The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Josh Porter on December 15, 2011, 03:41:06 PM



Title: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 15, 2011, 03:41:06 PM
So, I've been playing in a fairly new game of Dresden Files recently.  We've got four sessions under our belts so far.  The game is a spin-off of the Dresden Files game I ran previously, set in the same world, but featuring new characters in a new location.  I really like my character, a soft-hearted sasquatch who doesn't want to end up alone like the rest of his kind.  Lloyd is his name.

But I'm having a problem with the game.

My friend is GMing, something he has done many times before, and he seems to be stuck in dungeon crawl mode in a game that doesn't dig on that type of playstyle.  It seems very Story Before to me, but, as I'm not the GM, I can't say for sure.  He's set up many threads of plot for us to follow and given us the choice on which to go for, but I get the feeling that nothing my character does will change the outcome of the narrative. 

We spend a lot of time driving to the next place to talk to someone in a diner by happenstance who reveals a quest.  That sort of thing.  The GM makes a big deal of the quest-giver to try and ensure that we use the appropriate skill to get the quest info. Here's an example from the last session: "'You come into the diner.  There's a cop at the counter and a waitress pouring coffee.  You see some missing persons flyers posted above the counter.  Does anyone want to roll Investigate?'  'Sure.  I go look at the flyers.' [roll] 'I got a Good.'  'OK, you notice that these are some hikers who went missing yesterday.  They haven't been seen since.'  'Cool, I walk back to the car.'  'Does anyone want to talk to the cop?'  'OK, I'll do it.  I talk to him.'"  And so on.

It seems like he has every single scene planned out beforehand and is just waiting for us to push all the relevant buttons so he can move us to the next one.  But when we're actually getting into the characters and interacting with each other we get things like: "Doesn't anyone want to roll Alertness?"  Someone usually resigns to roll Alertness and then notices thing X: the clue to the next place to go.  So we get in the car and drive to a new town and talk to the people in the diner.

Now I don't want to be too negative here.  I am not shitting on Story Before or Participationism here, as they can be fun in their own ways.  But I don't think that's what I expected from this game.  I'm not even sure if that's what's truly going on.  It really feels like I'm playing World of Warcraft, except way slower.  Whether my die rolls succeed or fail, I know we're going to get the information we need to proceed to the next plot point no matter what, and that bothers me.

What I have done, as a result, is take the least expected paths for my character at every conceivable turn.  I guess I'm childishly trying to throw the GM off his story by inverting his expectations.  But it doesn't seem to work.  When another sasquatch secretly came and met with Lloyd and told him about a missing sasquatch Lloyd knew, I slow-played it.  I walked back to camp and sat quietly, not telling the other characters.  One of them had seen me secretly meeting and Lloyd didn't know.  I planned to sneak off in the middle of the night and go find the lost yeti, and hopefully he would follow me and we'd have an adventure together, off the books.  But it was not meant to be.  As soon as I get back to the rest of the characters, the GM says, "So he tells all of you about the missing sasquatch.  What do you do?"  Son of a bitch!  I'll try another tactic.  I tell the group that it is simply unheard of for one yeti to seek out another (all this made sense based on the world-building we'd done about bigfoots).  I tried to convince everyone not to go, as it would be suprememly disrespectful to us bigfeet.  I still had dreams of sneaking off in the night.  But after I had refused many times, the GM looked at me irritated and said, "Come on dude."  And so I was shamed into following the plot again.

So what do I do?  How do I break out of the tyranny of the "clue X leads to diner Y leads to quest Z" plot?  What can I do as a character or as a player to either enjoy the way the game is run, or rebel against it and win?  Please no "just quit the game" answers.  I love the people playing and I have almost no free time to game outside of this, so starting a new game with a different group isn't a valid option at the moment.  I need to adapt to this game or tear it asunder!!!


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: stefoid on December 15, 2011, 04:19:35 PM
ha, I could have written this post myself.

This kind of play  makes me want to smash things.

If youre not prepared to adjust your own expectations, theres nothing you can do, you are doomed to not enjoy this game and trying to change the nature of the game will not help AND it will piss people off at the same time.

There is no magic bullet other than to not play.  If you want to play a different style of game, youre going ot have to run it yourself when this one is over, in the (probably vain) hope that the group will adopt your style of play.



Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 15, 2011, 04:49:06 PM
I imagine the folks here'll say your situation would require more analysis before any definite conclusions could be reached, but FWIW I recall an earlier thread on the subject that I bumped into browsing the archives:  frustration with "enigmas" (http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=931.0).

Here's the money quote:
In other words (and Paul said this first, so he gets credit), these types of rolls in many role-playing games are really no different from the ďFind secret doorsĒ rolls in a dungeon crawl. The players more or less roam around in Brownian motion until they bump the notch for the secret door the right way, and when they do, a panel slides aside and they can flow through it to bump around looking for the next one.

Quote
What I have done, as a result, is take the least expected paths for my character at every conceivable turn.  I guess I'm childishly trying to throw the GM off his story by inverting his expectations.  But it doesn't seem to work.  When another sasquatch secretly came and met with Lloyd and told him about a missing sasquatch Lloyd knew, I slow-played it.  I walked back to camp and sat quietly, not telling the other characters.  One of them had seen me secretly meeting and Lloyd didn't know.  I planned to sneak off in the middle of the night and go find the lost yeti, and hopefully he would follow me and we'd have an adventure together, off the books.  But it was not meant to be.  As soon as I get back to the rest of the characters, the GM says, "So he tells all of you about the missing sasquatch.  What do you do?"  Son of a bitch!  I'll try another tactic.  I tell the group that it is simply unheard of for one yeti to seek out another (all this made sense based on the world-building we'd done about bigfoots).  I tried to convince everyone not to go, as it would be suprememly disrespectful to us bigfeet.  I still had dreams of sneaking off in the night.  But after I had refused many times, the GM looked at me irritated and said, "Come on dude."  And so I was shamed into following the plot again.
I've run into something like this situation myself, though the GM in question at least had the grace to nudge me back onto the main plotline by relatively subtle methods.

Though, for the love of all that is holy, I remain baffled by why players should have to explicitly call for Awareness checks in situations where there is something significant to be aware of.  It's like GMs assume the PCs are blundering about with blindfolds on unless noted otherwise.  I guess, on that note, I might be inclined to ask, "Where was my awareness check to detect this NPC who was following me?"  Which may or may not be helpful, depending on whether the other players are likely to sympathise.

So, yeah, I'm with stefoid.  Offhand, I can't think of any simple solution to this problem.  You'll pretty much have to 'get with the program', or persuade your group to adopt a very different approach.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: stefoid on December 15, 2011, 05:22:06 PM
Here's an example from the last session: "'You come into the diner.  There's a cop at the counter and a waitress pouring coffee.  You see some missing persons flyers posted above the counter.  Does anyone want to roll Investigate?'  'Sure.  I go look at the flyers.' [roll] 'I got a Good.'  'OK, you notice that these are some hikers who went missing yesterday.  They haven't been seen since.' 

I love this bit. 


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 15, 2011, 05:38:40 PM
So the real question is: "How do I get on board and/or have fun with this?"

I have no problem getting into Participationist roleplaying.  But the story in this one plods along its course, never speeding up and getting to the action.  The action (conflict of any kind really) happens when we've gotten through enough of the ploddery to the point where the action was destined to happen all along.  Has anyone in a similar situation succeeded with pushing straight through to the things that matter?  If that was the case, I'd probably be having a ball, but I don't know how my character can make that happen.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Chris_Chinn on December 15, 2011, 08:24:42 PM
A couple of years back, I made my last attempt to play in an Illusionist game.  It was a game of Unknown Armies, with the players playing police detectives investigating what appeared to be the work of a serial killer, but actually was a series of magical rituals.

