd look like a self-promoting ass.  Arrrg.

-Marshall


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 12, 2009, 04:34:10 PM
Oh, hell, lemme see what I can do anyway.

Okay, so, this particular take on the Firefly thing revolves around the Black.  Right, a colloquialism for the vast emptiness of space, but here also a metaphor for isolation.  This being roleplaying we're talking about, we can treat metaphor as something that acts and has an agenda and does shit to people.  So, we explore what isolation does to people.  Isolation, as in how the outer planets are isolated from the central planets, and what that did to those outer planets and the people living on them, and what that allows the Alliance to do to the folks on the outer planets as the distance diminishes their apparent humanity.  Isolation, as in my planet is separated from yours by space, so we're different and apart from each other.  Isolation, as in the only connection between your ship and my ship is a video screen that I can turn off if I want, and doing so will make it a lot easier for me to kill your ship for food and fuel.  Isolation, as in I'm just looking out for me and mine, and I don't have time or energy to take up for you too.  Isolation, as in "She's wanted by the Feds; they'll give me money if I turn her in; if I protect her, I'm in danger; hmm...."

For my money, this grabs everything in the Firefly canon, from Train Job to the movie.

By treating the Black as if it were a character, you can make it work to isolate and divide people and thus open up the door for desperate and despicable behavior.  You can do things like have it take away resources so that people might have to do something unsavory or despicable to get by; you can put people in a situation where a despicable, self-serving, and even murderous act can go unpunished (or seems like it can); you can drive wedges between friends, by having the pressure of all the hardship, desperation, and isolation hammer on their nerves until they lash out at each other.  There's lots of tricks.  But the thing is, you give them opportunity to be horrible, and good reason to be horrible, and then watch to see if they act horribly to get by, or nobly despite the cost, or manage to find a balance somehow.  And then you challenge their choice.  And re-challenge it.  And so on.

I'm not good at stating Premises, but there's one in there.  With considerable houseruling, you can do it with Serenity RPG.  My consternation above is based on the fact that The Rustbelt + "Frontier Suns" mod is custom-made for this very thing (right down to having rules for the Black acting as a character).


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 04:39:27 PM
MCV, I want so much to say, "Use all the cool setting stuff from your Serenity RPG book (because it is pretty damn cool), and use my game The Rustbelt with the Frontier Suns mod included therein for everything else," because it presents so damn clearly a particular take on the Firefly thing (i.e. my particular take on the coolest, most cutting Premise that can be derived from it), with a built-to-specs system for that take.  Because, even if it isn't your take, or a take you like, I think you'd find it helpful.  But the damned thing isn't ready yet.  That, and I'd look like a self-promoting ass.

Well, if you need a proof reader, I'm volunteering. I'm very interested.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: sirogit on February 12, 2009, 08:57:15 PM
I never -played- the Serenity RPG, but I did create a character and read the rulebook with the intention of drifting it Story Now.

While the setting has awesome potential for addressing premises, and the book mentions a few of these premises in passing, I don't think there's much in the rules that I would want to steal for narrativist purposes.

To start off, the game puts a lot of emphasis on "Then the GM decides what is best." This can be extremely obstructive to addressing premises, such as the concept of "How much of a team player/rat bastard can I be?" - The rules explicitly states that the GM decides how much the character must be adhering to a team - and thus there is no question about it by the time we get to play, because the GM has already decided it pre-play. I would say that the rules imply that however much of a team player you've established your character to be is an informal contract with the GM, which means it can't be dynamic and change in response to meaningful game events - That premise, as a component of story that is composed in the moment, is effectively dead in the water.

Like most trad game systems, the disadvantage system is the most tempting to the story-now-drifter. Especially with a few key disadvantages like Secret. But Secret is pretty much drowned out in a sea of very generic disadvantages I'd be hard pressed to try to squeeze story out of, like being mildly whacky or antisocial. This more or less defeats the plot point mechanic as a meaningful story engine, as people aren't as likely to be getting brownie points for revealing secrets as they are for having a bum leg or being mildly irriatating or whatever.

I wouldn't peg it as impossible to drift the -game rules- in a Story Now direction, but I don't really see the benefit of doing so compared to just using the setting in combination of a game that is already a decent fiction engine.

- Sean Musgrave


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: JB on February 12, 2009, 09:46:44 PM
I'd personally still like to take Serenity RPG apart and see what we could change to better facilitate Story Now.  Even if there are better vehicles out there, in terms of setting and mechanics both, I think it might be educational and illustrative both for understanding the big model and as an exercise in game (re)design.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Trevis Martin on February 12, 2009, 11:56:06 PM
Quote
Some of my players might answer up front: "Not a lot, really." or: "If there's profit in it." which is of course something that needs to be prevented. The up front part, at least. If during play they decide that being a good guy is just too hard in this setting, then I suppose that's their answer. Then I need to lower the bar, to figure out how low their standards for being a good guy really are. (a).

Right on.

My instinct on this is to say that it's totally okay for them to answer it up front. The story of the game isn't formed only by the question and the answer, but by the question, the answer (which is the sum total of the characters actions in the overall situation) and the consequences of the answer.  In fact, that is really the way the question is answered.  The player has the character take a position through action (maybe consistantly, maybe not), and the consequences roll out and we discover the pay off together.

I guess I mean to say that answering it isn't as simple as just saying "if there's profit in it."


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 13, 2009, 01:11:51 AM
To start off, the game puts a lot of emphasis on "Then the GM decides what is best." This can be extremely obstructive to addressing premises, such as the concept of "How much of a team player/rat bastard can I be?" - The rules explicitly states that the GM decides how much the character must be adhering to a team - and thus there is no question about it by the time we get to play, because the GM has already decided it pre-play.

That's true, but then again, it's only words, not integral part of the system. Lots of RPGs have crappy descriptions of how the GM should act, and I usually ignore it unless it fits what I'm looking for. On the other hand, I think I do want the characters to be part of a team. On a ship together, and doing some thing. But some group dynamic with a bit of tension would be nice.

Quote
I would say that the rules imply that however much of a team player you've established your character to be is an informal contract with the GM, which means it can't be dynamic and change in response to meaningful game events - That premise, as a component of story that is composed in the moment, is effectively dead in the water.

Of course there are other premises you could focus on if you don't want to focus on loyalty, but if you want to do justice to the TV show, then loyalty should certainly be an issue. (Although with the exception of Jayne, most characters seem to have a surprus of loyalty, rather than a shortage.)

Quote
Like most trad game systems, the disadvantage system is the most tempting to the story-now-drifter. Especially with a few key disadvantages like Secret. But Secret is pretty much drowned out in a sea of very generic disadvantages I'd be hard pressed to try to squeeze story out of, like being mildly whacky or antisocial.

Now that I've got my mind into a Story Now mode, I'm not so sure I like the disadvantages so much anymore. Just like with a Loyalty stat, it sounds like you're forcing certain decisions on the players and taking away their freedom. On the other hand, the majority of Serenity's Complications don't seem to have the forcing aspect that GURPS Disadvantages have. In GURPS, you have to roll Will to act against mental disadvantages, in Serenity, you get Plot Points for acting in accordance to your Complications. But if you don't need Plot Points, you're basically free to act.

Quote
This more or less defeats the plot point mechanic as a meaningful story engine, as people aren't as likely to be getting brownie points for revealing secrets as they are for having a bum leg or being mildly irriatating or whatever.

I'd definitely award Plot Points for conflicts that seem to reveal or suggest something about someone's Secret. Take all those "Why does a priest know so much about crime/kneecapping/etc?" moments in the TV show. If you've got a Secret, playing up the mystery gets you plot points in my book.

Quote
I wouldn't peg it as impossible to drift the -game rules- in a Story Now direction, but I don't really see the benefit of doing so compared to just using the setting in combination of a game that is already a decent fiction engine.

I admit my main reason for it is that I don't know of any game rules with a Story Now direction. Of all the Story Now systems mentioned in various places, Zero is the only one I know, and I don't see any clear Premise addressing in the rules itself. As far as I can tell, it's only the settin, and I'm not even all that sure about that (but that's a topic for another thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.0)). I did get the impression that perhaps Serenity was slightly more aimed at Story Now, but I could easily be wrong about that.

Of course the real problem is that I don't have any experience with Story Now yet. I'm trying to cobble together what it should look like in these two threads, but some practical examples would help a lot. I've suggested that the guy in my group who originally suggested we try Narrativism should GM a game of Dogs In The Vineyard or something like that. Something not too wacky, still recognisable as an RPG, but with direct focus on premise. From what little I've read, Dogs In The Vineyard, HeroQuest and Sorceror sound most attractive for that purpose.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: JB on February 13, 2009, 12:16:46 PM
About Loyalty as a premise: Yeah, it's a big theme on the show.  Depending on where you want to go during play, you may not want to make it a primary theme in your game.

Lemme toss out the biggest difference between 'Premise' in a game and 'Premise' in something like a novel or a script. 

* In a novel, the theme is 'asked and answered' by the author.  As a reader or viewer,  it's all there already, just waiting for you to uncover it.  And as the author, you can answer the question first and then very carefully construct and assemble the pieces  in order to 'state your case'.

* In a game, you're starting by asking the question and then answering it thru play.  In that respect, it's similar to what the author does, but without anywhere near the level of control over the story that an author has.  And since you don't have total control over everything in the story, you don't always know just what's gonna happen next or what side of the argument the final tally is going to be on, which is pretty similar to the role of the reader or viewer.

Let me tie this into the Loyalty thing: You watch Firefly and the Loyalty question comes up a lot. 

Let's state a Premise of, "Which is more important, being loyal or getting the gold?" (I'm over simplifying - most good premises are going to be a bit broader or deeper, like the ones Vincent poses above.  This lets you approach the question from more angles, and thus build a more convincing answer.  But let's keep this simple so the example doesn't become a novel itself.)

As observed in the show, the characters most often come down on the 'pro-loyalty' side of the issue.  By the end of the episode you're left with a pretty compelling 'argument' for choosing to be loyal when the question comes up.  I could state this Theme in a number of ways, but lets go with, "Loyalty is more valuable than money." 

Cool. By taking those characters and putting them in those situations, having them take the actions they do and presenting the consequences of those actions, Joss Wedon or whoever makes a case for 'Loyalty'.  Notice that you can do this by making positive or negative examples of characters - if Jayne chooses 'Take the money and to hell with being Loyal' and then dies in a hail of gunfire, it's making a pretty strong argument for loyalty.

But here's the rub: If you're going to play a Story Now game and make the story about loyalty, the game has to be open to the other side of the argument.  What about the movie where everyone's trying to screw everyone else for some prize, and the most ruthless guy wins? It's still about loyalty, still asking, "Which is more important, being loyal or getting the gold?" but the final tally comes down on the side of, "Gold is more valuable than being loyal." (Again, I'm simplifying for the sake of example. That kind of film is going to have  Premise/Theme of something like, "There is no true loyalty when this kind of money is involved, so go for the damn gold!")

So finally, we get where I'm going with all of this: 

Joss Wedon can decide to make his show about loyalty and ensure that the show comes out as an argument for loyalty by showing that loyalty is consistently the best choice. 

If YOU make your game about Loyalty, you may end up with an argument for or against loyalty - Characters could be loyal and victorious, or disloyal and defeated, or loyal and defeated, or disloyal and victorious - and noone knows at the beginning how it's going turn out in the end. 

That's cool, and that's why I would play that game.  (Mountain Witch, anyone?) But I'm not going to make 'Loyalty' a Premise of play if I don't want to open the doors to those options.  You can set it up so 'loyalty' isn't really an issue to be addressed thru play, and focus on other things instead.

Okie, this is getting long and I still haven't gotten around to deconstructing the Serenity RPG.  I'm still willing to do that, but if the option is there to play Dogs In The Vineyard, or even just read the game, I would say do that first.  That'll give you more traction for getting a grip on this 'Narrative/Story Now' thing than revamping Serenity, IMO - The analogy that occurs to me is this: If you want to know what it's like to ride a race bike, just take Vincent's excellent machine out for a spin. Then we'll worry about hotrodding a Serenity 650 for the track.

Cheers,
J



Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 13, 2009, 03:46:57 PM
Okie, this is getting long and I still haven't gotten around to deconstructing the Serenity RPG.  I'm still willing to do that, but if the option is there to play Dogs In The Vineyard, or even just read the game, I would say do that first.  That'll give you more traction for getting a grip on this 'Narrative/Story Now' thing than revamping Serenity, IMO - The analogy that occurs to me is this: If you want to know what it's like to ride a race bike, just take Vincent's excellent machine out for a spin. Then we'll worry about hotrodding a Serenity 650 for the track.

