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Title: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on December 17, 2011, 01:40:05 AM
"SBP" stands for Story Before Participationism.  It's basically gaming where (a) the GM makes certain things unavoidably happen in play as a part of getting across a "story" (by which I mean a plot, experience, or other sort of vision) they've conceived, and (b) the players are aware of this and are engaged in contributing meaningfully to that story.

The end of my "decoupling rewards from plot" thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32122.45) serves as a jumping-off point for my current work in developing and cataloging SBP techniques. 

The next step I took was to explore alternatives to rolling for characters' success/failure (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32397.0).  In that thread, it was pointed out that the functionality of such formal mediation depends largely on how it interfaces with the GM's role in resolution.  That's what I want to talk about here.

How do we take the things that good, experienced SBP GMs do, and turn them into a system that is more reliable, clear, easy, and/or fun?


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on December 17, 2011, 01:42:44 AM
In college, I ran a Story Before d20-derived game called Pitfighter.  I've described how I wound up running it in my own principled Illusionist style here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32432.0). 

I think the variety of approaches I used as GM to resolve events in play covers most of the relevant bases for this discussion, so I've bolded them in the play report below. 

I hope this example can serve as a springboard to discuss approaches to SBP GMing and how to systematize them.

The scene:

The player characters Garek (John), Rafaenn (Ben), and Kwailun (Gabe) were sailing to the city of Haven, there to rendezvous with the Silent Wolves, an assassins' guild they were on uncertain terms with.  The Silent Wolves were key to my mega-plot, and I was eagerly anticipating the revelations and questions I'd get to throw at the players once they reached Haven.

One of the Silent Wolves' enemies was a strange behind-the-scenes power-broker organization known as the Diamondbacks.  Before the PCs met the Wolves, I wanted the PCs to establish some sign of their combat-worthiness and allegiance.  Accordingly, I had their boat attacked by some Diamondbacks, intending for the PCs to defeat them and escape, while noting enough distinctive features to surmise the Diamondbacks' identity.

The Diamondbacks' ship appeared out of nowhere, and their warriors quickly attached grappling hooks to the PCs' craft. 

Ben said, "I wait by one rope until the guy's almost within slashing range, and then I cut the rope with my diamond razor." 

I quickly responded, "Nice idea.  He never expected you'd be able to slice it so quickly.  He's in the water.  Well done!"  My rationale was: that's clever, sounds like it ought work, and won't ruin my plans.  So: it works!

Garek and Kwailun didn't have diamond razors, so they dislodged as many hooks as they could and then readied themselves to duel their assailants.  John said, "I'll crouch down, with my sword behind me, so the first guy over the side sees my unprotected back and leaps down at me.  And then I'll spin and skewer him."

This struck me as really cool, but also a bit chaotic and uncertain.  You wouldn't know if this would work until you tried it, right?  There should be some suspense.  "Cool, the pirate sees you, and you see him spring forward!  Roll to attack!"  It was probably around when John was picking up the d20 that I decided that his action was going to work.  (We played with hidden target numbers, so I wasn't forced to communicate this.)  It was pretty open in my head how completely it'd work and what it'd look like; so, though I knew basically what was going to happen, I let the dice guide me on the particulars.  If he'd rolled a 1 on his d20, I would have felt obligated to support the idea that the roll mattered (remember, this was Illusionism, not Participationism!) by announcing failure.  If he'd rolled anything above a 15, I would have announced that he completely skewered the guy and looked slick doing it.  In reality, he rolled a 5.  So I said, "You suckered and surprised him so much that even your crappy attempt to stab him causes him to try an awkward mid-air tumble to avoid your blade.  You don't hit him, but he crashes to the ground at your feet, losing his grip on his sword."  This NPC was still dead meat, but it'd take John another combat turn to make that happen.

(Note: this is close to how Jay's Middle Earth game plays, as described here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=28778.0).  Their system: 1 = horrible disaster, 20 = brilliant success plus XP, 2-19 = whatever the GM wants.)

Kwailun, meanwhile, faced off against a badass Diamondback warrior.  They both had enough hit points that no single blow was going to kill anyone, so I was content to sit back and see what the dice produced.  In general, I didn't involve myself much in combats until permanent death was about to occur.