Like you, I tried two different tacks at different points in play:

1) Push the investigation

I would have my character make reasonable assumptions and investigation actions, and, sometimes it would reveal a clue, sometimes it would be a dead end, but ultimately it would peter out and nothing I could do would make the situation move forward.

2) Ignore the investigation, play character development with the other players

Whenever we did more than a few minutes of this, some form of crisis or clue-bat would swing at us and end that whole process.

What I realized after a point, was that the real "game" happening here was this:  Whatever the players were actively trying to do, the GM would tease along, stall, then finally block and divert.  Clues had to be strung out slowly, after all, that's "how suspense works" (at least in misguided Illusionist game advice).  Players ignoring the clue trail for too long had to be stopped, otherwise "There's no story".

There's a difference between challenges to goals in play (which, you could say is a feature of all game activities) and stonewalling all goals in play.  I cannot possibly fathom any fun in the latter, and when I realized this was the pattern the GM repeated over and over, I gracefully left.

Is there a way to make this fun for you?  I don't know, I feel like "types of fun" are like genres of music- there's some you like, some you don't like, and while you might shift over the years, it's pretty hard to FORCE yourself to enjoy something you don't.

Chris


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 16, 2011, 02:17:41 AM
Hi Josh,

How long are session times with this group, traditionally?

You might find the GM is in part trying to forfil an expectation even you impose - that it has to go for X number of hours.

Another reason it goes slow might also come from an expectation of your own - that fiction comes first in deciding events and in deciding what rules are used. He can't just cut to the chase - that's too boardgamey! No, the fiction has to decide the pace - and that's what you want, isn't it? Fiction comes first. I'm pretty sure that was the prob in an account I gave awhile ago, where I described the effect as like walking through molasses (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=28222.0;wap2).

So, maybe if you have expectations like these, your contributing to your own problem? How is a GM supposed to pad out X number of hours? What will definately keep you occupied and not fall short your time expectation? How is play supposed to leap onto something else yet at the same time adhere to the pace of fiction and not be 'boardgamey' in how the next events progress is determined?

What play do you want? If you've just sat down without thinking about that, yet this slow game thing doesn't work for you - well, whats wrong with what the GM does? He's certainly put thought into what he wants to do. One of the strong expressions of having really thought about what play you want is to have written an RPG. It certainly cuts to the chase more than trying to be a sasquach that runs off into the woods.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 16, 2011, 04:13:05 AM
Another reason it goes slow might also come from an expectation of your own - that fiction comes first in deciding events and in deciding what rules are used. He can't just cut to the chase - that's too boardgamey! No, the fiction has to decide the pace - and that's what you want, isn't it? Fiction comes first. I'm pretty sure that was the prob in an account I gave awhile ago, where I described the effect as like walking through molasses (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=28222.0;wap2).
I'm a little unclear on what 'fiction first' means in this context, so unless you want to clarify, I'm going to temporarily assume (A) that this is relevant to Josh's problem and (B) that 'fiction first' means 'strong attention paid to the details of in-world causality'.

If that's the case, I would hold that while 'fiction first' might well bog things down a bit, it would also help to solve one of Josh's other problems-  The example Josh mentioned of an in-group NPC who trails Lloyd and rats on his meeting is just such an example.  If fiction (consistent in-world causality) were genuinely first here, the GM would not be able to arbitrarily decide that this NPC was present to view that meeting.  He would have to roll one or more Stealth vs. Awareness tests to ensure that the NPC was able to follow Lloyd without being spotted, and if he failed, Lloyd would be able to either shake off the tail, or perhaps, failing that, to try to persuade or intimidate them into silence.

The details of in-world causality don't, in themselves, amount to a Force technique.  The problem is the selective cherry-picking of details of in-world causality by illusionist GMs, which they can get away with largely thanks to Rule Zero and similar textual exhortations.  But that selective cherry-picking, in itself, constitutes a metagame agenda, and therefore has nothing to do with in-world causality.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 16, 2011, 10:22:08 AM
Callan, in regards to the time each session lasts, we play for about three hours a week.  It's not that long of a session, at least in my experience.  I can see what you mean about the expectation that a session should last X number of hours, but I don't think that's a factor in this game.  Usually, at the end of the session, the GM expresses that he wanted to get through more in the time we had.  I don't know what that says about the game exactly.  Maybe he wants us to roll skills as quick as we can in every scene so that it can move to the next one.  But I feel that that style of play takes much of the roleplaying out of the game and makes the players very one dimensional.  "We are just characters here for the quest!  We have no interest in anything beyond the quest!"  That kind of thing.

Now as far as the fiction needing to lead to the lead to the good stuff as opposed to cutting right to the chase, I think I follow your train of thought, but I'm not sure.  Are you saying that every game needs to build up to climax?  I get that and mostly agree.  But I do think that even in the scenes leading up to the climax there should be risks, stakes, consequences, and ways that the players can impact the story.  It seems like the characters in this game are only allowed to influence the narrative in the planned out "conflict scenes", as though those are the only times our decisions make any difference whatsoever.

Now I should also clarify the scene I transcribed in which my character was having a secret conversation with another sasquatch.  The character spying on my was not an NPC, but another player character.  When the GM announced that the party was informed of the conversation, he was dictating my character's actions, not an NPC's.  When I disagreed the conversation went like this:
"So he tells you everything that they talked about..."
"No I don't, I stay quiet and go poke the fire with a stick."
"So you don't tell anyone?"
"Nope.  I just look very concerned."
[Casper, the character who had witnessed the conversation, comes over and sits by me around the fire.]
"I ask Lloyd what's going on.  He looks troubled."
"I'm OK man, I just have some things to think about."
"So you tell him what you talked about with the yeti..."
""No I don't.  I just sit staring into the fire."
"Hrrrrrrrrrmmmmmm! [annoyed grunt] So you don't tell anyone?"
"Nope."
"Why don't you just tell Casper."
"OK, fine.  I have a quiet conversation with him and fill him in a bit."
"OK, so he tells the group that a sasquatch is missing.  What do you all do about it?"

I was hoping for a two-man side quest of some sort with Casper, but the need for the group to know was paramount, I suppose.  And then the whole "yetis don't look for each other" conversation was had.  I hope that clarifies things a bit.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 16, 2011, 03:16:25 PM
If you think of the GM not playing out a world, but a single character like the rest of the players do, you can sort of see your doing the same thing as the GM and he the same as you. You don't want to just roll quickly because that takes the roleplaying out and makes characters "Were here only for the quest" one dimensional. HE doesn't want to just cut to the action, because that takes the roleplaying out and makes the world/his character "I'm only here as a vehicle for the characters" one dimensional. You want to hide information from the other PC's/players for your fictional reasons. HE wants to stubbornly hide information from the PC's/players for his fictional reasons. You want ways to affect the story, but don't find any means offered by the GM. Maybe he wants ways to affect the characters as much as they expect to affect the story, but doesn't find any means offered by the players.

Really, with this method, even if a player starts determining story, they simply reverse the roles and they become the story before, participationist GM themselves. With 'character background before' replacing 'story before', ie, my character would do this and this because it's in his/her background...

Maybe that's not the case at all, but like I raised before on thinking about the play you want/how you would structure play you want, it's worth thinking how you'd do it - and whether that'd be different from how this GM does it?


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 16, 2011, 03:46:48 PM
Now I should also clarify the scene I transcribed in which my character was having a secret conversation with another sasquatch.  The character spying on my was not an NPC, but another player character.
Okay, my mistake.  I had assumed that the GM had at least the modicum of respect for character autonomy necessary to not dictate your own actions to you or other players.  Hence, my assumption some GM-controlled 3rd party responsible for tattling.