That was my plan. I'm seeing the group tomorrow (for a birthday instead of a game this time), and I'll insist that the guy who brough up narrativism GMs a game of DitV or something similar.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: greyorm on February 13, 2009, 04:47:01 PM
I think it's important to recognize that the game won't make play Narrativist unless the players do, and we're always cautioning people not to put their hopes into games or expect games to change their play groups just by whipping out a game. So I'm on-board with the suggestion of "play some Narrativist RPGs" to get your feet wet and hopefully see how they work (or might work in the right environment), but I'm also wary of the suggestion as well because it isn't going to be a magic bullet.

So, yes, do it. It's a good step towards understanding! But don't put a whole bunch of expectations into play, just have fun.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 14, 2009, 01:13:19 AM
This has been an awesome thread.

I want to expand on some of the points Marshall brought up and tie them back specifically to Firefly.

Marshall wrote, "right down to having rules for the Black acting as a character," in reference to having the thematic Issues personified by characters within an RPG game.

It's important to note that that Firefly, and the movie Serenity, do this already. 

The Reavers.  The Alliance scientists who experimented on the population of Miranda.  The damage that was done to River (making her almost another person when her "possession" clicked on.)

It is not possible to overstate the importance of this.

Many people, when they discuss Firefly in RPG terms, always discuss the crew, the ship, the bits.  But they seem to fail to notice that the arc of the first and only season was built around River and the experiments of the Alliance.  (Not in this thread, but in general.)

The original, two hour pilot lays all this out clearly.  For the first hour we're introduced to the characters, we have terrific Joss Whedon banter and so forth.  But at the mid-point of the pilot, River -- naked, vulnerable and terrified -- crawls out of the freeze unit.  The show changes at this point -- you simply can't have a girl that exposed and freaked out without changing the rules.  The rules are changed because something is wrong

No matter all the other moral complications, River, the Alliance experiments, and the Reavers are the other side of the moral coin, dramatized and personified.  There is no show without this.

(I'll add quickly that Whedon conceived of the show as a seven year arc.  Many of the plot elements of Serenity are from what would have been the second season.  The original two hour pilot, which I just watched again tonight and is amazing television, was deemed too moody by the FOX executives, who demanded a happier captain and bigger than life characters.  In short, the tv series was not the tv series that Whedon actually envisioned.  To get that, watch the original two hour pilot, and then watch Serenity.)

So, Martjin, as you think about your Firefly game, keep in mind that the show isn't just a crew running around doing space hijinks.  To make it a Firefly story, you'll have to find that way of making the Blackness literal -- personified by characters and their actions. 

Moreover, there will need to be something wrong -- a transgression that anchors the show morally but still creates ambiguity.  Remember, no one lives with more freedom in the Firefly universe than the Reavers.  They live by no rules and break every taboo of human culture.  They are the embodiment of The Black... and every character in the show has to place themselves on the spectrum of freedom to better or worse effect.

Without the GM manifesting these moral issues with transgressive actions and characters for the PCs to interact with, you don't have Firefly, you have Guys Running Around Making Money in Space.  Which might be fun.  But it will gut the attempt to grab after what made the show actually work.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 14, 2009, 01:22:12 PM
This has been an awesome thread.

Yours in an awesome response. You make a really good point that always has a tendency to go really wrong in my games.

Quote
Moreover, there will need to be something wrong -- a transgression that anchors the show morally but still creates ambiguity.  Remember, no one lives with more freedom in the Firefly universe than the Reavers.  They live by no rules and break every taboo of human culture.  They are the embodiment of The Black... and every character in the show has to place themselves on the spectrum of freedom to better or worse effect.

Without the GM manifesting these moral issues with transgressive actions and characters for the PCs to interact with, you don't have Firefly, you have Guys Running Around Making Money in Space.  Which might be fun.  But it will gut the attempt to grab after what made the show actually work.

Yeah, that's exactly what I want to prevent. I mean, I do want them to run around and try to make money, but that should be a backdrop, and not the central focus of the game. Another reason why I'd like to abstract the money away completely, although that will certainly lessen the effect of finances as motivator in conflicts. In other words: I'm not really sure what to do with that yet.

But yeah, something needs to be terribly wrong, and that needs to point towards some terrible secret. But it's hard to find something suitable. I'd rather not use a River-clone, because I don't want this game to be a direct copy of Firefly. I want the players to make their own decisions, not copy the TV show. But on the other hand, messing with people is a lot more wrong than messing with stuff.

In my GURPS Traveller game I had a few starting points for a big conspiracy between nobles. I had no idea yet what the conspiracy was, but the players had found a MacGuffin: a big aquarium psionic shrimp-like creatures that could form a hive-mind to drive anyone mad that wants to kill them. They're extremely rare creatures, and somebody wants it back real bad. But it's not wrong the way messing with River's head is. But what?


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: FredGarber on February 15, 2009, 11:40:58 AM
One of the ways I brought Color to my Serenity game was that I used the fact that Serenity's 'Verse grew out of Joss reading a book on the Post-Civil War era Southern US.
So I took real "wild west" things, and repainted them in Serenity colors.  There can be plenty of bad situations where the 'city slickers' (Alliance) didn't deal with the Frontiersmen (Browncoats) well. 

You could steal from Blazing Saddles/HHGTG, and have Blue Sun build a "commercial shipping route" right through a series of solar systems/planets, and so they are trying to convince everyone that these planets need to be depopulated, all the while they are buying up the land cheap and building rest stops with gas stations and roadside entertainment and raking in all the profits that ordinary entrepeneurs might have gotten, just by living on the right planet at the right time.

Stealing Land from People is Wrong, and it also can have echoes to the current economic Crisises (sp?) today, because these settlers are losing their homes to a big business, concerned only with profits and not sustainable economic activity.

-Fred


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 15, 2009, 01:10:40 PM
In a SF setting, I don't see land being very relevant for shipping routes. What is interesting, however, is resources. Perhaps a crook or small corporation discovers valuable resources on some frontier moon, chases/scares the owners off, builds their own commercial infrastructure there, and then informs a bigger corp that's better able to exploit the find. Now it's the crook or small corp that gets to profit from the big corp's operation, when it should have been the original population.

Makes for an interesting adventure (or a couple of them even), but I don't see it as a Big Wrong to uncover during a prolonged campaign.

(Wait, isn't that Once Upon A Time In The West?)


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Callan S. on February 15, 2009, 10:55:21 PM
I'd say everyone in the firefly universe lives with as much freedom as the reavers. As I understand reavers, it's not that they have freedom, it's what they do with it.

What all characters do with it is the question. What's interesting is that even if someone devotes themselves to some philosophy of only doing this or that, they still have that freedom regardless of how much they devote themselves to it. That's why play can't get stagnant - it doesn't matter if a character becomes a big peace hippy - he still has the freedom to become a mass murderer. Will he?

As opposed, I think (I'm not sure) to simulationist play. Where if your guys a big peace hippy, he stays that way and that's the fun of play, that things stay the same way and show an integrity that almost makes them tangible.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 17, 2009, 03:31:51 PM
Marshall wrote, "right down to having rules for the Black acting as a character," in reference to having the thematic Issues personified by characters within an RPG game.

It's important to note that that Firefly, and the movie Serenity, do this already. 

The Reavers.  The Alliance scientists who experimented on the population of Miranda.  The damage that was done to River (making her almost another person when her "possession" clicked on.)

It is not possible to overstate the importance of this.

Yes! That's precisely what I was getting at. And the examples go further. Everyone in that show has been touched by the Black, and it has left their mark on them somehow. River's is the most pronounced (and I love the fact that her power -- effectively created by the Black -- is what enabled them to defeat the Black in the form of the Reavers), but everyone's got it to some degree.

Take Mal, for instance. The Black got to him when the Browncoats lost the war, and it ripped a big chunk out of him. We never see the bottom of the hole that this left; we see only glimpses of it, in "War Stories" and "Out of Gas" and the last act of Serenity. But the hole is obvious:
"In the time of war, we woulda never left a man behind."
"Yeah, well maybe that's why we lost."

Back then, he cared about people and things. A lot of people and things. Now, he just cares about "me and mine." That is, until the final act of Serenity, when he decides to make a stand for all the dead of Miranda.


So, back to Serenity RPG. I had read it before, but I couldn't remember all of it, so I bought it yesterday to give it another read over.

Now, it ain't a bad system. It's pretty much functional, although some of the GM advice is stupid. But it would be best for Simulationist play. The main reason for this is the way that traits and Plot Points work, and work with each other. Everything else in there can actually be fine and dandy for Narrativist roleplaying, as long as you're clever enough to make it a source of conflict and escalation.

As written, Plot Points are a positive reinforcement tool, not an authoring tool.  They're in the same family as Fate Chips in Spirt of the Century, Thematic Batteries in Full Light, Full Steam, and TILT! in Super Action Now! (yeah, I referenced my own game, whatcha gonna do about it?). While all of these provide some increase in power over the SIS, and that power could be used to author (by which I mean "drive plot through player agency"), that's not what they're built for. They're all about reinforcing the Dream, maintaining a shared understanding of it, so that everyone can Get It Right.

What you need is something that provides authoring tools: stuff that helps players address Premise by calling attention to the issues and providing "handles" to make conflict easier to establish, complicate, and escalate for maximally engaging stories. Some examples are Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday, Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel, Humanity and Lore in Sorcerer, and the Psyche and Push mechanics in The Rustbelt (yeah, I referenced my own game again, whatcha gonna do about it?). As a matter of fact, any of these could be made to work for a Firefly-themed Narrativist roleplaying experience. But none of them would be easy to "drop in" to Serenity RPG. And, while you can get along without something like this, it's that much easier when you have it.
(Mathijs, for any of these mechanics that you're not familiar with, just ask. If I can't explain 'em, then there will be someone else who can)

-Marshall


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 17, 2009, 04:19:08 PM
Back then, he cared about people and things. A lot of people and things. Now, he just cares about "me and mine." That is, until the final act of Serenity, when he decides to make a stand for all the dead of Miranda.
Yes. But...

Just a quick stretching of the example.... As in any good Story Now driven game, Mal is constantly struggling to define what is "me and mine."

In the original pilot, he's ready to surrender Simon and River if it will spare him the wrath of the Alliance Feds.  But later, he takes Simon on board as part of the crew.

In "The Train Job" he robs the medical supplies for a third party... and then returns them to the town, stating quite clearly, "I didn't have a choice," in the matter. 

So, he's got a code where he's trying not to get burned again... and we see him struggling with this.  The last act of Serenity is vital because it's the point where he gives up all pretense of sticking with me and mine.  Going to Miranda means putting "me and mine" in jeopardy -- and Mal knows this.  (And he's proven right.) 

The thing about Story Now game is the flexibility of the statement about what the Protagonist values.  It can slide all over the map during play, rising to a climax of one kind or another where the character commits, through action, to a final big decision about the thematic content.

As Callan points out, the characters of Story Now can shift their bearings and decisions all of the place. In fact, its a good game where the thematic issues get tested in a variety of ways -- with different emotions, relationships and responsibilities.  That's how we find out who the character really is.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 17, 2009, 04:40:13 PM
The thing about Story Now game is the flexibility of the statement about what the Protagonist values.  It can slide all over the map during play, rising to a climax of one kind or another where the character commits, through action, to a final big decision about the thematic content.

As Callan points out, the characters of Story Now can shift their bearings and decisions all of the place. In fact, its a good game where the thematic issues get tested in a variety of ways -- with different emotions, relationships and responsibilities.  That's how we find out who the character really is.

Yes! And this is precisely the distinction between the "reinforcement mechanics" and "authoring mechanics" that I made. Reinforcement mechanics are there to keep everything where it's supposed to be. In Serenity RPG, Mal's player gets Plot Points when his "Credo" trait gets him into trouble because Mal won't break a deal or whatever, because that's what happens in Firefly.  On the other hand, if we were to do this with The Rustbelt, where Mal has a Faith trait labeled "Always hold your end of a bargain," the player will get a choice about whether to break the deal or not, and, whichever he picks, the Psyche mechanics provide support and reward in the form of fuel for making plot and transforming character. In particular, keeping the deal would enable him to be more effective when trying to do so, by allowing the player to use the "Push" mechanic to overcome a failed roll -- while breaking the deal forces the player to choose whether Mal a.) decides he doesn't care and loses the Faith, b.) feels bad about it and takes on a Woe trait (which will haunt him), or decides that he liked doing it and takes on a Vice trait related to conning folks. 