Callan, there's a crucial difference between the GM's behaviour here and Josh's behaviour.  Josh, I presume, does not seize control of NPCs and dictate their responses to his character.  Josh cannot easily hide critical information about his character's actions from the other players.  This is nothing like a reciprocal exchange of responsibilities.  This isn't even Illusionism, because the GM can't be bothered to even maintain the pretence of PC autonomy.

I take it, from this conversation, that Casper's player was more-or-less okay with not announcing this secret to the rest of the PCs?  Maybe you could ask the other players how they feel about this kind of treatment?


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 16, 2011, 04:20:49 PM
Callan, with regards to this point here:
Quote
Maybe that's not the case at all, but like I raised before on thinking about the play you want/how you would structure play you want, it's worth thinking how you'd do it - and whether that'd be different from how this GM does it?

As far as this piece is concerned, when I GM games I strive to make every roll the players make shape the story.  I suppose I am far more in the camp of "GM's world as a vehicle for the characters" in that case.  It might be because I'm lazy as a GM, but I've never run a Story Before game, with the exception of a D&D module.  If you're curious, you can check out this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32459.0) about the game I'm currently working on.

I see your point, but I guess I'm just not terribly sympathetic to it, as it's never a style of GMing that's appealed to me.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: David Berg on December 16, 2011, 05:00:10 PM
Hi Josh,

If you are trying to get the most fun you can out a situation that really isn't conducive to the kind of fun you prefer, I suggest looking for an entirely new way to enjoy it. 

For example:
Embrace the dark side and help the GM run the railroad.  Look for whatever the GM wants to make happen, then jump all over that and invest in it and make it meaningful to your character.  Put yourself in position to act as a plant (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32517.msg289599#msg289599).  Or maybe you don't event want a player character!  Ask if the GM wants help with anything; offer to play some NPCs or whatever seems fun to you.

Yeah, these are all hacks, and simply playing a different sort of game would be better... but if you can't achieve "different game" by talking to the players directly, you sure as hell won't pull it off through playing your character in a way that grinds against what everyone else is doing.  All that will ensure is that no one has fun.

That's what I've experienced, anyway.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 16, 2011, 06:02:03 PM
Quote
Embrace the dark side and help the GM run the railroad.

Boom!  That's the kind of thing I was looking for!  Each session I've tried a slightly different tack in playing my character, trying to get the most out of the game.  This one might do the trick.  Now I've just got to to up my clued-in-o-meter to try and see where we're headed.  I'll try this next session and see how it works out.  I guess this is just Participationism at its core, but hopefully it will speed up the action.  I think this has been said before in different words, but for whatever reason this made it click.

Incidentally, I don't think I've necessarily been going against what everyone else is doing.  We all seem to be stumbling around attempting to find out where we're supposed to go in the GM's plot.  We're all trying to get to the interesting stuff and have fun being caught up in our characters.  I think that may be why the GM seems frustrated at the end of each session; we're not picking up on what he wants us to do quickly enough.  If I can get my mindset switched to "see where the GM wants us to go" mode, I think it'll help.  But I still want to invert expectations every once and a while.  It's just more fun to go outside the box sometimes and think of creative solutions to the same problems.  Just without trying to actively take the game outside the Story Before script.

And Alfryd, to respond to your earlier question, yes.  Casper's player was indeed more or less OK with keeping the conversation under wraps for a while.  I think we both wanted to see where it went while keeping an open secret on the table. 


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 17, 2011, 09:42:45 AM
Incidentally, I don't think I've necessarily been going against what everyone else is doing.  We all seem to be stumbling around attempting to find out where we're supposed to go in the GM's plot.  We're all trying to get to the interesting stuff and have fun being caught up in our characters.  I think that may be why the GM seems frustrated at the end of each session; we're not picking up on what he wants us to do quickly enough.  If I can get my mindset switched to "see where the GM wants us to go" mode, I think it'll help.  But I still want to invert expectations every once and a while.  It's just more fun to go outside the box sometimes and think of creative solutions to the same problems.  Just without trying to actively take the game outside the Story Before script.

And Alfryd, to respond to your earlier question, yes.  Casper's player was indeed more or less OK with keeping the conversation under wraps for a while.  I think we both wanted to see where it went while keeping an open secret on the table.
Cool.  Well, if helping to drive the railroad is what you'd like to do, well and good... but, going by what you've said, what gives you the impression that you should neccesarily be conforming to what the GM expects, rather than having a discussion about what the group as a whole wants, and adjusting the GM-ing style accordingly?

I had assumed that you were the minority report here, because otherwise... well, why would the group put up with this GM?  But going by your description, the other players seem to be more on your wavelength, and no-one- including the GM- is 100% enjoying themselves because of that.  Pushing the railroad might work, but that's not your only option.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 17, 2011, 01:58:40 PM
I am trying to figure a way to communicate my frustrations about this game with the GM in a way that will not hurt his feelings.  He is one of my good friends, as are the rest of the players, and that may be why we all put up with the game as it lies.  We are a bunch of friends hanging out together before all else.  The GM has some very concrete opinions concerning roleplaying, and he stands pretty firmly on them.  They all are pretty traditional, and he's very resistant to a lot of the concepts and terminology regarding the Forge in general.  He recently ran a couple sessions of Dungeon World for a couple of us, and I could see him adapting his old-school GM sensibilities to the style that DW requires as he went.  It was pretty great to see.  But since FATE has no such GM rules, he is definitely falling back to what always worked in D&D (at least that's my take on it).

Long story short, I'm looking for a way to broach the whole conversation of this game without putting him on the defensive.  I think he's got a cool plot going, but it's not flowing the way it needs to for all of us involved to have fun consistently.  It's difficult to tell a guy who sees himself as a storyteller that his story needs to adapt to the group.  That's kind of what's up.  He ran a disastrous L5R game with us about 9 months back where much the same thing happened.  We all went around having character fun and missed his plot without even knowing it.  The thing about that game was that the PCs had fun every session, but the GM got so frustrated that he just called the game short a couple times and kind of stormed off.  I think a lot of us still remember this and are wary of ruining his fun again, so we may be trying to "go easy on him" and follow the trail he's laying.

Now I know that I am the most radical (as in far left hippie games) player in the spectrum of our group.  The other players, while not experiencing maximum fun potential, are generally more content with it.  They are pretty OK with just knowing the basics of a system enough to play it, and then following that wherever it takes them.  I am a glutton for rules and always have been, so I see the way it could be working reflected in other systems, and I lust after it.  This all being said, I am trying to experiment with how to get the most out of the game, while everyone else just kind of waits it out till the good parts.  If I become the railroad conductor, I don't think it will be noticed as such, and it might just throw some extra coal in the furnace to move the story along more quickly.

This has been quite rambly.  I think I just need to drop out some more context on here so that the whole situation is a little more fleshed out.  And if anyone's had a similar conversation with their GM before, I'd love to hear how it went, and what the effects of it were.  I think that might help me lay out my case in a more non-confrontational manner.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 17, 2011, 02:33:49 PM
Well, I appreciate the clarification.  I can see where you're coming from now.

I suppose, in the best-case scenario, embracing the railroad could work, but the worst-case scenario is that you'll just wind up delaying the inevitable breakdown of the group and, in the meantime, not enjoy yourself much.

I can't give you any specific advice on how to talk to a GM on a subject like this, but in my experience, railroaded games work best when whatever localised scene-specific problem you're addressing constitutes a viable, interesting, 'mini-game' in itself.

To take the classic example of D&D, players frequently have absolutely no control over the plot, but the monster encounters en-route and the variety of small-scale tactics available for dealing with that problem (i.e, the mini-game) create enough cognitive demands to keep the players engaged.  The fact that the players will win is usually a foregone conclusion, but looking cool while doing so, and maximising the efficiency with which those enemies can be dispatched, is good and sufficient reason to keep playing.

The problem here, I suspect, is that the 'mini-game' which your GM is trying to keep you engaged with isn't really a game at all.  There is one correct skill which will net you one correct answer and allow you to proceed to one correct outcome, which often requires guessing what the GM is thinking beforehand.  There isn't enough analytic complexity (i.e, 'challenge') there to keep the players hooked.  And- I'm guessing- the GM doesn't *want* the procedure here to be all that complex, because he really just wants to push you through these scenes ASAP up to a big conflict/climax.  But paradoxically, the very bareness of these lead-up scenes makes them uninteresting, which makes the players disengage, and therefore makes them take up *more* time, not less.  The problem here is that the GM really just wants to give you the answer without actually giving you the answer.

Perhaps if he were willing to make these lead-up scenes into little puzzles of some kind- where are the clues are handed to you, but the trick lies in interpreting them correctly?- then that would pose enough of a brain-teaser to get all the players aboard?


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 17, 2011, 04:12:09 PM
Quote
He recently ran a couple sessions of Dungeon World for a couple of us, and I could see him adapting his old-school GM sensibilities to the style that DW requires as he went.
That sounds really promising - if you think of rules as disscussion itself, this method of discussion clearly worked.

Even more so, could you just run a game yourself? I'd recommend capes (http://www.museoffire.com/Games/downloads.html), since you can try the free version (and it has a flash demo online too). Or is there a dynamic there - are you at his house and pretty much get together for his game sessions? I come from a background of where everyone in the group pretty much GM'ed at one point or another, often enough even in the same campaign.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: stefoid on December 17, 2011, 05:02:12 PM
Is this guy THE GM?  Why didnt you run Dungeon World?  Why dont you suggest running something 'in tandem'  i.e. switch games every fortnight?  and you GM a game you like in the style you want.  The groups reaction to the contrast should be enlightening one way or the other.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: philipstephen on December 17, 2011, 05:52:56 PM
One thing that I have not noticed mentioned yet (and it could be because I was skim reading) was talking to your GM.

Tell them what your experience of the game has been and what the experience you are hoping for looks like.

Ask if it is possible to work together to make the game fun for the both of you... maybe the whole group has something to say.

Though it sounds like you have a workable solution to try from other comments.

Good luck!

Phil


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 17, 2011, 07:08:41 PM
Is this guy THE GM?  Why didnt you run Dungeon World?  Why dont you suggest running something 'in tandem'  i.e. switch games every fortnight?  and you GM a game you like in the style you want.  The groups reaction to the contrast should be enlightening one way or the other.
This is an excellent question.  The answer is "kind of."  Our group kind of rotates between three GMs: me, the guy we're talking about on this thread, and another dude.   Guy number three is currently running a Deadlands game right now and playing in the Dresden Files game at the same time.  And guy two, who's running Dresden, comes up with games he wants to run fairly regularly, and kind of offers them up to the rest of the group to see who wants to play.  This game is a little different, as it's basically a spin-off.

I just finished running a nine-month-ish game of Dresden that was the precursor to this one.  I had my own struggles with GMing for the complete opposite reasons; the group was expecting the "follow the plot" style game and that's not what I was going for at all.  What ended up happening was a frustration on my part because the players were expecting me to railroad and I wouldn't do it.  Here's the thread I started about it. (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32535.0)  At the time I wrote the initial post of that thread I was very burnt out and I sort of used it to work out my frustration.  It was actually a favorite game for almost everyone playing and not as bad as I made it sound in my burnt-out headspace.  I'm better now.  I've also been GMing the playtests of Caterpillar, the game I'm writing at the moment and having a blast.  So I am kind of running another game at the same time; it's almost all the same people.

The reason I didn't run Dungeon World is partly selfish and partly coincidental.  We were just hanging around one night and decided to play it because two of us owned the PDF copy.  We went over to Kinko's, printed some character sheets, and started playing within about an hour.  It was kind of a "Well, I'll GM this game if that's cool with you guys" scenario.  Also I'd been really jonesing to play Apocalypse World as a player specifically for several months, so this seemed like the next best thing.

I definitely think there's hope for this game.  And hope for indie-izing my GM friend.  It will probably need to be a subtle touch, but I think I can bring it up with him and get a positive result.  I'll put up the results of our discussion here once it takes place.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: David Berg on December 17, 2011, 11:54:18 PM
I have a little experience with addressing railroady GMs. 

When a GM has taken on responsibility for giving the players something fun to do, the last thing they want to be told is that they need to make it more fun. 

I discovered this, and tried simply observing that my experience could have been better, without pointing the finger or making any demands.  No luck.  My GM just started spouting what he thought were universal truths about RPG goals, virtues, procedures, and limitations.  "Okay, Dave, it isn't perfect for you.  There are good reasons for that.  And anyway, so what?  We're all having fun, right?"

Asking the GM for advice, "How do I get the most out of this?  What do you wish I was doing?" gave me some useful info on how the GM viewed the game.  That's good to know before proposing changes.

If I had to do it now, I'd talk to the GM purely about what they get out of the game.  That's what I'd advise.  Find out what their favorite parts are.  Then see if you can think up changes to your play system that will get them more of what they like.  That's the change you pitch them.

Once you establish that changing your process can be more fun for them, then you can work on introducing changes that'll be more fun for you.  (Or I guess you could try to do both at once.)


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Chris_Chinn on December 18, 2011, 10:49:21 AM
I am trying to figure a way to communicate my frustrations about this game with the GM in a way that will not hurt his feelings.  He is one of my good friends, as are the rest of the players, and that may be why we all put up with the game as it lies.  We are a bunch of friends hanging out together before all else. 
(snip)
Long story short, I'm looking for a way to broach the whole conversation of this game without putting him on the defensive.

So:
1.  The GM has invested a high amount of his self esteem in being a good storyteller, and isn't open to criticism, advice, suggestions, or requests without potentially taking it as being an attack.
2.  As friends, you can't openly talk about the game(s) and what you guys, as a group, find fun per #1.
3.  He's gotten upset and stormed out when the group pursued and achieved the type of play they found fun.

I wish I had an answer for you, but it doesn't seem like the core problem is on finding a better way to communicate, here.

I can suggest some things I've written previously that might be related to what you're describing as your situation.

http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/a-way-out/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/building-your-own-house-of-cards/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/building-your-own-house-of-cards-pt-2/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/building-your-own-house-of-cards-pt-3/

Good luck.

Chris


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 18, 2011, 12:46:02 PM
Here's the conversation the GM and I have had through a few emails.  Things look very promising.

ME
Quote
I also have some discussion for you.  This is just for you and me, and not a Reply All type message.  I have been feeling a little lost in this game.  I'm not specifically sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the structure of the adventures so far.

It definitely seems like you have a solid plan for this DFRPG campaign.  But it also seems like you are a little frustrated with us as players for not picking up on what your plan is.  I know for me, I've been kind of following the plot along, not interacting too much.  I think this is because I get the feeling that you want the story to proceed a certain way and I don't want to mess that up.  I think I'm a little wary of creating another L5R game where us PCs have fun, but you as the GM end up frustrated.

I don't know if this is the same vibe you're getting, but I figured it was good to talk about.  How do you feel the game is going?  Am I making any sense, or is this kind of coming out of left field?

HIM
Quote
I've certainly had a few frustrating sessions. I'm working pretty hard on _not_ creating another L5R, honestly, as I've tried really hard to avoid pushing y'all down any particular path or forcing any particular plot thread onto center stage. My advice isn't to sit back and let me feed you plot, because that isn't my intent - my intent has been to provide multiple hooks into things going on for PC's to latch on to. I'm gradually shifting that approach because it's been leading to folk being unsure about what ought to be done or what my expectations are.

My prep has been to work up 2-3 different situations for the PC's to become involved in. Those that don't get used are saved to be 'recycled' for later use. I do have an overarching plot in mind but it's really something to be uncovered rather than delivered.