And if you're looking at those options and saying, "But that's not what Mal's like!" then, well, that's EXACTLY my point. These kinds of rules are for creating your own story, not celebrating someone else's. That's the difference between authoring and reinforcement.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 17, 2009, 04:43:52 PM
Oh, crap, Martijn, I called you "Mathijs." Sorry. The similar use of J confused me.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 17, 2009, 05:01:57 PM
And if you're looking at those options and saying, "But that's not what Mal's like!" then, well, that's EXACTLY my point...

And I would go even further.  Go watch the pilot.  Watch how Mal is ready to turn in Simon and River...  Mal doesn't even act like Mal sometimes!


Okay. So, Rustbelt sounds great.  But it isn't ready yet. 

We've laid out what sort of qualities Martjin is looking for in a game.  But now the question: how can he do this now?


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 18, 2009, 01:47:45 AM
Take Mal, for instance. The Black got to him when the Browncoats lost the war, and it ripped a big chunk out of him. We never see the bottom of the hole that this left; we see only glimpses of it, in "War Stories" and "Out of Gas" and the last act of Serenity. But the hole is obvious:
"In the time of war, we woulda never left a man behind."
"Yeah, well maybe that's why we lost."

Back then, he cared about people and things. A lot of people and things. Now, he just cares about "me and mine." That is, until the final act of Serenity, when he decides to make a stand for all the dead of Miranda.
There's lots of little things. During the war, he was very religious (you can see him kiss a cross in the pilot). He feels like God betrayed him at the battle of Serenity, and wants nothing to do with Him anymore. His religious ideals, goodwill towards all men, love thy enemy, it got him nothing. He doesn't live entirely for himself (unlike Jayne), but exactly whom he still owes loyalty to, is a big question. It starts with just his crew. And his war buddies. And any other underdogs down on their luck. And eventually it turns out that includes quite a lot of people.

Quote
What you need is something that provides authoring tools: stuff that helps players address Premise by calling attention to the issues and providing "handles" to make conflict easier to establish, complicate, and escalate for maximally engaging stories. Some examples are Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday, Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel, Humanity and Lore in Sorcerer, and the Psyche and Push mechanics in The Rustbelt (yeah, I referenced my own game again, whatcha gonna do about it?). As a matter of fact, any of these could be made to work for a Firefly-themed Narrativist roleplaying experience. But none of them would be easy to "drop in" to Serenity RPG. And, while you can get along without something like this, it's that much easier when you have it.

Unfortunately I'm not familiar with any of those systems. I guess it's time to invest in some new games. I'm actually hoping our resident narrativist (at least, he says he doesn't like sim, has seen more than enough gam, and wants to try nar for a change) will GM a game in one of those systems he keeps mentioning.

Personally, while I appreciate escalating conflict as a basis for a good story in roleplaying (I don't have any experience with it, mind you), I'm not really willing to give up on the Dream altogether. I think, for me and a couple of other players in my group at least, the best games would have a bit of both. Or is that just Narrativism firmly gounded in Exploration? I do like immersion, in any case.

As Callan points out, the characters of Story Now can shift their bearings and decisions all of the place. In fact, its a good game where the thematic issues get tested in a variety of ways -- with different emotions, relationships and responsibilities.  That's how we find out who the character really is.

Is that an intentional Firefly quote? Didn't Niska say something like that when he tortured Mal to "meet the real you"?

Yes! And this is precisely the distinction between the "reinforcement mechanics" and "authoring mechanics" that I made. Reinforcement mechanics are there to keep everything where it's supposed to be. In Serenity RPG, Mal's player gets Plot Points when his "Credo" trait gets him into trouble because Mal won't break a deal or whatever, because that's what happens in Firefly.
In Firefly Mal most definitely does break a deal (in The Train Job. And he gets into quite a lot of trouble because of it. But if I were GMing Serenity RPG, particularly if I were doing it with an eye towards Story Now, I'd definitely award Plot Points for breaking that deal. In my game, you'd get Plot Points for making your Traits relevant to the story, not for obeying them blindly.

The main thing that irks me about Complication traits in Serenity is that you get points back for them at character creation. Due to them being a source of Plot Points, Complications are already well worth taking.

In fact, that brings me to an issue that's been bothering me about GURPS disadvantages lately: they put the burden on the GM for screwing you over for taking a Disadvantage. If he doesn't, you just get free points. The Plot Point mechanism puts the burden on the player for making it relevant. That makes it much easier on the GM. Getting your reward in Plot Points during play rather than as character creation points at the start, also gives the player much more control over how to interpret the trait for that character.

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On the other hand, if we were to do this with The Rustbelt, where Mal has a Faith trait labeled "Always hold your end of a bargain," the player will get a choice about whether to break the deal or not, and, whichever he picks, the Psyche mechanics provide support and reward in the form of fuel for making plot and transforming character. In particular, keeping the deal would enable him to be more effective when trying to do so, by allowing the player to use the "Push" mechanic to overcome a failed roll -- while breaking the deal forces the player to choose whether Mal a.) decides he doesn't care and loses the Faith, b.) feels bad about it and takes on a Woe trait (which will haunt him), or decides that he liked doing it and takes on a Vice trait related to conning folks.
But none of those quite fits what happens in The Train Job. There, Mal breaks a deal, because he realises the deal would hurt people he doesn't want to hurt. He doesn't lose the Faith, he doesn't feel bad about it, and he doesn't like breaking deals either. He breaks it because it conflicts with something more important.

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And if you're looking at those options and saying, "But that's not what Mal's like!" then, well, that's EXACTLY my point. These kinds of rules are for creating your own story, not celebrating someone else's. That's the difference between authoring and reinforcement.
But don't you take away the option of handling that conflict just like Mal did? Not because that's what Mal did, but because you as a player at that moment feel that's the best way to deal with it?

In Serenity RPG, I'd definitely award Plot Points for that. Granted, that leaves everything to GM fiat and personal interpretations, but I'm not sure I like replacing that with game mechanics if those game mechanics limit or punish some very apropriate choices.

Another issue I'm still having with using game mechanics to drive story, is that game mechanics can be "gamed": manipulated for profit. I have no idea what Vice and Woe traits do, but they don't sound good. So that'd make Mal's choice one between gaining a bonus for sticking to his Faith, or gaining a new trait that he might not want. To me, that feels like interfering with his freedom to take his own responsibility for his choices. But maybe that's the simulationist in me.

And I would go even further.  Go watch the pilot.  Watch how Mal is ready to turn in Simon and River...  Mal doesn't even act like Mal sometimes!
He does act like Mal. Simon and River aren't part of "him and his", and they're endangering "him and his". The change in Mal is that he accepts them in his crew. Expanding his crew to embrace two fugitives (one of whom is a useless nutcase), is a big choice for him. Though it would be an unavoidable choice from a game perspective, because Simon and River are protagonists too, and it wouldn't make much of a game if you kick PCs out as if they were NPCs.

PCism is rather big in RPGs, and I don't like it much (because it breaks the Dream), but at the same time it's unavoidable if you want to keep playing.

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We've laid out what sort of qualities Martjin is looking for in a game.  But now the question: how can he do this now?
I think I need to play a game with strong Story Now-oriented mechanics, just to experience how that would work out. Then I can decide if I prefer to use that for a pure Story Now Firefly game, or stick to Serenity for a sim-nar hybrid (which I think most of the group would be more comfortable with).

Oh, crap, Martijn, I called you "Mathijs." Sorry. The similar use of J confused me.
No problem. The names sound very similar. In my previous job I had a co-worker called Mathijs, and people would often mix up our names.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Callan S. on February 18, 2009, 03:33:43 PM
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Is that an intentional Firefly quote? Didn't Niska say something like that when he tortured Mal to "meet the real you"?
I've thought of narrativist play as 'torture the character' play. You warp and change the imagined space in order to find tools to torture them with and expose their emotional innards.

You don't have a plausible universe for the stake of a plausible universe. You have a plausible universe because it happens to be one of the most excellent torture tools to apply to a character (that's perhaps why some sim slips into nar, on rare occasions).

However, it's only one such tool, so you warp/set up situations and people that wouldn't have naturally occured otherwise, to provide other tools.

Also, from what I've seen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mq_96Entks), didn't Mel give back the advance payment on the train robbery? He didn't break the deal - he declined it and handed back the advance payment. He found a way to fit his own values into the situation (though I imagine it was a painful one - he needs the cash)

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Though it would be an unavoidable choice from a game perspective, because Simon and River are protagonists too, and it wouldn't make much of a game if you kick PCs out as if they were NPCs.
Look no, your screwing up address of premise/nar by forcing a character choice 'in the interest of a better story'

If you were setting it up as a group, you just do a bit of story before - before play you talk about characters you'd all like to see. Then you'd ask each other 'would they all stay on the ship'?

I could imagine a group that might have a few characters 'kicked out' by a Mel character during the brainstorming (and hell, maybe Mel might get kicked out - this is brain storming a campaign, not sticking to formula), before someone suggests River and Simon 'Aww, yeah, he'd take them, but only just!' 'GREAT, were good to go!'

As opposed to traditional character gen, where everyone goes off on their own to make characters in secret, then they find at play they just wouldn't be together (and worse, nar play is then fucked up because 'in the interest of a better story' character choices are forced into accepting each other).


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 19, 2009, 12:13:28 AM
Also, from what I've seen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mq_96Entks), didn't Mel give back the advance payment on the train robbery? He didn't break the deal - he declined it and handed back the advance payment. He found a way to fit his own values into the situation (though I imagine it was a painful one - he needs the cash)
But that wasn't part of the deal. The deal was that he did the job, and he didn't. Returning the money make it okay for him, but that didn't make it okay for Niska. And Niska's henchmen made it clear that returning the money wasn't good enough.

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Though it would be an unavoidable choice from a game perspective, because Simon and River are protagonists too, and it wouldn't make much of a game if you kick PCs out as if they were NPCs.
Look no, your screwing up address of premise/nar by forcing a character choice 'in the interest of a better story'
That's my point. From an RPG perspective, threatening to throw them out, and later accepting them into the crew, was only a Nar decision if it was really an acceptable result of play that Simon and River were thrown out of the group. If that's not an acceptable result, then it may have been an interesting story, a dramatic scene, and well roleplayed, but it's not Nar.

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If you were setting it up as a group, you just do a bit of story before - before play you talk about characters you'd all like to see. Then you'd ask each other 'would they all stay on the ship'?

I could imagine a group that might have a few characters 'kicked out' by a Mel character during the brainstorming (and hell, maybe Mel might get kicked out - this is brain storming a campaign, not sticking to formula), before someone suggests River and Simon 'Aww, yeah, he'd take them, but only just!' 'GREAT, were good to go!'
That's exactly what I intend to do. A character creation session where we decide "what happened before", and have everybody create characters that would actually have a chance of becoming part of the crew, and figuring out what situation led to them becoming part of the crew. Basically it's the flashbacks from Out Of Gas, except we need to do them at the start of the campaign. Although I guess we can figure out more details later on.

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As opposed to traditional character gen, where everyone goes off on their own to make characters in secret, then they find at play they just wouldn't be together (and worse, nar play is then fucked up because 'in the interest of a better story' character choices are forced into accepting each other).
Exactly. That process has been bugging me for about 18 years now.

You either get boring characters who only stay together because their adventures are the only interesting things about their otherwise boring lives, or you get interesting characters who would never in a million years have gotten together as a group, or stayed together for more than a day or so. Or you get a mix where the boring characters just follow the interesting ones, and the interesting ones take all the limelight.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 19, 2009, 10:29:58 AM
Personally, while I appreciate escalating conflict as a basis for a good story in roleplaying (I don't have any experience with it, mind you), I'm not really willing to give up on the Dream altogether. I think, for me and a couple of other players in my group at least, the best games would have a bit of both. Or is that just Narrativism firmly gounded in Exploration? I do like immersion, in any case.

Yes! ALL roleplaying is based on a platform of believability. How sturdy you want that platform is a Techniques issue. I also like it to be nice 'n heavy.

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But none of those quite fits what happens in The Train Job. There, Mal breaks a deal, because he realises the deal would hurt people he doesn't want to hurt. He doesn't lose the Faith, he doesn't feel bad about it, and he doesn't like breaking deals either. He breaks it because it conflicts with something more important.
Well, hang on, there's more rules than I can say all at once :)
A "Lost Faith" that is lost all at once is treated exactly like a Woe, which you can "Heal" when absolved or redeemed. Mal absolves himself by giving back the money, and convinces himself (which is what the Faith system is all about) that doing so justified his actions. He ends up with the same Faith back again, slightly adjusted.