Part of the problem (which [the other guy who GMs] helped me drill down to) is that we never did city creation properly, so when I toss out NPC's (like poor Diana Collard) players don't have any idea of whether they're important or who they are in the setting. Hence, I'm hoping to collect some folk that y'all will have a meta-knowledge of beforehand, and whose appearance will be a signal of "hey, I'm a guest star in an episode about this town/problem/particular PC and worth paying attention to." I've also been a little more subtle (and TV inspired) in the hooks I've presented.

Hence, Chuluun. [the yeti who my character met with] My intent with introducing the arch-conservative Mongolian was to light a bit of a fire under your ass. I didn't do a very good job of presenting him (and probably should have intro'd Diana somewhat earlier, so I didn't need to pause and explain). My advice to you for ways to increase your fun and reduce my frustration is to grab on to story hooks with both hands and engage. I've been having a lot of trouble with going "so what are you guys doing" and getting silence from the table. It's hard for me to offer compels or bring the mechanics into play when all I can do is narrate and straight up ask "so do you want to x?" Be aware that while I've read your story and your aspects, I still don't know everything you do about, frex, Yeti culture (you made them up, after all!) so when I toss out situations like a friendly 'quatch being missing, it might be more helpful to mention, say "well, I wouldn't normally go looking but maybe you can offer some mitigating circumstances or more detail?" Basically, meet me halfway if you think I'm dangling a hook.

Anyhow. Me and [the other guy who GMs] talked some GMly habits post last session and over email later. I'm settling in to a very different style of gaming with DFRPG and I'm juggling a lot in my head - multiple plot threads, aspects I might compel, and making sure everyone is included - especially Ali, as she's still getting her feet, I think. Most of my anger centering around table-talk or jokes has been related to myself or someone else being talked over during what would otherwise be IC moments.

Anyhow. TL;DR, engage and grab on to stuff that interests you. Ask me questions OOCly (and make it clear they're OOC) and try to meet me halfway, because I dislike spoon-fed plots.

ME
Quote
Coolio.  That helps me much.  Also what does " TL;DR" mean?  I will give a shot to grabbing on with both hands for sure.  I think one of the reasons I've not been doing that so far is because while I see your plot hooks' importance to the plot as a whole, I'm not always connecting their importance to Lloyd.  I'm trying to filter them through his character, and sometimes that dilutes the importance of such things.  I also think some good old-fashioned NPCs will help a lot.  None of us really have people we care about outside the group at the moment, and I think that's inherently important.

I think the one thing that I'm struggling with is keeping Lloyd a "round character", as opposed to a character who has no real life outside of the adventure.  I wanted to hold off a bit on the whole "missing yeti" story and see how it played out privately first before telling the whole group.  I like the idea of open secrets on the table, where my character knows something that no other characters know, but we all know it as players.  I don't know if that is something that would have ruined the plot or not, but I felt like we had a couple other places to go, and I wanted to hold on to that one a bit.  It didn't end up happening, but that's because I got the feeling that I was acting out.  Not just from you specifically, it was just kind of the general vibe.  If there is anything else I can work on to make this game run a little more smoothly, let me know, sir.  I appreciate this conversation.

I think this all looks good for the future of the game.  I'll make a hippie-gamer out of him yet!


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Dan Maruschak on December 18, 2011, 01:59:09 PM
Quote
I've been having a lot of trouble with going "so what are you guys doing" and getting silence from the table.
If your GM is serious about running a less team-confronts-my-plot style game, I have a purely practical observation related to this point. Psychologists have observed that people in a group are less likely to respond to an ambiguous situation than an individual on their own would be. Basically, what happens is that people see the other people around them not doing something, so they subconsciously assume that "doing nothing" is the right thing to do. When a GM asks a group "what do you guys do?", there's a psychological barrier for each individual player to step forward and propose an action for the whole group. The practical suggestion for GMs is to not ask "the group" to respond, but to ask an individual player what their character's response is. Since each player knows that they have authority over their own character, they're less likely to hesitate and "let someone else go first". (This could obviously result in characters splitting up and going in different directions or even working at cross purposes, so it won't work if the group isn't on board with that type of game.)


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 18, 2011, 03:24:28 PM
I'm pretty sure a dislike of spoon fed plot means
Quote
My advice to you for ways to increase your fun and reduce my frustration is to grab on to story hooks with both hands and engage.
He wants you to pick up the spoon yourself and feed yourself.

I guess my question would be how does a player know what a story hook is? And what is 'engaging'? He might very well be asking "So what are you guys doing?" because no one can see the important parts and even once they cotton on after frustrated prompting, they don't know the exact engagement method.

I'm kind of thinking keeps just enough remnants of 'you can do what you want' freedom so as to evoke a world, but that itself gets in the way of the plot because it hides what the story hooks are and what the engagement method is.

It's possible that if the GM could be put in the same position as the player, he'd be just as cluelessly standing there, needing to be prompted with "what are you doing now?". But he can't as he knows the script, so whenever he looks at it from a players point of view, he's always informed by the script. How often is he a player?



Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: David Berg on December 18, 2011, 03:45:48 PM
I agree with Callan. 

I think this:

HIM
I've tried really hard to avoid pushing y'all down any particular path . . . my intent has been to provide multiple hooks into things going on for PC's to latch on to . . . My prep has been to work up 2-3 different situations for the PC's to become involved in.

tends not to work well with this:

I do have an overarching plot in mind

Giving the players hooks they will reliably want to pursue is a craft that requires certain techniques.  If your game system hasn't handed you those techniques, you'll need to develop them yourselves.  In my experience, uber-plot concerns tend to interfere with the process of developing those techniques, and with a GM's ability to employ them to best effect.

I can make some suggestions regarding "hooks that will be pursued", but I dunno if that's off topic or fodder for a new thread or what.  (You could also try searching the Forge for "flags", "flagging", or "flag framing".)  Once that's covered, then I'd take a closer look at the uber-plot and how to work it in.  I've had some success doing that, but it depends on how important uber-plot progress is to the GM's enjoyment.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 18, 2011, 10:29:45 PM
Just thought I'd quickly add, what might be really helpful to ask for from him is a hypothetical example of play - ie, he writes out a section of made up play, what he'd say, what he'd like the players to say in responce, when rolls happen, and so on, back and forth between what the GM says and what the players say, a few times. In seeing an example, it might really illustrate what the cues are for when players are to do something.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: contracycle on December 19, 2011, 02:03:13 PM
I think what Dan has flagged up is very important, possibly critical.  So it might be interesting to know what the dynamic is between the player characters - how are they connected to each other?  Becuase in this respect, the least effective solution is to have characters be "just friends", and the best solution is to have them in some kind of command structure.

I've experienced exactly this sort of problem as a GM, and my solution was to make one PC the head guy and all the others subordinates.  This meant that if I could hook the head guy, all the rest came along too.  And because the relationships wese in character, this meant that it informed some of the rest of play - they could also squabble, plot mutinies, and so on, but it was all now directed rather than random, and contributed to the overall direction and tone.

On a slightly more abstract level, even if you don't have such a structure, even one player willing to actively work with the GM can be absolute gold.  The worst case is being faced with a bunch of players looking back at you and demanding "go on, make me care".  Just one player willing to pick up the ball and run with it can set off a virtuous circle of engagement producing fun which produces engagement and so on.  You can, if you want, be that guy.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: JoyWriter on December 19, 2011, 03:32:08 PM
Josh I've been writing my response to this as I've been reading the thread and been able to tick off my own advice as you've done it, but I do still have some ideas.

The sort of stuff he's said really does seem promising, as he's obviously working to make the game better, it's just that he doesn't have the tools to do it properly yet. These are the tools that come to mind to me, although people more experienced with Fate may need to check them:

He seems to be using clues when he could be using compels, which are a piece of dresden files equipment perfectly suited to making players follow a plot/set up future events. People think that they have to use them to get people "into trouble" in order to "earn" players their fate points, but it's not like that at all: Fate points allow the GM to do almost exactly what he did to you at the camp fire within the system. If he wants you to act a certain way, then all he needs to do is set up a situation so that a compel will be appropriate given the aspects you have set and the character you are interested in.

In other words if he wants you to get to a certain place, he doesn't just need to feed you information until you gain a sufficient sense of cosmic destiny/emotional guilt to go do something. Instead he can just get you to be involved in situations by having them fit your character concept, and then compelling your characters to go along with it.

So instead of trying to "compel" you the player via a hook he hopes will interest you, he can focus his hooks on confirming your character concept. In theory at least, he can then give you the kind of situations you want while carrying on his plot, because they have to include the stuff that suits you or there will be no reasonable way to introduce a compel. And this gives you some definite feedback you can give him: "compel my character like this and I'll find it more interesting". A way of getting in on his railroading without him letting you behind the illusionists curtain.

Now this might not be what either of you want:

Do you mainly want to portray a particular character? If that's the cool bit for you, then this method can help you, because you can just chat about your aspects, what they mean to you, and have him expect you to do certain things that you are interested in doing.

And if he is just using clues as he always has, as roadsigns and motivation, then he might be trying to work out what to do with these "compels", like walking around trundling a bike wondering what its for, when he could be using it to get places faster.

But while this could seriously shortcut your way to whatever he's actually interested in, it relies on the assumption that he doesn't particularly like his investigation scenes, and is just doing them to set up the future.

Of course he may have mixed motivations, like if he also wants to introduce certain characters, create a sense of place and so forth. In which case, he could still use compels, to muffle over the logic of "scene transitions". (You know: Let the scene run, and when everyone's had enough, compel people to the next bit of the plot!) But if he actually wants focused in-character interaction, he'd probably be far happier setting things up so that you can all go your various ways, and putting the appropriate NPCs in the places you happen to go, so that each person gets to meet npcs while also doing what they want.

He could observe all those situations when characters in films or books stumble upon something by accident when in their daily lives, then get roped into it, or motivated to work with it, with only about four scenes = 1 hour set up time, often less.

That might also help you, where instead of asking you all "what do you do now", he asks each of you in turn for a bit of detail into your characters ordinary life, then folds his plot ideas into that, wherever you happen to be. Taking turns to play out each playerís story, then with people sort of regrouping and sharing knowledge etc.


But back to compels because the other stuff sounds like it's quite a big structural change, and I can't tell if it would actually give you what you're after.

In addition to solving the basic problem of making that kind of game chug forward; where the GM doesn't have to go all pleading eyes (in character or out) in order to get you to do stuff he can prepare for, compels can also act as a signalling mechanism:

If he starts getting a hang on your character concept, then hopefully you'll be happy to go along with his compels, if he's got it slightly wrong; where his ideas don't really match your interests, you can show him by putting up token resistance in terms of Fate points. Then he can double your current total Fate pot in order to get you to do it, or adjust the compel slightly in order to make it suit you better. The ability to temporarily resist GM force, in a way he can escalate past, allows you to show him when he's pushing things in a way that is not matching your interests, without putting him in panic mode because he's unsure how to get anything to happen.

If this kind of system is working, and the game is very GM-plot-driven, then the amount of fate points in a player's pool can represent the levels of trust and agreement between player and GM, if a player is hoarding fate points to protest compels, then that can be a sign that something is going wrong, and that the two of you need to have a chat about aspects or broader game concerns. But if the player is more likely to accept compels, because they match what they are interested in, then they will be happy to just empty their pool in doing stuff, or even in suggesting facts that the GM agrees to.

The specific way that dresden files uses fate points within the game world can obscure this, but it could be helpful in the game, if your GM replaces any ďanyone want to check under the sink?Ē stuff with just compelling the player he thinks has the most obviously appropriate aspect. It can also be another way of showing him those situations where he is accidentally auto-scripting entire situations.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on December 21, 2011, 05:51:48 AM
Hey Josh,

As Iím a bit of an advocate of Story Before Participationism (SBP) around here, I feel a need to clarify the following: What you are describing in your first post with ďdriving from one diner to the nextĒ may be SBP, but thatís not the problem. The problem is that itís pointless and lame. Iíve seen this kind of games, where most of the session consist of the GM dropping breadcrumbs and revealing the back story bit by bit, at an annoyingly slow pace, just to get to the inevitable boss fight at the end.

Now maybe that isnít all your game is about, maybe the GMís plot (okay, his 2-3 alternative plots) contain interesting and somewhat surprising turns and some meaningful challenges to the players and characters (yep, they have their place in SBP). But if so, you donít mention them. Typically I would guess the back story is quite cool and Dresden-esque, but all the characters ever do is hear about it, and fight the bad guy at the end.

What I have to give your GM credit for, he is very up-front about his GM style. He did not let you get away with your childish attempts of disrupting his game at all, instead firmly communicating his expectations without getting rude. However, this would be much more admirable if the rest of the group were actually enjoying his GM style. As you describe it, he seems to be doing it more or less out of habit and nobody really digs it, not in this game and not in the L5R game before.

Iím skeptical whether those emails and more talk along those lines will be helpful. From my experience, in particular when talking on an abstract level, miscommunication is inevitable as everyone is caught up in their way of thinking. Callan is right: When your GM says he wants you to be more pro-active, he means he wants you to do what he expects you to do without him having to basically force it down your throat, as in the Yeti example. He would have to think completely outside his box to even conceive the possibility that interesting things could happen in any other way then the GM setting them up to happen.

Sorry to be so discouraging, but Iím afraid youíre beating a dead horse. Please donít blame SBP, though. In my capacity as the unofficial emissary of SBP-land here at the Forge, I might try and explain how I would run such a game with more fun and stronger participation of the players, if youíre interested. But I guess what you really want is not better SBP and a coherent Sim game, itís Bass-Playing and a coherent Nar game. Unfortunately, FATE as a game system is pretty ambiguous between those two.

- Frank


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on December 21, 2011, 05:55:28 AM
P.S.: I just skimmed over the older thread you linked, and this quote stands out to me:

Quote
In addition, there are very few players in my group who are interested in the other characters.  People will pull out their phones/iPads/etc. whenever someone else has the spotlight.

Man, that's not a good sign. Beating a dead horse, I say.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 21, 2011, 08:03:12 AM
Iím skeptical whether those emails and more talk along those lines will be helpful. From my experience, in particular when talking on an abstract level, miscommunication is inevitable as everyone is caught up in their way of thinking. Callan is right: When your GM says he wants you to be more pro-active, he means he wants you to do what he expects you to do without him having to basically force it down your throat, as in the Yeti example.
If the sole purpose of the players is to do what you expect, why do you even want players?  As far as I can tell, Lloyd as a character had perfectly good reasons for not telling the rest of the group, and if the GM failed to pick up on that, it's unfair to blame the player for it.

I don't understand how GMs that insist on allowing players only in-character knowledge about their environment can then expect their characters to act based on out-of-character motives (i.e, what will keep the GM happy.)


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on December 21, 2011, 09:17:11 AM
Ah, what the heck, I guess all I needed was an excuse to procrastinate today. So I wrote a lengthy post about how I would run such a game as SBP. Maybe it serves to highlight what a functional SBP game with the given group and game might look like, so you can see if thatís what you want, or not. Or at least it can show that SBP needs not be lame. Feel free to ignore it if itís derailing the discussion.

Okay, so letís say this group wasnít a dead horse to begin with, and letís say this group was interested in playing SBP. They are not interested in engaging in ďspotlight scenesĒ for single characters, so we need group action most of the time. If left to themselves, they like to hang out at the local waterhole, which is fine. These hang-out scenes will give them the opportunity to portray their characters (show to the other players what their characters are like), and reflect on the GM-driven plot events. But when they are not hanging out, I donít want them poking around in the fog. I want to give them a clear objective of what to do.