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Another issue I'm still having with using game mechanics to drive story, is that game mechanics can be "gamed": manipulated for profit. I have no idea what Vice and Woe traits do, but they don't sound good. So that'd make Mal's choice one between gaining a bonus for sticking to his Faith, or gaining a new trait that he might not want. To me, that feels like interfering with his freedom to take his own responsibility for his choices. But maybe that's the simulationist in me.
The four categories of Psyche traits (Hunger, Vice, Faith, and Woe) all provide the same benefits (allow you to "Push" through failure, which you can also do if acting for the sake of someone you care about) and all come with their own flavors of trouble.
(Sorry to clutter this all up with Rustbelt rules discussion)


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 19, 2009, 11:47:23 AM
Martijn,

Usually when folks play Story Now games, there are a few assumptions built into play:

1) There may or may not be a "group" the PCs belong to.  Even if they start as a group, the fact that the Players are have full freedom to make any choices they want for their PCs might mean the group might fracture and the PCs might even be at each other's throats before the characters finish their stories

2) Any conflicts between characters are between CHARACTERS -- not the Players.  The Players are working cooperatively to build story... Story might entail conflict between characters.  (See betrayals and shifting alliances between Jayne and Mal in Firefly, or the shifting alliances among the crew of Battlestar Galactica, the strike team unit in The Shield, the citizens of Deadwood, and so on as examples.)

3) There is no expectation as to how things should be or will end up.  At all.  Initial circumstances are created -- and then we start rolling with the story and find out how it's all going to end up.  No one, neither the GM nor the Players, can have an agenda or expectations about the way things are going go to be or supposed to be.  I can only point, again, to the shows listed above to show how wonderfully varied stories can be once one leaves the "team" mentality behind.

I'm currently GMing a Sorcerer game in the setting of Traveller.  My three players created a rich and detailed military background and intertwined history for their PCs.  They decided they have a ship, run a merc crew.  And then play began... last night one PC was desperately trying to save the religious leader from a mob while another PC trained his weapon on the leaders head, afraid of the trouble the woman would bring to his crew and his friends.  It was an incredibly involved struggle for the three PCs as they tried to protect each other -- but also knew that they might come to blows with each other because of their own agendas that might transcend their friendships.  (It feels very much like BSG, actually.  Two of the PCs have smuggled a nuke onto their ship to use against their enemies (just in case), even though the third PC, the ship's captain, has explicitly forbidden this action.)

The PCs and their merc crew were hired to put down a rebellion on a corporate controlled world, and arrived to find the rebellion backed by a religious jihad with actual, metaphysical angels providing support.  Two of the PCs have their own reasons for being moved by the angels, and might end up either siding with the jihad before all is said and done, or trying to tap the power of the Angels for their own needs.

By the time we're done with all this, the PCs might have all killed each other or might be stronger friends than they were before.  We just don't know.  And that's part of the fun.  Everyone is playing from the perspective of their characters and the fiction... it's emotional and visceral and not academic or intellectual at all -- in part because the Player have the freedom to make any choice they want for their PCs out of the fiction as defined up to that point. 

So, before I go any further, do you have questions about playing this way?  Is this something you can see working?  Does it interest you?  Why or why not?



Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Callan S. on February 19, 2009, 01:13:28 PM
Hi Martijn,

Ah, okay, you were already saying that stuff. Righto, good stuff! Anyway doesn't hurt to repeat them a bit :)

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But that wasn't part of the deal. The deal was that he did the job, and he didn't. Returning the money make it okay for him, but that didn't make it okay for Niska. And Niska's henchmen made it clear that returning the money wasn't good enough.
Yeah, but to say the deal is broken is to look at the two mens positions and as a person yourself, make the descision the deal was broken. To work in that framework is to just examine your own position, or simply work from your position without even examining it, rather than examine the Mel character and his perception that the deal wasn't broke.

Eh, nm. Maybe I sympathise with the character too much.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: JB on February 19, 2009, 01:42:41 PM
Just a quick comment on the observation that players will 'game' mechanics for benefit.  This is true, but a game that's well designed to promote Story Now won't make one side of the choice clearly 'better' in terms of profit.

Since you don't have any nar games to refer to yet, consider this extremely rough and overly specific example.

Imagine a game where Mal's player gets Points!* for 'looking out for his' and acting so they don't come to harm.  And the player gets to choose NPCs who are 'his' - they go on a list on the character sheet.  But if one of the characters on that list does come to harm, or the player wants to take someone off the list, then Mal's player looses Points!

You're going to end up with a character that acts very much like Mal does in the show - you don't want to make everyone 'yours' because you can't look out for them all and will end up in the hole on Points! - but you do need to make some people 'yours' in order to get those gooey, chewy, candy-like Points!

And with a character like that, as the GM, you'd toss a big string of 'NPCs in need' at the player and let him decide whether to mark them, and throw threats at all his marked characters with great regularity.  Which is pretty much what the script did to Mal - So, who do you help? Who do you leave to hang? If two of yours are in danger, you try to save em both, but what if you have to choose just one and the benefits are equal for both? - Those choices are where the player has to engage and say something about who's more important - yer sister or yer lover, or whatever.

The player is going to gain Points! in some places, and importantly, loose Points! in others - but he wants to come out on the positive ('in the black'. Ha!) and also most importantly, the choices he makes trying to maximize the gain and minimize the loss will be interesting.

* Points! could be whatever desirable currency you have in your game.  In most games, the reward currency can be spent on character improvement of some kind, be that stats, equipment, whatever.  That'd work well in this example, as by making the character more effective, the player would be able to take responsibility for ever more NPCs and use them to get more Points! in a big ol' cycle.  But whatever they are, players want 'em.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program..
J




Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 19, 2009, 03:44:22 PM
1) There may or may not be a "group" the PCs belong to.  Even if they start as a group, the fact that the Players are have full freedom to make any choices they want for their PCs might mean the group might fracture and the PCs might even be at each other's throats before the characters finish their stories
I've had games like that (very rarely, though), and it's fine for one-shot games. Not so good for long campaigns, I'm afraid, and I happen to like those. For campaigns, it's nice to have characters who have just enough in common to stay together.

Have you read what I wrote in another thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.msg260274#msg260274) about a particularly dramatic session with mismatched characters? It was memorable, but maybe a bit too intense, and not a lot of fun for the player who got completely overshadowed by the escalating conflict between the other characters.

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3) There is no expectation as to how things should be or will end up.  At all.  Initial circumstances are created -- and then we start rolling with the story and find out how it's all going to end up.  No one, neither the GM nor the Players, can have an agenda or expectations about the way things are going go to be or supposed to be.  I can only point, again, to the shows listed above to show how wonderfully varied stories can be once one leaves the "team" mentality behind.

The thing is, when you do that, the characters will soon each go their separate ways, and there won't be much game left. Either there needs to be a compelling reason for the characters to be together, or you need to game it so that they stay together even if the characters by their own free choice wouldn't have done so.

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I'm currently GMing a Sorcerer game in the setting of Traveller.  My three players created a rich and detailed military background and intertwined history for their PCs.  They decided they have a ship, run a merc crew.  And then play began... last night one PC was desperately trying to save the religious leader from a mob while another PC trained his weapon on the leaders head, afraid of the trouble the woman would bring to his crew and his friends.  It was an incredibly involved struggle for the three PCs as they tried to protect each other -- but also knew that they might come to blows with each other because of their own agendas that might transcend their friendships.  (It feels very much like BSG, actually.  Two of the PCs have smuggled a nuke onto their ship to use against their enemies (just in case), even though the third PC, the ship's captain, has explicitly forbidden this action.)

So the characters have a common history. They've already been designed to have something in common. They work together, take missions together, etc. But what will the captain do when he finds out the others have disobeyed a direct order? Will he kick them off his ship? Can he afford to do so? How much freedom does he really have? Are there really no expectations as to how he should act?

To be honest, this example reminds me of quite a lot of sessions I've been in and heard about.

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By the time we're done with all this, the PCs might have all killed each other or might be stronger friends than they were before.  We just don't know.  And that's part of the fun.  Everyone is playing from the perspective of their characters and the fiction... it's emotional and visceral and not academic or intellectual at all -- in part because the Player have the freedom to make any choice they want for their PCs out of the fiction as defined up to that point.

If everybody is aware that they might all kill each other, then you've already accepted that this is probably not going to be a very long campaign. Which is fine, but still not terribly different from any other game where you've accepted that. I mean, if this is all there is to narrativism, then I've done it dozens of times already.

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So, before I go any further, do you have questions about playing this way?  Is this something you can see working?  Does it interest you?  Why or why not?

I think I've done similar things a couple of times already, and while it was fun at times (though not always), I was kinda hoping for a bit more than just disfunctional group cohesion.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 19, 2009, 03:55:46 PM
Since you don't have any nar games to refer to yet, consider this extremely rough and overly specific example.

Imagine a game where Mal's player gets Points!* for 'looking out for his' and acting so they don't come to harm.  And the player gets to choose NPCs who are 'his' - they go on a list on the character sheet.  But if one of the characters on that list does come to harm, or the player wants to take someone off the list, then Mal's player looses Points!

This doesn't really sound all that dissimilar from Dependents in GURPS. Admittedly I've never really been able to get a handle on Dependents in GURPS, possibly because they didn't fit all that well into my generally Sim approach.

I'm pretty sure the Plot Points mechanism in Serenity RPG can be used for this very same purpose. It doesn't have a Dependent or "looking out for his" trait, but it does have Loyal, which means a certain group of people can count on you when they're in trouble, and the character gets Plot Points for helping them. I don't think he loses them for not helping them, though. I was actually considering awarding Plot Points for the refusal to help if he has a very good reason not to, and he confronts that conflict head on, but apparently that's not so Narrativist?


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 19, 2009, 04:32:51 PM
Ah, Martijn, you keep doing this thing, and the thing is this: Someone says, "Blah, blah, blah..." and you say, "That's all Story Now is?"

I don't know why you do this, but I can only say I never said that's what Story Now is.  I said it's a part of it.

If you've done it before, that's great.

I have a feeling there's not much more for me to offer here since what I have to offer isn't what I think you want, but I wanted to clarify a few things:

- I'm not sure what you mean by campaign in terms of length, but I know that I and others have played games for months and months.  I honestly don't see why it couldn't go longer.

- There's no reason for characters not to be a cohesive unit.  It's a choice on the part of the Players.  But the choice has to be there.  When you write, "The thing is, when you do that, the characters will soon each go their separate ways, and there won't be much game left. Either there needs to be a compelling reason for the characters to be together, or you need to game it so that they stay together even if the characters by their own free choice wouldn't have done so," I can safely reply: No, this isn't true.  This is flat out wrong.  I -- and many others -- have played many long terms sessions that worked very well this way.  You may not have and you may not see how.  But it can be done, with a great deal of fun and enthusiasm from everyone at the table.

- The characters often split up, but I use lots of cross-cutting between scenes as a GM, shifting from one PC to the next.  Because of the games I use and the techniques I use, everyone is engaged with what's going on, because what's happening to one player's PC is of interest to every other Player.

- I feel compelled to point out that my Players -- whether at conventions or my regular group -- all have a great time in these games.  No one feels left out.  This is only my data set and my say-so, but the reason I brought this up is that most folks assume this kind of play can't work, leaves folks being bored, or works - but only infrequently.  But it's part of larger package that really helps it work in terms of rules, procedures and techniques.

- The reason I brought this up was because I was thinking of typing up a version of Firefly using the rules for Sorcerer.  But Sorcerer assumes that the PCs can go their own way, and might even come to blows.  A lot of how the game works simply doesn't make sense if players don't see this as a functional option.  And since a lot of folks don't see it as an effective or fun or functional means of play, I just needed to see where you stood on this stuff.  You don't see the appeal, and that's cool.


I just went and read the thread you linked to.  I can only say that last night I GM'd Sorcerer for my group and it was a very intense session for everyone at the table.  

But there was lots of laughing and cheering and clapping of hands of approval.  

I'm saying that different games have different rules and procedures that produce wildly different results from similar sorts of play.  When my gang heads out after a Sorcerer session, all we're doing is talking about how we want to get back together again and play more.  I certainly sounds that, on the social level of just between folks, we're getting a different result than what you got at your session.  (And, I offer again, the games go on for several months.  And I could continue them, but the imagination of the Players keep coming up with new settings for Sorcerer.)


To answer some of your questions: "So the characters have a common history. They've already been designed to have something in common. They work together, take missions together, etc. But what will the captain do when he finds out the others have disobeyed a direct order? Will he kick them off his ship? Can he afford to do so? How much freedom does he really have? Are there really no expectations as to how he should act?"

- I have no idea what the Captain will do.  But he could choose to take any action he wanted.

- He might kick them off the ship.  He might not.  By the time the bomb is revealed, the Captain might be the one eager to use it and the two other PCs might have changed their minds, wishing they'd never brought the thing on board.

- He can afford to do so... but if does this (and he might not! -- it might never come to anything like this!) the crew might mutiny.  We won't know till a choice is actually made.

- He has all the freedom he wants.

- There are expectations built on the details of his character sheet only to the degree that his choices will most likely "orbit" the details on the sheet -- but they do not dictate choices.  At all.  For example is a reluctant noble with  complicated relationships with his father (the Duke of a subsector) mother, uncle and aunt.  This will inform his choices.  But dictates nothing.  There are many details on the PC's sheet like this.

Here's detail from the sheet:

Sorcerer also has a Humanity rating on a scale of 0 to 10.  The rating itself does nothing to "control" or dictate behavior, but if a PC's Humanity reaches 0, the Player loses the PC (he is not longer human!)  In each game of Sorcerer the group customizes the definition of Humanity.  For our Traveller setting game, the definition is Friendship.  So the choices, the big choices, orbit the choices of Friendship against Alienation.  You make rolls when your PC commits acts that either support or deny friendship, and your Humanity might go up or down because of that.  

Now, clearly, if a PC keeps acting against his friends it will drive his Humanity to 0 and he's out of the game!  But it's important to realize that a Player can do exactly that.  That's a choice for the Player alone.  In my first game of Sorcerer I drove my PC's Humanity to 0 and it was a blast.  He was a bitter, angry man driven by horrible passions and did the wrong thing time and again... and then (using rules from the game) we re-wrote him and I got him back as a PC and he travelled a path of redemption.  It was awesome.

So, there are imaginative "constraints" on the PCs (the fiction, the rules that tie to the fiction) but there are no expectations.  At all.

And I need to repeat one final time: it works great.  There's no anger at the table.  Everyone has a great time.  The sessions are compelling.  The games don't dry up or blow up.  Everyone can't wait to continue the stories to the next session.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Callan S. on February 19, 2009, 05:46:18 PM
Hi Martijn,

You may very well have been doing nar sessions already. Nar isn't supposed to be complicated.

If I read a text on the chemistry of breathing, yet it never mentioned the word 'breathe', I probably wouldn't associate all that chemistry talk with something I do naturally, all the time. You might be the same with the nar essays and such. It might be so over explained you can't connect it with something you already do. But if you want to get into the 'chemistry' of nar latter on, there's some texts for it.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Dr_Pete on February 20, 2009, 08:30:24 AM
I think there are some structures built into traditional rpgs which may seem obvious or necessary but which may not be, and that's at least part of the communication issue, because these other, less traditional ideas can pop the top on them.  I'm going to try to avoid jargon, to make my point.

In D&D, there's a basic structure to a game, which has been there from the beginning.  The players have characters.  Those characters are on a team.  Their goal (broadly) is to go up against bad guys, kill them, and get stuff.  The DM creates bad guys, and rewards the players for beating them.  Success is measured in survival and growth of power.  This is basically the template for most RPGs that follow.

None of it is required, but if you get rid of much of it, you end up playing a potentially very different game.  Even moving to Call of Cthulhu is very hard for a lot of people because playing the game probably means "failure" in the survival and growth of power realms.  Taking away accumulation of stuff can even be difficult for a lot of players.  Now, gathering stuff, going up levels, etc... that has little or nothing to do with "story", but it's pretty hardwired into a lot of roleplaying experience.  Losing all your stuff, being thrown in prison, having your trigger finger cut off so your sharpshooter can't shoot your gun any more... those are legit story elements which might destroy many players' enjoyment of a game too much to continue.

I bring that up because there's a huge difference between what's held up here as the goal of roleplaying here and what a lot of people "want" out of roleplaying.  That said, many don't know what the choices might be.

I do think it's important for something needs to bring the people at the table together, at some level, so they're clearly doing something connected.  In boardgames, for example, it's more interesting if your "move" can effect what happens to someone else's game than if you are all effectively playing Solitaire at the same table.  If you have 4 characters who are on completely unrelated adventures, that's kibbitzing at 3 solo rpgs, and having a DM who is only occasionally paying attention to you.  If you play a game centered around flying from place to place on a spaceship having adventures, and you "let" each player go to a different planet, and deal with unrelated stories, that's more or less what you're doing.  A "game" about Inara being a Companion in the Core, Mal making a deal on a space station, and Jayne on a bar crawl on a backwater planet would be hard to tie together.  Add Zoe hunting for Wash (who didn't show up for the session) on a pleasure planet, and you've got a total lack of focus, probably.

On the other hand, that *might* make a decent game, if there was a common thread to it all of some kind.  The players would slowly see the big picture, and because the characters were all nibbling around a common issue, it theoretically could start to grow into one big story with four or five "subplots", each of which was, itself, an interesting story.  Maybe Inara is enticed to travel to the backwater planet by the executive in charge of making an army of super-Wash-soldiers, and Mal is hired to smuggle dinosaurs there or something.  Not that this is true to the characters of the Firefly story.  The point is that you do need something tying the stories together, but it doesn't need to be "team play".

Alright, enough rambling for one post... the point is that there's a lot of hidden structure to most roleplaying group play.  I am excited to see that a lot of it is optional.  The assumption that you can just add a rule or two to "drift" a game without examining that structure, I think, is false.

Dr Pete


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 20, 2009, 09:10:07 AM
Hi Pete,

Exactly.  The idea that one one can band-aid up a couple of new rules is probably going to fall flat on its face.  There will be *many* new assumptions, tools and procedures for different kinds of games.  Notions about thematic mechanics or whether or not there will be a "party" are just pieces of a re-wired whole.  Some people, like me, wanted something different enough that learning to chuck whole sets of assumptions was worth it.  For others, not so much.

Such play is a very different game.  This is why, as an example, Sorcerer works even though it jettisons many, many assumptions about how a GM preps a game and how the Players approach the game.  But it replaces them with a new set of gears and levers and interlocking regulators that are well thought and can produce great, fun play.  (Other games do this effectively as well.  I'm discussing Sorcerer because it's fresh in my mind right now, but game like In a Wicked Age, Primetime Adventures, and HeroQuest all games I've loved playing but are startlingly different in play and mechanics than many folks are used to.  There are lots of other cool games I haven't even had a chance to play yet that I know I would love that also unique to themselves as to how to play them.)

Last year I ran a game of Sorcerer my player and I called THE BROTHERHOOD.  It was set in a prison.  There was a prison, Landsfied, where the prisoners were doing sorcerous lore.  The demons were tattoos and shivs and cell blocks.  One PC was a father who was seeking vengeance on the cult leader who was housed in the prison.  Another was an cop-killing ex-cop who had just been betrayed by a member of his crew and needed to find out who did it.  The third was a lifer who discovered that his nephew had arrived in the prison and was part of a plan to seize control of the cell block the PC ruled.

There was no team: but there were many elements that bound the PLAYERS together.  (Not the characters, the Players -- and this is a vital point that was a lightning bolt to me when I realized it years ago.)  In THE BROTHERHOOD, the Players were bound by the definition of Humanity (treating others well, playing outside the rules of "the system"), the definition of Lore (rituals of domination and abuse), the backstory I had prepared about the history of the prison, the turf war taking place in the prison.  Every PLAYER paid attention to what was happening with every other Player because they were curious about a) what choices the Players would be making morally, and b) information gleaned from by one Player's character often piqued the interest of another player even if his character hadn't been in the scene.

The game worked great.  Alliances were made between the PCs -- even though they had never known each other before -- bonds of trust were built in game.  It was really intense and sometimes moving and really quite compelling.  The Players had a great time.  (Please note, despite all fears that Players without "party" enforcement will always fly off to different corners of the world, I have never found this to be the case.  PLAYERS want to go where the interesting stuff is.  If the GM preps correctly, the Players will moved toward each other because they are all near interesting stuff.)

Setting up a Firefly game, the kind of Firefly game I would want to play, means working with lots of rules and tools that might seem not to work -- and if used individually probably would not.  But by using rules and tools designed to interact with each other effectively, produce terrific sessions of game play.  Many of the fears of such rules and tools vanish in actual play because the nightmare behaviors of the Players fail to arrive, or the behavior is transmuted into something effective and quite enjoyable.  (For example, lack of party play does not produce boredom or indifference form other players, but it also allows an amazing, hot interest in what the other Players will have their characters do, because we don't know what the character will do.  Any choice in the moral arena is available.

Now, some people want this kind of choice in their game play, some don't.  But when I watch shows (for example) like Lost, Firefly, The Wire, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica I know I want that kind of electric decision making at my table.  And with the proper rules and tools such play does not produce fights, boredom, obstructive behavior, confusion or frustration.  Instead, the specific rules and tools used in a cohesive combination produces great, compelling play.

I understand people have horror stories about games that were "like" what I'm talking about.  I can only say I haven't had a horror story from a game session in the years I first started picking up the games I read about on The Forge.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Dr_Pete on February 20, 2009, 03:49:46 PM
Hi Christopher,

While I haven't played Sorcerer at this point, I'm definitely interested in giving it a try at some point.  I've read some of the stuff you've put up here and elsewhere, as well as many of Ron's comments.  Very interesting stuff!

I've had various bad experiences over the years with games where everyone makes a character and then we assume they're a "party" (especially bad for modern games-- a cat burglar, a 10 year old and a socialite team up to fight ghosts, etc) so I am all too familiar with how that can go wrong.

Sorcerer discussion seems to take two different tacks... talking about mechanics and talking about how games are structured.  In talking about drifting Serenity, one would presumably keep most of those mechanics, and would probably want to keep "true" at some level to the Firefly story structure, I would think... otherwise, why put it there rather than some other sci fi universe?

Firefly is a Space Western, of course.  Westerns are mostly about civilization vs lawlessness, and being on the edge of civilization.  They're about things like the lone gunslinger riding into town, fighting the bandits or indians.  About maintaining your moral code when nobody else cares.  My suspicion is that you are interested in the "loyalty" element, Christopher, but that's just one element of the cowboy code at play in western movies.  To use a Sorcerer-ish metaphor, Mal would risk losing a "humanity" if he didn't give the money back on that job he refused for going against his sense of right and wrong, I think.  The point being that if you want to craft stories, you need to decide what they should be about rather than "just" having adventures...

As far as mechanics tweaks, I don't know the Serenity mechanics, so I dunno.  One idea that springs to mind might be using Riddle of Steel spiritual attributes to replace plot points.  Basically, you have attributes like a moral code, faith and passions.  Your rating in these go up if you act on them at some risk, and they give bonuses based on their ratings... themed plot points, if I understand Serenity's mechanics based on a quick google search.  I'd also add that acting against them penalizes them, either by zeroing them out or by reducing them gradually.  It provides an in-game carrot for certain types of behavior, but also provides hooks for presenting hard choices for the character sheet... Loyalty or Revenge... do I pursue my revenge, worth 10 points on my sheet, or protect the innocent, worth 4 points on my sheet?  If I go with revenge, at the cost of innocent lives, I lose the 4 points, but if I go with save the innocent, I'm letting the object of my vengeance go, and I lose the 10 (or maybe it drops to 9...)!  That's just an idea, to bring it back to a mechanical "drift" question.

Pete


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Caldis on February 21, 2009, 06:46:32 AM
to stay together.

Have you read what I wrote in another thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.msg260274#msg260274) about a particularly dramatic session with mismatched characters? It was memorable, but maybe a bit too intense, and not a lot of fun for the player who got completely overshadowed by the escalating conflict between the other characters.

I ran into a situation like this long ago, almost 20 years now, when we fell into narrativism by accident.  Our group was using a freeform system and had set up a situation where we were agents for a vast galactic empire on a mission to earth to track down a scientist.  There were three characters with different goals for this mission two of which were directly at odds with each other which ended up pushing the whole session into a cycle of conflict and violence, it was amazingly fun.  It did however leave one player sitting on the side mostly watching.

I think the reason this happened in my game and likely yours was because we fell into.  It wasn't planned and we didnt know what we were doing.  The two characters were primed for interesting conflict the third was a side character who wasnt really connected plus our lack of system gave him no tools to get involved in the conflict.  I think it's one of the things you will have to consider if you try and run a nar game with a system that isnt really designed for it.  You may get what you are looking for but you may also end up with someone spinning their wheels because they arent connected.