So I need to set them up with a strong group objective. I cannot have them be just a random handful of supernatural people in the Dresdenverse, that will never work out. They need a reason to stick together, and a good hook to draw them into the GM-driven plot. They canít all be Harry Dresden, the lone wolf. But they do need that job that will get them into all kinds of trouble. Thatís what Iíll lay out to the players at the very start, then pass the ball.

Letís say they come up with something. Letís say theyíre all college students and part of a secret club of supernatural beings, sort of naÔve like Billy and the Alphas, and not as secret as theyíd like, so people who get into supernatural trouble have a habit of asking them for help, and their code of conduct is to help those in need. I might request each of them to dedicate one Aspect to this secret club or code of conduct.

Their hangout, then, is a bar near campus where ďsmallĒ supernatural folk and new age idiots mix but no serious white council wizard would ever dream of spending his time. Maybe they have a bit of personal stuff cooking on the side, thatís fine, I wonít want to play that out at length with every single player unless I can use it as a plot hook, but Iíll address it in fast forward mode from time to time. The crush on that goth chick. The trouble with the philosophy class. The visit from the grand parents at the worst imaginable time. In the Dresden vibe, these personal things can either be complications to the ďmissionĒ, or comic relief, or both.

And now for the main part.

1) Putting the Story in Story Before

Now I come up with a back story. Some evil scheme, some supernatural trouble that will lead to disaster if nobody interferes. Iíll keep it straight and simple. The Dresden novels are sometimes pretty layered and you wonít know whatís really going on for a long time, but you canít craft an RPG session that way, it just requires too much scripting. So I just come up with a straightforward plot, hopefully spiced with some appropriate Dresden-esque absurdity, and a handful of interesting NPCs caught up in the plot. Then I come up with exactly one second layer: What I will make the players believe is going on, before they discover what is really going on. I wonít try to be subtle: Subtlety is too often lost when a bunch of role-players are talking all at once. They should smell the ruse pretty easily.

Then I come up with a plot hook, someone to ask the characters for help or maybe some personal stuff of one or two characters that I can use to draw them into the plot. This must not be a weak hook because in order to get into their characters and enjoy playing them, the players need a convincing motivation. So I will dedicate some thought to the plot hook. In particular, I need a good answer to the question: ďWhy donít they just call the cops?Ē (Or the White Council, or whatever?) Why should they do it on their own?

After Iíve hooked the characters, Iíll spring my ďoutside layerĒ at them pretty quickly and completely (with a few obvious missing links), so they have a lot of information to work with. They can start investigating and Iíll give them two or three pretty obvious places or persons to seek out. Important note: Every one of these should actually lead somewhere! No red herrings. No breadcrumbs. Person A does not send them to person B who sends them to person C. Person A tells them something new that gives them an important clue about the ďinside layerĒ, either by telling them outright, or by telling a blatant lie that they see through immediately. Or the characters get into a fight when they go looking for person A. Or person A might be persuaded to help the characters, which will help them but wonít produce a dead end if they cannot secure person Aís help.

Iíll have an emergency plan up my sleeve how I can reveal the ďinside layerĒ if the players donít figure it out by themselves, but I wonít use that too soon, they should get their chance to draw the right conclusions (and if they do, Iíll reassure them OOC that theyíve got it). At this point, I will want to allow for some flexibility. The bad guys need to be stopped, but after the players have learned what the bad guys are up to, they can try to stop them in whatever way they like (Iíll try to offer them some weak spot or special weapon without making it a do-or-die solution). Whatever plan they cook up, Iíll usually roll along with it and try to steer things in such way that the tension builds toward a dramatic climax, using the tools I have at hand, like improbable coincidence or the sudden appearance of an old friend or enemyÖ and maybe Iíll have one last nasty surprise at hand which I may or may not decide to use, depending on how things evolve.

Iíll have some outcomes that I need to happen but they will normally be what the story is obviously steering towards anyway, maybe with a little twist. I donít like scripted endings that turn everything upside down. I know some players appreciate them but I as a player, I mostly find them annoying, so I donít use them as GM either.

2) Putting the Participation in Participationism

Once you note that certain things are just going to happen no matter what, you can accept these things and take your liberties elsewhere. Sure you as a player want to make some sort of meaningful impact on the groupís experience of play and on the fiction. It is not enough to just trot along and sometimes roll dice as the GM narrates what happens. But some things are just not up for negotiation.
 
No, you wonít turn down the ďmissionĒ. It is my job as GM to make sure the mission is acceptable to your character, or we will collaborate to achieve that. And no, you wonít be running off from the mission to chase your long-lost high school love interest. If you want to chase your long-lost high school love interest, you will tell me, the GM, and a few sessions down the road, you might just find that she is somehow involved in your next mission in some sort of shady way. And of course youíll ask your friends and fellow player characters to help you rescue her, because thatís just how our game rolls.

But that doesnít mean there is nothing meaningful for you to do. Your witty banter with the other PCs will be well remembered and who knows, maybe they will even forget their iPad as you swear your undying love to your high school darling, just before the demon she pledged her soul to takes her away to the Never-Never.

And when you try to persuade that moody spirit to help you with a potion, youíll have to play it well or youíll have to go without the potion. (The good guys will probably still win, but youíll need me to pull my punches, whereas when you pull out that potion to save the day, you have every reason to be smug!) And when you fight those thugs in the early stages of the story, sure you canít die and probably you canít even really lose much, but if you as player fuck up, your character will look like an idiot and while that can be fun every once in a while, it should be your ambition as a player to make your character look badass instead. Itís not a competition, really, if everybody gets to be badass, thatís fine, but youíve got to sell it to us so we buy it.

This is how my SBP games roll.

- Frank


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on December 21, 2011, 09:41:20 AM
As far as I can tell, Lloyd as a character had perfectly good reasons for not telling the rest of the group, and if the GM failed to pick up on that, it's unfair to blame the player for it.

I don't understand how GMs that insist on allowing players only in-character knowledge about their environment can then expect their characters to act based on out-of-character motives (i.e, what will keep the GM happy.)

Well, if I interpreted correctly, Josh made those "perfectly good reasons" up on the spot because he was annoyed by the GM's spoon-feeding techniques and wanted to derail him.

Amen for the second paragraph, though. This whole "good role-players don't use OOC knowledge" stuff is just bogus.

- Frank


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 21, 2011, 09:59:35 AM
Awesome.  There's some really good discussion going on here.  Thanks, folks!

Joywriter, your advice with regards to the GM using compels is spot on.  It's so obvious that I don't know why I didn't think of it before (especially after nine months of Dresden GMing).  I will make sure to mention it to the GM.

Frank, I appreciate all your input.  It's some really good insight into the way SBP should work.  The only problem I see in this particular situation is that a) the GM doesn't think he is running an SBP game, and b) the players (with the exception of me) don't think he is either.  Among the various things I've chatted about with the GM, one of them is the way he is specifically using the prep tactics in the DFRPG book to create his plot.  In other words, he's linking character aspects to come up with ideas and creating scenes around them, without creating endings to those specific scenes. 

The problem is, he doesn't have the tools to implement them within his GM experience without falling back on what works in primarily SBP games (D&D, Shadowrun, etc.).  So we're left with a conflicting set of expectations between the GM and the players.  Now the one time I tried to bring up the whole Story Before thing with him, he vehemently denied it.  He also has some (mysterious) issues with the Forge as well, so trying to use any terminology or game theory just kind of sets him off. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not disagreeing with your posts at all.  I'm just not sure they perfectly apply to this situation.  Which is why I'm trying to "get on board" with the Participationism.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Alfryd on December 21, 2011, 11:14:11 AM
Well, if I interpreted correctly, Josh made those "perfectly good reasons" up on the spot because he was annoyed by the GM's spoon-feeding techniques and wanted to derail him.