 


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 21, 2009, 07:06:20 AM
Hi guys,

Caldis, that's a good point.  One thing I want to add, though, as I stated two posts ago, is that simply having characters in conflict is not Story Now, even if it's justified with "My Guy Would Do This..."

I have no idea what, exactly was going on at your table, Caldis, nor Martijn's in his example.  I just want to be really clear that inter-character conflict is NOT the definition of Story Now.  I've played several games where that never even happened.

My only point earlier was to make clear that there was no "party" to speak of since the Players had to have the freedom to have their PCs do anything.  The assumption of the "party" short circuits that.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 22, 2009, 12:09:50 PM
Hi all,

I just (finally) finished posting the Actual Play summary of a HeroQuest game I GM'd at local convention a year ago.

The setting was Glorantha.  But used many of the procedures and gameplay I've been talking about in this thread onto the game.  (Basically I took procedures from Sorcerer and mapped them onto HeroQuest play.)

I'm linking here because I think the thread successfully illustrates many of the points I've been talking about in this thread. 

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25796.0 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25796.0)

Fair Warning: It's a pretty complete write up, with lots of notes about GM prepping, Kickers, Bangs and other items I really wanted to talk about.  So.  Um.  It's about twenty or so pages of single spaced material if you were to print it all out.

Just so you know.



Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Dr_Pete on February 23, 2009, 01:37:01 PM
Christopher, that was a great description of your game.

Maybe there's more that can be discussed about bringing the idea to a Space Western (or even a generic) game, preferably in a system-independent way, or looking at what, system-wise, is needed/can be used to bring out "story".

What are the various tools that have been developed for this, in other words...? 

One "problem" with kickers in the abstract is that they can lead to very independent play.  Each person has their own ideas, things that interest them, etc.  This might produce something like Battlestar Galactica, where everyone is off facing their own personal crisis.  On Firefly, the characters are more closely tied together... they are all on a ship, they are more or less a team, though one with various tensions between characters.

To create a firefly-like story, you want everyone to buy into being part of that at some level, I think.  There are characters facing some external challenge together, while also dealing with individual issues.  Your HeroQuest writeup points to the question I'm getting at, in a way... there, the characters were explicitly set up to be family, which brings a lot of structure to the story.  If you have adults working together, how do produce some of that same cohesion, or do you just hope it comes naturally?

In Firefly, it's a business... admittedly a pretty mediocre one.  Mal owns a ship.  He's hired Wash to pilot it, and Kaylee to keep it running.  He's hired Zoe and Jayne to be muscle for whatever they're doing.  Simon is hired on as a medic, and gets to keep his sister on board.  Book and Inara are paying passengers willing to be taken wherever the ship is going.  I think it's easy to think of them as a bunch of people having adventures, but they're not just people that met in a tavern and teamed up, there's some structure there-- it pulls them together, and generates stories.  On the other hand, somebody can get fired or quit or act in a way that's not in the best interest of the company they work for, it's a legit choice in a way that "no, I don't want to crawl into that bear cave with you, stranger" is usually not a legit choice in D&D.

I guess the flip side of that is, what do you do with kickers if everyone's working/living on a ship and they're at least moderately committed to staying together (because it's their job/their family)?  Is there an implicit "we're going to riff off of each other" thing that goes on, or is that explicit in some way?  How would generating one collaborative "group kicker" for the "A story" mesh with having each individual generating a personal kicker (which may or may not be connected to the group one)?  I'm not sure how exactly this would play out, and maybe I'm confusing kickers with something more like plot elements... "the ship's low on gas" or "we've got a hold full of stolen goods"

Mal discovers he's married certainly seems like a kicker, but how might a train robbery, say, come into play with this game structure?  The "traditional" way to do this would be to have somebody give the players a mission... get me such and such off this guarded train.  That doesn't seem compatible with this play style, or is it?  Big set pieces where "action" takes place seem discouraged, no?


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 23, 2009, 03:07:07 PM
Hi Pete,

This could get huge and messy fast.  And I'm planning a post where we actually break out a sample version of FIREFLY using Sorcerer and and then HeroQuest.

But before we get there, in the hope of trying to avoid big and messy, I'm going to try to keep it small and neat for now.  It's my belief we can succeed at this.

So, you're working with many assumptions in that last post (we make sense, we're discussing something that doesn't exist yet and hasn't happened yet, so we're only working with assumptions) and I want to poke at two of them.  Think about them -- for a while -- and see what you come back with.

1) You seems to be assuming that the three PCs in the Glorantha game stayed together because of the family structure.  My question is, why do you assume this?  You do see that after Daleeta vanished and the father said he was going after her, the younger son might have tried to force his father to stay and let the girl go.  Right?  There was already bad blood between the two of them and this would have been very understandable.   If the Players had made different choices then we might have ended up with a fight in the village with father and son.  The second son would have been forced to make a decision about what to do.  it could have ended up very blood and violent and with a very different end to the session.

Do you see that the Players had utter free will and decided that the crisis of Daleeta's disappearance strengthened the bonds between them, but that it didn't have to go that way?

There was NO structure that reinforced them working together as a group.  None.  None at all.  It was simply the choices of the Players.

Do you see this?


2) You wrote, in the context of using Kickers in a Firefly game:

"Each person has their own ideas, things that interest them, etc.  On Firefly, the characters are more closely tied together... they are all on a ship, they are more or less a team, though one with various tensions between characters.  To create a firefly-like story, you want everyone to buy into being part of that at some level."

Okay.  Yes.  I'm assuming that if the Players all want to play a game "like" FIREFLY, they will, in fact want to remain together as a crew.  That is, it "interests" them to do this.  They have "bought into being part of that" because we are doing exactly that thing.

For some reason you are assuming that a Kicker would override a Player's own "interests" -- the interest to play the crew of a star faring tramp freighter.  But, do you see that no Kicker forces no Player to do anything other than what interests them?  What interests the Player is the point of this kind of play.  And if the Players keep wanting to be shipmates then they will.  How does having Kickers distort this?

2a) Because I think you're making some unique distinctions about FIREFLY, let me offer this:

River has a Kicker: She wakes up in the cargo hold of a tramp freighter, no knowing anyone but her brother.
Simon has a Kicker: He just busted his sister out of a secret and dangerous "school" that conducts mind-altering experiments.
Jayne has a Kicker: An Alliance Federal Agent just offered him a big reward for betraying Mal.
Mal has a Kicker: He just lost the big payment he needed to keep his ship going
Booker has a Kicker: He just witnessed a murder

And so on...

Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.... These Kickers are all taken from the two hour pilot.  They will inform the series for the run of the show. And they are THERE.  Right there in the show.  Because the show is made of story stuff, and the game play we're talking about is made of story stuff.

Keep in mind that Jayne BETRAYS the crew for more money in one episode.  Keep in mind that Mal almost kills Jayne for this betrayal.

You might say, "Yes, but of course it will all work out.  They're a team!"

And I would say, "And it can work out in an RPG with Players having utter free will as well, since the Players can choose to have their PCs remain as a remain a team."

Do you see that this is all up to the Players?  The Kickers force nothing.  They do not make the Players pull apart from each other.

If we were in Alternate Reality RPG-Land and there had never been a FIREFLY series and we were playing out the game of Firefly and Jayne's Player made the play for the betrayal at the hospital that would be his choice.  Because it interested him to pursue this.  And we'd see how it played out.  He might end up dead.  Mal might end up killing him.  He might end up killing Mal. Or they might end up making up... just like what happened on the TV show.  But it would be based on what the Players were interested in, not arbitrary expectations front-loaded before play.

So, those are two and a half things to consider.  Consider them.  And really, take a day or two and think about them.  And then, no matter how they sit, come back and we'll talk more.

I'm slammed with projects right now, so taking some time would be good for me.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 23, 2009, 03:20:52 PM
whoops!

One more thing:

Make sure to watch the FIREFLY Pilot.  If you don't have it, you can catch it here on Hulu.com http://www.hulu.com/watch/4569/firefly-serenity (http://www.hulu.com/watch/4569/firefly-serenity)

Watch it in the context of this conversation... Which is to say, watch it with an eye to the choices the characters make.

****
Oh, and I've reconsidered my write up of Mal's Kicker to make it a bit punchier (I wrote them on the fly, after all...)

Mal has a Kicker: "A criminal refuses to complete a bargain for stolen goods when I desperately need the money." 

This would be translated into a specific scene in an RPG, a scene that provokes a choice from Mal because of how the GM frames it.  In fact, in the actual episode, it ends up provoking choices from Mal, Zoe and Jayne.  Watch the pilot and see how the engine that drives it is the choices the characters make.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 24, 2009, 12:30:50 AM
I'm a bit behind in reading and responding to messages here. I've seen some interesting points in other messages that I also want to respond to, but this particular one deals directly with an issue I'm struggling with:

Ah, Martijn, you keep doing this thing, and the thing is this: Someone says, "Blah, blah, blah..." and you say, "That's all Story Now is?"

I hope it's not too annoying when I do that, but from my perspective, what people call "Story Now" constantly seems to jump between two extremes, one where it's a completely new way of playing, and another where it's pretty close to what I've been doing (or been trying) for most of my life.

Quote
- I'm not sure what you mean by campaign in terms of length, but I know that I and others have played games for months and months.  I honestly don't see why it couldn't go longer.

My group has an Earthdawn game that's been going on for 10 years now. But we only play once a month (and sometimes a lot less). And this is by far the most extreme example.

I tend to see myself as a Simulationist. I prefer a game and game world that makes sense (D&D has never had much appeal to me), where people can do realistic things and make their own choices, preferably with interesting characters with interesting backgrounds and lots of complex issues making decisions that make sense for that character.

I care about the realism, about complex, plausible characters that work realistically as protagonist of a story in that world, and about keeping the group together so everybody doesn't go their own way and the group falls apart in lots of solo games. A lot of this seems to coincide with Story Now goals, but keeping the group together (which is by far the hardest thing to satisfy from my simulationist perspective) sounds like it doesn't even belong in Story Now. That could solve a lot of my problems, but if the group does split up because they decide they have conflicting interests, then that is pretty much the end of the campaign. I have no interest in running several simultaneous solo campaigns.

Quote
- There's no reason for characters not to be a cohesive unit.  It's a choice on the part of the Players.  But the choice has to be there.  When you write, "The thing is, when you do that, the characters will soon each go their separate ways, and there won't be much game left. Either there needs to be a compelling reason for the characters to be together, or you need to game it so that they stay together even if the characters by their own free choice wouldn't have done so," I can safely reply: No, this isn't true.  This is flat out wrong.  I -- and many others -- have played many long terms sessions that worked very well this way.  You may not have and you may not see how.  But it can be done, with a great deal of fun and enthusiasm from everyone at the table.

- The characters often split up, but I use lots of cross-cutting between scenes as a GM, shifting from one PC to the next.  Because of the games I use and the techniques I use, everyone is engaged with what's going on, because what's happening to one player's PC is of interest to every other Player.

But not to their characters. If there's nothing keeping them together, and they split up, there's even less keeping them together, and you'll be running simultaneous solo games. That's a lot of extra work for the GM, and most of the time players are just audience to other players' stories. I suppose it can be fun occasionally, but it doesn't sound very functional.

Characters with wildly conflicting goals can be great for a single session if they happen to be in the same location and involved in the same conflict, but they pick different sides in it (particularly if they still need to work together to accomplish their individual goals, and they don't immediately start killing each other), and splitting up temporarily can work fine if the group still has compatible goals and intend to come back together again, but if they split up because they have non-compatible goals, and have no interest in getting back together again, I don't see why you'd continue the campaign that way. Best way to continue in that situation seems picking the most interesting story, and have everybody not involved in it create characters that are interested in getting involved in it. That way you get a somewhat cohesive group again.

Quote
Sorcerer also has a Humanity rating on a scale of 0 to 10.  The rating itself does nothing to "control" or dictate behavior, but if a PC's Humanity reaches 0, the Player loses the PC (he is not longer human!)  In each game of Sorcerer the group customizes the definition of Humanity.  For our Traveller setting game, the definition is Friendship.  So the choices, the big choices, orbit the choices of Friendship against Alienation.  You make rolls when your PC commits acts that either support or deny friendship, and your Humanity might go up or down because of that.

So that's a kind of mechanism that keeps the group together. If you alienate yourself to the point where you might get kicked from the group, your humanity will also be very low. You risk losing your PC even before you decide to leave the crew. It's basically a mechanism for "gaming" the group into working together. They can choose not to, but if they go too far, they lose their character. In a sense it takes a difficult choice away from the GM and players by capturing it a game mechanism, which might be a good thing if that choice is bothering you. (Which it sometimes is, in my case.)

Quote
Now, clearly, if a PC keeps acting against his friends it will drive his Humanity to 0 and he's out of the game!  But it's important to realize that a Player can do exactly that.  That's a choice for the Player alone.  In my first game of Sorcerer I drove my PC's Humanity to 0 and it was a blast.  He was a bitter, angry man driven by horrible passions and did the wrong thing time and again... and then (using rules from the game) we re-wrote him and I got him back as a PC and he travelled a path of redemption.  It was awesome.

I can see why. I'd love to do stuff like that (and one of the other players would probably like it even more and do that nearly every game), but our games lack a mechanism that cuts off the collision course and forces the player to choose between making a new character and redeeming the old one. Which means it's a choice that the players and GM have to make, and for some reason nobody wants to make that choice. (Although I think the main problem is that a lot of players expect a long and cooperative campaign, and aren't prepared for the collision course in the first place.)

Quote
So, there are imaginative "constraints" on the PCs (the fiction, the rules that tie to the fiction) but there are no expectations.  At all.

I guess that's the difference. We are uncontrained by game mechanics but (perhaps as a result?) we do have expectations.

Quote
And I need to repeat one final time: it works great.  There's no anger at the table.  Everyone has a great time.  The sessions are compelling.  The games don't dry up or blow up.  Everyone can't wait to continue the stories to the next session.

That's what I want too, of course. I like the phrase "dry up or blow up". I think our games do that at times. Either it takes a lot of work to keep going, or it gets completely out of control all of a sudden. Maybe we do rely too much on the capabilities of the players to keep the game on track, and need a bit more guidance from meta game mechanisms. Which I guess is what many Story Now systems are about.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 24, 2009, 07:27:53 AM
Hello Martijn,

You wrote something that I think is very accurate: "I hope it's not too annoying when I do that, but from my perspective, what people call "Story Now" constantly seems to jump between two extremes, one where it's a completely new way of playing, and another where it's pretty close to what I've been doing (or been trying) for most of my life."

Certainly that has been my experience with the tools and procedures I've been playing with the last several years.  The key, for me, is that the play works now.  I get what I wanted and it works.

I got what I wanted, and I got play that works.  I had to give up a lot of assumptions about what would work and what would not.  But when I did, I got what I wanted.

Did you get a chance to look at the HeroQuest thread I linked to?  I know it is long, but it is a clear example of these procedures.  Although it was a one shot at a convention, for me it could easily have served as the first session in a long series of sessions.  I do hope you get a chance to go through it.  It would give us a framework for discussion from actual play -- which is where I am always most comfortable.

Three more points in general:

1) In terms of campaigns, I can't speak to that perhaps the way you would like.  The desire for the long campaign isn't particularly my desire.  That is, I understand the desire.  I have the desire.  But mixed with the long campaign are issues of time commitment and structural issues in a game that sometimes bog down.

It sounds like your Earthdawn game has had about 150 to 200 sessions.  The Sorcerer game I played last year, the one set in prison, lasted 9 sessions -- not a years long play at all.  And yet the nine sessions were packed with amazing play and a great deal of fun.  We could also pick up those characters and play them again.  We could continue the stories -- or even move backward in time and tell a tale of who they were before that particular story took place.

My point is -- whether we did that or not -- is that my concern these days is the fun I have at the table right now.  I no longer press myself toward games that will still be running five years from now.  I'm content to focus on games that will reliably produce a great time now.  If that means I'm not counting on a game that's running five years from now, so be it.  Again, this doesn't mean I couldn't end up with a years-long running game.  I'm just saying that isn't my primary focus.  My primary focus is more fun now.

2) You wrote: "I prefer a game and game world that makes sense...I care about the realism, about complex, plausible characters that work realistically as protagonist of a story in that word."  Did you write this as a contrast to the sort of play I've been discussing?  I'm not sure why you would do this, but if you did, could you write me a few words about why this is? I don't think anything I've written about suggests that the world doesn't make sense or that the characters are not plausible.  Certainly, the kinds of sessions I play have worlds and characters as plausible as those found in the series Firefly!  Have I written anything to make you think otherwise?

3) As for the concept of "solo games" or "solo campaigns" -- I'm fascinated by these terms.  Now, I'm not trying to convince you of anything.  What I've been writing about may not be your cup of tea, and that's fine.  But I need you to understand that nothing I play like (in the HeroQuest game I linked to, in the Sorcerer games I've mentioned) feel "solo" at all. 

It's always a group of people gathered together.  Doing something socially.  Together.  We're all interested in what the other people are doing with their characters.  This, I'll be blunt, is just a major point of disconnect.  That you're focusing so much on what interests the characters seems utterly alien to me since I've learned that what really matters at the game table is what interests the Players.  There's just no getting around it. 

If the PCs work together as a group it's because the Players decide to do it.  No amount of fiction constraints ("You're all a squad from the FBI") can force that to happen.  In my experience it is fictional constraints like this that almost encourage Players to strike out on their own.  Feeling trapped in a game makes people test the boundaries as they search for some freedom.  Frustration arises and then the Players (not the PCs!) are getting in each other's faces.

For you, the notion that the PCs are not in the same scene is some sort of solo play.  But I realized a while back that no matter what, only one person can talk at a time, only one person can do something at a time. So if I stretch that 10 to 30 seconds of play a little longer to one to three minutes of play, and cut quickly around the table from one player to the next, there's little risk of boredom for the players and the players get to do more. 

But, I say again, there's no solo play.  My focus is on the social group of the Players at the table.  And the games I play, and the prep I do as a GM, is about insuring that the Players are involved and interested in what's happening at the table even if their character is in a scene.  I suspect you don't believe me -- but this goes back to point one above: the game play does involve new techniques and procedures that change the way play goes, even if it is only to get the kind of play you've already done or have striving to play.  The results are different.

I simply see nothing "solo" about the play at my table, and I know my Players would agree. But the games I play offer new ways of building cohesion among the social group at the table and wind everything up in ways that might not be part of how you're seeing play work.


A quick note about the Humanity rule from Sorcerer: To be very clear, the rules does not constrain the Player's choices.... it is that there are consequences for those choices.  Essentially, when you do something "against" Humanity, you have a 50% chance of the PC's Humanity going down a point.  When the PC does something in line with Humanity, there is about a 50% chance the Humanity will go up a point.  So the Player can behave any way he wants...  he can even dance on the edge of Humanity 0 for while with a Humanity of 1 and doing against-Humanity things as long as the dice favor him.  But it is the Player's choice, every time.  And if the Player really believes his character would act in a way that threatens his Humanity, he's allowed to drive it down toward 0.  And then, if the player decides the risk is getting too great, he can pull back and start doing actions to lift his Humanity.  But the point of the mechanic is that the Player chooses -- there is no forcing of behavior.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: mcv on February 24, 2009, 08:49:12 AM
You wrote something that I think is very accurate: "I hope it's not too annoying when I do that, but from my perspective, what people call "Story Now" constantly seems to jump between two extremes, one where it's a completely new way of playing, and another where it's pretty close to what I've been doing (or been trying) for most of my life."

Certainly that has been my experience with the tools and procedures I've been playing with the last several years.  The key, for me, is that the play works now.  I get what I wanted and it works.

I got what I wanted, and I got play that works.  I had to give up a lot of assumptions about what would work and what would not.  But when I did, I got what I wanted.

You mean that what I've always wanted is indeed (at least partially) Story Now, but I've been working with the wrong tools? Using a more narrativist system will get me the same thing, but more reliably and consistenty. Is that it?

Perhaps it will also get the other players on board. I'm always a bit annoyed that I'm trying to come up with interesting characters with real personality, and they come up with a name and some stats. (Well, it's not always like that, and the longer a campaign continues, the more all characters (including mine) develop, which is probably why I like long campaigns.)

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Did you get a chance to look at the HeroQuest thread I linked to?  I know it is long, but it is a clear example of these procedures.  Although it was a one shot at a convention, for me it could easily have served as the first session in a long series of sessions.  I do hope you get a chance to go through it.  It would give us a framework for discussion from actual play -- which is where I am always most comfortable.

Haven't read all of it yet. There's a lot of stuff in this thread I still need to read and digest. But it still sounds somewhat like an accident: somehow everybody just got it, and started doing your work for you.

Quote
2) You wrote: "I prefer a game and game world that makes sense...I care about the realism, about complex, plausible characters that work realistically as protagonist of a story in that word."  Did you write this as a contrast to the sort of play I've been discussing?

No! Not at all. It's just self-analysis. I'm trying to describe in words what I want from a game. And reading it gives me the impression that it's part Simulationism, part Story Now. The problem is, the player who wants a more Narrativist game abnd pointed me to The Forge isn't a Simulationist at all, but a Gamist. No detailed characters with complex personalities, just some stats with a name (that I feel doesn't quite fit in the setting).

And I read some older posts here where people said Nar was much closer to Gam than to Sim, which worried me a bit. But from this thread I get the impression that Nar is more like the natural extension of Sim. And now I find myself worrying how that player will take it.

Quote
3) As for the concept of "solo games" or "solo campaigns" -- I'm fascinated by these terms.  Now, I'm not trying to convince you of anything.  What I've been writing about may not be your cup of tea, and that's fine.  But I need you to understand that nothing I play like (in the HeroQuest game I linked to, in the Sorcerer games I've mentioned) feel "solo" at all. 

It's always a group of people gathered together.  Doing something socially.  Together.  We're all interested in what the other people are doing with their characters.  This, I'll be blunt, is just a major point of disconnect.  That you're focusing so much on what interests the characters seems utterly alien to me since I've learned that what really matters at the game table is what interests the Players.  There's just no getting around it.

But I am interested in what interests the characters. But what if various characters are interested in completely different things (perhaps because their players are)? Isn't it the interaction between what the characters are doing that's fun? If one character is slaying dragons on his own, another is involved in courtly intrigue, a third is tending his farm and fighting off raiders, and the fourth is exploring some far away land, then why are these people even in the same game? That sounds like your reading four books simultaneously. It seems to me that you really do need something, anything, that connects them somehow.

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If the PCs work together as a group it's because the Players decide to do it.

But what if some players decide to work together, and one doesn't? (A common occurance in my group.)

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No amount of fiction constraints ("You're all a squad from the FBI") can force that to happen.  In my experience it is fictional constraints like this that almost encourage Players to strike out on their own.

But if they don't have anything in common, then there's no plausible reason for them to work together. The only way to plausibly get them to work together is to give them something in common.

Quote
For you, the notion that the PCs are not in the same scene is some sort of solo play.

They don't have to be in the same scene all the time, but they do need something that they have in common, or else their respective adventures will cease being relevant for the others. Being in the same scene could do it, but that doesn't necessarily stop them from breaking up. Having a common goal works better. Being involved on different sides of the same conflict could work too, but is really hard to pull off in my experience.

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I simply see nothing "solo" about the play at my table, and I know my Players would agree. But the games I play offer new ways of building cohesion among the social group at the table and wind everything up in ways that might not be part of how you're seeing play work.

I mostly don't see what you really mean. Do the players really do their own thing, completely unrelated to the others, or do they have something in common? If you're building cohesion, then you're giving them something in common, right? So what is it? What are those new ways of building cohesion?

Quote
A quick note about the Humanity rule from Sorcerer: To be very clear, the rules does not constrain the Player's choices.... it is that there are consequences for those choices.  Essentially, when you do something "against" Humanity, you have a 50% chance of the PC's Humanity going down a point.  When the PC does something in line with Humanity, there is about a 50% chance the Humanity will go up a point.  So the Player can behave any way he wants...  he can even dance on the edge of Humanity 0 for while with a Humanity of 1 and doing against-Humanity things as long as the dice favor him.  But it is the Player's choice, every time.  And if the Player really believes his character would act in a way that threatens his Humanity, he's allowed to drive it down toward 0.  And then, if the player decides the risk is getting too great, he can pull back and start doing actions to lift his Humanity.  But the point of the mechanic is that the Player chooses -- there is no forcing of behavior.

There is one restriction: Humanity can go up and down, and then it reaches zero, he loses his character. But it's part of the game mechanics, just like injury and death usually is. The consequences become more explicit and less arbitrary. There are clear limits to just how much a character can misbehave, and that gives him freedom within those limits. It makes the misbehaviour part of the game, and puts clear boundaries on it, and that sounds like a very effective mechanism to prevent something I've seen in my group: everybody getting annoyed because they consider one player's character disruptive, without them really being able to do anything about it.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 24, 2009, 09:04:17 AM
Hi Martijn,

I'm slammed on some writing right now, so I wont' get back to this for a while.  Luckily, that will give you time for the two length threads at hand.  I really think moving forward in our conversation will be helped by this, giving us some shared context to poke at.