Amen for the second paragraph, though. This whole "good role-players don't use OOC knowledge" stuff is just bogus.

- Frank
The impression I got from Josh's account was that there were pre-established reasons/background-lore to suggest that Yetis don't appreciate being sought out at all, which is a valid motive for Lloyd not to share such info with the group.  (Of course, wanting help with a difficult search could also be seen as a valid motive for sharing such information, but that merely makes it a 50/50 chance for IC decision-making to go either way.)  So while Josh's OOC motivation- wanting to strike off alone- certainly influenced the decision, the premise wasn't exactly fabricated on the spot.

In line with your advice to ensure that 'mission hooks' are tuned to the PCs' background/motives, the GM here apparently forgot that, while Lloyd had good reason to go on this mission, he had equally good reason to not invite anyone else.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on December 21, 2011, 02:20:42 PM
Hey Josh, I haven't read the DFRPG books but if your GM really believes he is "linking character aspects to come up with ideas and creating scenes around them, without creating endings to those specific scenes", when in fact he's a case of chronic breadcrumb syndrome, then all the emails and talks in the world will do no good. He is hearing the words but he just cannot imagine the thing they describe. I've experienced this kind of fruitless conversation first hand. It's always hard to let go your good old group with all your best friends, but many of us have gone through it, me included, and now I'm afraid it's your turn.

- Frank


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 21, 2011, 02:36:35 PM
I don't know if the future is quite that bleak.

I'm positive that the GM is learning new things from running DFRPG and that he is attempting to develop his skills in that department.  He's also asked the advice of a couple of the players with regards to making this game work.  I think there's room for growth there, and I'm going to try and facilitate it as best I can.  That may mean sticking the game out through some sloggy sessions, but I can see it paying off in the end.  If I can make him want to play more indie games through this experience, I'll come out a winner.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Callan S. on December 21, 2011, 06:11:54 PM
Josh, could he make you want to play more trad games and grab onto his story hooks and engage (as he puts it, whatever that means) rather than do indie games? Don't expect to have more influence over him than he has over you. He's not your student (and doesn't know it yet....dang, have I been on the pointy end of that one before!)). I think I've noted your both alot alike - that causes alot of trouble when you both think you can make the other guy do stuff in a non-reciprocal way.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on December 22, 2011, 09:58:24 AM
Fair enough, Callan.  I guess that did sound a bit pretentious on my part.  I suppose the reason I feel un-douchey about trying to get him into indie games is that he fucking loves Apocalypse World and wants to run it.  I would love to play in that game.  It kind of seems like running DFRPG is his learning curve toward running non-Story-Before games.  So if he's going to run AW in the future, there are some kinks that need to be worked out, which he is consciously doing and asking for advice on.

So I'm still kind of a douche, but at least not a completely self-absorbed one.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: adam m on December 22, 2011, 10:27:15 AM
Honestly, the rulebook for Apocalypse World might do a better job of what you're trying to do here than you can. There's something, to me, about the rulebook stating "DO NOT pre-plan a storyline, and I'm not fucking around", that makes it less objectionable than a fellow player saying the same thing.


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: Josh Porter on January 08, 2012, 01:20:01 PM
So earlier this week we played this game again, after a break for Christmas.  And I had tons of fun.  Here's what happened.

In the Fiction
The group had found the home of the dead sasquatch at the end of the previous session and found her body floating in a pool.  So Lloyd decided to go take her body into the Nevernever as a prequel to a funeral, as is the bigfoot way.  While I did that, the others investigated her home and found a trail camera, partially dismantled, with a pipe bomb inside.  They put the pipe bomb inside a dead elk (it was already there) and rigged it to explode to soften the blow and get rid of the dangerous device.  Lloyd happened to emerge back from the Nevernever just in time to get exploded upon.  He got some bad burns.

Stuart (another PC) found some bootprints and had a flash of insight.  He knew who the prints belonged to: Randy Doakes, infamous bigfoot hunter.  Lloyd became incensed, caught Randy's scent and tracked him down.  The others tried to keep up with his pace.  Well, Randy's compound was found, encircled with claymore mines and rigged with motion sensing spotlights.  Lloyd, in anger, charged straight through the minefield and demanded to know why Randy killed Rachel (the dead sasquatch).  Randy was confused for two reasons.  A) Lloyd turned back into a regular human around Randy's "home" (Sasquatches are like were-apes kind of.  The farther into the wilderness they are, the more ape-like.  The further into civilization, more human-like), and B) he didn't even know she was dead. 

A touching apology scene followed where Lloyd calmed the fuck down and they looked at footage from some trail cameras to find Rachel's killer.  What do you know?  It appears that Chu-luun (the sasquatch who told Lloyd to look for Rachel) was the last thing caught by the camera.  Spooooooky...  The group heads back into the Nevernever to give Rachel a proper funeral, and are interrupted by Chu-luun and a yeti posse accusing Lloyd of murder.  End of session.

Around the Table
I started the session with an agenda: create an emotional or dramatic hook for myself to up my investment in the game right from the get-go.  So I purposely got Lloyd caught in a pipe bomb explosion.  The GM was confused as to why I would want my character hurt, but I pushed it a little and he let me do it.  It was a great choice.  Lloyd was now pissed-off enough to justify some more emotionally-charged play, so when boot prints were found, I had him bent on vengeance.  Hooray!  A character goal!  It was super fun to roleplay.  He stormed off through the woods, forcing his friends to follow, and shrugging off most of their advice.  If he happened to step in a trap or something, I was totally fine with that.  But he didn't. 

When Randy's home was found, I pushed harder, trying to convince the others to give me the other pipe bomb we found on the way so I could light it and throw it into his house.  No one would go for it, so I braved the claymores (which didn't go off, to my surprise) and went straight up to the man I thought killed my friend.  I asked the GM for a compel at this point.  I wanted to reach through the tiny window and yank this dude out by his head.  But the GM turned me down, saying "That's not really where I want this scene to go."  BUT, he offered me another compel instead.  He compelled me to turn back into human form, taming my rage a bit, as Lloyd is a bit of an old hippie as a human.  The conversation during which I apologized to Randy was awesome and touching, and felt incredibly real.  And then the rest of the session was just gravy on top.

I think the real difference for me, in terms of my enjoyment, was finding an honest-to-goodness character goal.  It's a hard thing to do sometimes in a Story Before game.  But I think that finding it here was what made all the difference.  I wonder if I can find it again next week...


Title: Re: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism
Post by: pawsplay on January 21, 2012, 10:19:29 PM
Something about this post jumped out at me. I've been in games where I felt dragged along. On the one hand, I sometimes resented the GM's pre-judgments about what would be good play, but on the other, I also knew I was responsible for my own engagement and enjoyment. Story Now and other approaches and tools are often directed at GMs, asking them to let go of outcomes and let the events unfold naturally. So why not embrace that as a player? So what if all roads lead to Rome. As long as I treat my character and their actions honestly, I still get the real story of how they went to England and fought a zombie on a train, or whatever, with the whole-roleplaying experience. Now, ultimately, if the game just limps along, direct communication is key, just like you did. It's like when you watch some old B-movie that turns out to be a real treat, and part of it is they got some old A-list actors in it. But these guys are troopers, and they don't act embarassed to be a B-movie. They just act the hell out of it. Or they ham it up. So if you end in the RPG equivalent of a lesser episode of Star Trek, you can still be Patrick Stewart about it.

So yeah. Roleplay the Hell out of that character!

Thanks for posting the updates and stuff. It's very cool and interesting to hear the process of developing the narrative from a player standpoint.