I did want to say, though, that this made me laugh (a true, honest laugh of recognition):

"Haven't read all of it yet. There's a lot of stuff in this thread I still need to read and digest. But it still sounds somewhat like an accident: somehow everybody just got it, and started doing your work for you."

Yes!  I know!  It does seem that way!  And if I didn't get the same, reliable results with different Players I'd think the same thing.

We'll talk more about the specifics later.  But take a look at what is already written. Notice that the the Players in the HeroQuest game were also very interested in what interested the characters.  But without the Players first there are no characters.  That's my only point.  When I write something like that it is not at the expense of playing from the point of view of characters and their emotions and drives and passions -- but it is an acknowledgement of the reality of what happens when real life people sit down to play together.  Hoping that things will work out because the Players will "hide" themselves in their characters is, I have found, an expectation that often leads to disappointment.

But I'm already typing too much... we'll take a couple of days and reconvene. 


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Dr_Pete on February 24, 2009, 03:01:46 PM
Hi Martijn, (Christopher, I'll give you a rest, lol)

It sounds like we're discussing very similar issues regarding setting up the game so that it has some cohesion.

My feeling is that yes, there should be something that binds the characters together.  There are at least 2 different types of ties I can think of that could work... family and employment bonds.  Others might also work.

I think that an important element of this is a collaborative character creation process.  How are the characters connected to each other?  Starblazer Adventures (based on FATE/SotC) requires players to construct backstory links between the characters as part of the generation process, which might be helpful, though I sense one might want to go a bit further than they do by default.  It's a very cool, fairly generic-setting space game which would probably be easy to play in a narrativist way.

I've been told that a very big part of this kind of play is to not constrain the players control over the action of their characters.  Lets imagine for a moment that we're talking about the example you mentioned.  One character doing courtly intrigue, one slaying dragons, one is tending his herd and fighting off raiders, and one is exploring some far away land.  This is the same type of thing I was worried about, but lets go back 1-2 sessions of this theoretical game, and think about how they might have gotten here playing this the "Story Now" way.

The characters, lets imagine, are created as four brothers, all minor landed nobles.  They are in a nation on the brink of war with a far away country. 
The first one's kicker: While at court, I overheard a plot against the king. 
The second one's kicker: I learn that a dragon killed our father.
The third one's kicker: Bandits have raided my land.
The fourth one's kicker: My son has been taken hostage.

Just by trying to do this, I've turned these into somewhat more interesting individual stories.  The actions of the theoretical characters are totally bland without some meat as to motivation.  You need a reason to "do intrigue" and "farming" has to be among the dullest rp activities... maybe not "roll to paint the wall without dripping" boring, but that's not a game, that's a character sketch.  "I plow today"... "ok, roll to see if you hit a rock... ah, a 1, you nick your plowblade"

Now, lets move the game forward a bit...

Maybe the travelling one's son was taken hostage by the king, as insurance.  The King wants to send him on a Ambassadorial mission to their enemy nation-- both to gather information, and to keep him away from Belinda.  Maybe he's out there working in good faith for the King, maybe he's trying to cement his own power for his comeback.

The first son's intrigue might grow into to seducing/protecting Belinda, as well as fighting over issues of inheritance, since the father is dead.  All this while trying to find the enemy agent in court.  Maybe he even instigated the exile?

Meanwhile, perhaps the dragon is allied with the kingdom, and sworn to protect it from invasion.  Killing it would leave the country in a much worse position to defend itself.  On the other hand, maybe it has magical treasure which would be useful.  Combat, in and of itself, serves little narrative purpose.  He's not going to go up a level, or get rich from it, so why's he off doing it?  Some story related reason.  Heck, maybe the dragon will offer to place him on the throne, once he sees he's outgunned.

The bandits are scouting parties for the imminent invasion, and the third one is therefore on the front lines of the war that's about to start.  His serfs are in need of leadership, and he is in need of backup, but someone has convinced the king not to send him any assistance.

These four guys are in totally different places, but I could see each of the players being genuinely interested in what happened to the others, because the stories are compelling (at least moderately, given that I had to back engineer them), and they are intertwined.  The things they are doing are not supposed to be the generic, everyday stuff... clearing dungeons, wandering aimlessly hoping something will attack you.  No, you leap straight to the cool bits that put the characters under story pressure... the story is the stuff you want from it, not the xp grinding.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 24, 2009, 03:28:53 PM
Hi Guys,

No big post this time.  Again, I'm thinking something through, but haven't written it yet.

But I really liked this: "No, you leap straight to the cool bits that put the characters under story pressure... the story is the stuff you want from it."  Exactly!  That's the practical effect.

I also want to point you to some threads from a while back.  Ron Edwards and three other posters did character creation and scenario background prep for a Sorcerer game online.  It wasn't for an actual game -- simply a walk through of how setting, situation, Kickers and so forth all come together.  You might want to check them out.

"To Tor, Jesse and Paul" http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=753.0 (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=753.0)
Art Deco Melodrama http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=770.0 (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=770.0)
Art Deco Melodrama Part 2 http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=828.0 (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=828.0)
Art Deco Melodrama The Final Chapter http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=876.0 (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=876.0)


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on February 24, 2009, 03:36:46 PM
And while I'm at it...

Here are the links to the AP of a Sorcerer game run by Jesse Berneko (it's the game I referenced, where I drove my PC's Humanity to 0)

Gothic Fantasy Part One:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2702.0 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2702.0)

Gothic Fantasy Part Two:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2807.msg27442#msg27442 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2807.msg27442#msg27442)

Gothic Fantasy Part Three:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2908.msg28210#msg28210 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2908.msg28210#msg28210)

Enjoy!



Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: FredGarber on February 24, 2009, 05:10:30 PM
There's a couple of things I want to chime in on.  In summary, many role players are trained to expect certain things, or think about things certain ways.  It took me a long time to see that C.Agenda wasn't just an axis between Role and Roll, but actually had three points of Step Up, Dream, and StoryNow! (*)

1. I had an idea, when I started, that Story Now! was somehow light on GM Work, since I didn't need to worry about charts of weapon comparisons (that helped players Share the Dream), or complex Skill trees (to determine if my players Stepped Up to the Challenge).
   This was SOOO Wrong. 
There are plenty of work for a GM in StoryNow, and a lot of it is what I think would fall under "Discussion of mechanics, with Low Immersion" for the players.
The longer the campaign is set to go, the more a GM needs work to make sure all his players are feeling like Protagonists, and aren't being overwhelmed by the free choice to direct the story.  It's more cerebral, "fiddly" work, and less about making sure that all the NPCs have unique funny voices. 

2. Because a StoryNow campaign is often more open-ended by design, sometimes players feel 'lost,' and lose interest.  It's important to add shorter campaign "tales," or episodic elements, so that players can see milestones.  In Shared Dream play, keeping things going without end is a goal in itself.  In Gamist play, there's usually levels and XP and things like that to worry about.  In Narr play, oftentimes the campaign end after 6-10 sessions.  It's not because the story is played out, but because the players are preconditioned to expect XP and to increases in effectiveness, and some StoryNow games don't have that.

3. In StoryNow Games, ESPECIALLY a game based on Firefly where there is a specific feel and style that you're trying to reproduce, players should talk out loud, to each other, while building the characters.   It's important that characters are built with motivations and goals that aren't designed to crash into each other.  OR, if they are built that way, that the players know that they have motivations that might conflict, and they're ready and expecting that. In some systems, players can design their characters without talking, and still get functional play.  Most Nar games aren't like that (although there are exceptions)

4. Why some people say StoryNow! games are like StepUp games: In Gamist and Narr games, players need to spend a certain amount of thought on what game mechanics they're going to use.  If the whole session passes and there's no dice rolling (or other Conflict Resolution), then the scenes are usually flat and unsuccessful.  Either characters are not pushing the Premise, or not Stepping up to Challenges.  In Simulationist games, the rules are there to facilitate the Dream, and if players spend three sessions without ever creating a Conflict, all Exploring Character and Setting, they might call that a successful play.

5. In most StoryNow play, the only limit as to how deep the player can address the Premise is based on how much they want to, from day one.  Increases in Effectiveness usually only increases how much the story goes your way As Opposed to the Other Players.  This sometimes leads to a player vs player mentality, or player vs GM, where players feel like they've lost when the story doesn't go their way, instead of feeling like they've won by creating an interesting scene.  Creating a flat scene is how you lose at Narr, not by not getting your own way.

-Fred
(*) The NOW part of StoryNow is important, because a good story can emerge from Gamist or Sim play, but it isn't the focus (NOW!) of the players.


Title: Re: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG
Post by: Dr_Pete on February 26, 2009, 09:14:19 PM
Hi Christopher,

I've given your points some thought...

On the first point, I think there's a major distinction that needs to be made that I do think I had in mind, but may not have communicated clearly.  That is, the distinction between the characters working together, and the game "working" as an actual group activity. 

I, at the moment, think that the characters need to be sufficiently bound together on some level that when Alan is "active", Betty has a reason to be tuned in, and not be just waiting for her turn.  The classic example of this is when somebody goes off alone, and the GM and player go into another room.  I don't think that hypothetical boredom of Betty's is because she's self-absorbed.  When groups split up, it often derails the momentum, because there's at least a sense that you're a spectator for extended periods.

A stereotypical character good for a lot of games is something like Boba Fett.  Mysterious, standoffish, tactically strong.  Watching someone play that character skulking around a bar and not talking to anyone is boring.  Heck, being in a long car ride with him would be boring.  A lot of characters are built for solo or tactical play, and watching somebody else play through combat is not usually a good gaming experience.  For these and various other reasons, you don't usually split up the group.

The questions is, how do you liven up the game from this model so that it remains a viable game for everyone even if the characters are in different places, and even if the characters are in conflict.  Obviously, it's possible, as various threads here have shown.  I think part of the success must come from the emphasis on constructing something more story-like, with dramatic tension.

But you have written, and Ron wrote in the Art Deco thread, about it being important that the characters be linked, at some level.  My sense is that that is important to increase the player's interest in what's happening at the table when they're not "on".  I don't think it's just an issue in Martijn's games.  Doing interesting things, things worthy of an audience, is the another part of that equation.  It may be that the frequency of cutting between different groups is higher, as well.  Are we talking, typically, about 2-3 minutes before moving on, 10-15 minutes, or something else?

As for character conflict, I would absolutely buy that characters can be at each others throats, even if family, etc.  If I played in a game like that, though, dealing with that conflict would probably take priority over a good chunk of the "adventure" though (obviously I'm approaching this discussion from the perspective of a game like D&D, with a GM generated plot, etc).  Those conflicts are traditionally very annoying because of metagame concerns that tend to take away options like having a real fight.  I think I mentioned a game I played many years ago where we had a thief stealing from other characters during a dungeon crawl... that's a violation of a usually unspoken social contract among players, even if the character class was thief.  A realistic reaction might be to kill him and leave him to rot in the dungeon, but that also seemed, at the time, like it would be wrong to do.  That said, I could totally see how a game with this other focus could be very cool and engaging.  I think it's very clearly NOT something to try to sneak into a traditional game with traditional expectations to try to bring the game to another level.

On point 2:
I see that if the players agree that they "want" to be tied together with some structure that they would be less inclined to create characters that would send them flying off in different directions, or ripping each others throats out.  I guess I was primarily thinking about the structure the people around the table come to in creating the characters.

There's a big difference between "create your own character, doing your own thing which interests you" which seems to characterize the Art Deco and the Gothic Fantasy game setups, and what happened in the HeroQuest game.  That was what I was driving at... what structure, if any, can/should the GM provide players as they set about doing character creation?  Traveler Sorcerer seems to say "you're all old war buddies" while in the HeroQuest game the players seem to have spontaneously decided to play a family.  Without some guidance before starting creation, do they typically form strong links, or start independent?  In my past play, I've done the "everyone create a character, and I'll figure out how to bring your characters together" setup.  It can work, but I see that it is only superficially similar.

And on 2b)
It's definitely true that those kickers are all there, and without the "tv show" constraint, Mal could have killed Jayne.  In fact, his name's escaping me, but the pilot of Buffy (another Whedon creation) featured the death of one of the original group of buddies which might otherwise have become the Scooby Gang, if I remember correctly.