Rafaenn levitated out of reach and cast some spells, Garek and Kwailun out-dueled their opponents, and I slipped in my distinctive Diamondbacks color, so I was pretty much satisfied with the encounter.  At some point the Diamondbacks' leader, Collan, with all his crew slaughtered, ran to the edge of the boat.  I liked the looks and persona I'd come up with, and wanted the option to use him as a recurring badguy.  John decided to chuck his sword at Collan's back while he ran.  Since this was an action with a weapon, John expected a roll, so I gave him one.  But I didn't think this would work, and didn't want it to.  So, I decided it wouldn't work, and let the die roll guide me on how to implement that result.  John rolled quite well, so I narrated that damage had been dealt but that Collan was just enough of a badass to not slow or stumble in his dash.  He then jumped over the side and was gone.

The players then came up with the brilliant idea of grabbing the Diamondbacks' now empty ship and using it to infiltrate their lair.  It was a cool idea, but would have totally derailed my planned Silent Wolves rendezvous in Haven.  So, I said, "Their boat's on fire" -- basically, no, you can't do that.

The system:

Looking at this 12 years later, my impression of this resolution system is a sort of flow chart:

Step 1:
If the GM wants an action to succeed or fail, it does. 
If the GM has a preference but wishes to include other factors, go to step 2.
If the GM has no preference, go to step 3.

Step 2:
Some additional resolution method is employed to navigate the range of outcomes that are acceptable to the GM.

Step 3:
Some additional resolution method is employed to determine the outcome.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on December 17, 2011, 05:51:43 AM
I think the above is pretty close to the way I do things too.

Just to expand a bit, what I meant by abandoning system also looks as if it shows up here: almost all the stuff OTHER THAN to-hit and damage gets taken ito my hands.  All the stuff that would be governed by maps or intitiative rolls or periodic recharge etc. gets moved to fictional positioning handled by narration. 

Poss. more later, just been interrupted,


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on December 21, 2011, 07:18:30 AM
So I'll try to add a bit more.

I think one aspect of the above style is that this fight scene isn;t really there to "see if the players win" or anything like that.  It has quite different goals: it;s primarily a piece of exposition.  The GM wants to communicate with players, telling them things about the world and the NPC's in it.  It's set up as a fight scene partly because that can be a fun activity in its own right, partly becuase it allows the players to show off their characters to each other and the GM, and partly becuase interacting with the world is much more engaging than just sitting through a lecture.

So, the question of who wins the fight is pretty much already answered.  Some would think that because this is not in doubt, is not a Question being asked by the game, it should be skipped over or abstracted so that play can move on to something more interesting.  But this I think is to laregly miss the point, because the right players for this sort of style are going to be interested in "having the experience".

So the question then is how to do this elegantly, without sending false messages to the players, such as implying they can bump off the Big Villain if he or she appears.  Also, as suggested by my comments above, hen I do this sort of thing I don't like "rigid" systems that trap me into tightly governed situations.  Fictional positioning is king, and rules about how far one can move on a map and so on tend to get in the way and detract from the experiential aspects of the effect I'm trying to create.

On that note, Story Games has a current thread on "Are maps bad?"which provides some discussion that is pertinent here.

Now I was quite intrigued by the fairly abstracted system that was used in 3:16.  Working in terms of abstract ranges, abstract threats, rather than concrete descriptions.  I think I could work with something like that, and certainly the AP accounts I've seen suggest a powerful role for fictional positioning, and ionterpreting mechanics into the fiction and out again, all of which looks quite useful.

That I think provides an interesting starting point gfor looking at how you might design a system that was useful for this sort of play, provided some sort of structure to the otherwise pretty vague and possibly misleading impressions that arise from using conventional RPG rules in this manner.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on December 22, 2011, 07:31:47 AM
So is the question now "How to do this well if the players are aware of and embracing the fact that this resolution system is being used"? Or perhaps I'm moving ahead.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on December 29, 2011, 07:08:23 PM
Gareth, I'm with you on all counts.  That scene is interactive exposition with teeth, and that's part of the meat of SBP play, rather than being filler or summary fodder.

Could you elaborate more on what you're envisioning with the below?  What gets abstracted, and how might that help SBP GMing?

Now I was quite intrigued by the fairly abstracted system that was used in 3:16.  Working in terms of abstract ranges, abstract threats, rather than concrete descriptions.  I think I could work with something like that, and certainly the AP accounts I've seen suggest a powerful role for fictional positioning, and ionterpreting mechanics into the fiction and out again, all of which looks quite useful.

That I think provides an interesting starting point for looking at how you might design a system that was useful for this sort of play


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on December 30, 2011, 03:48:17 AM
Well the problem arises with the implied objectivism of conventional systems.  If there is a villain declaiming a speech then there is no reason, in principle, that the villain cannot be shot.  But in 3:16, the system operates explicitly against threat tokens, not described individuals, so a villainous named NPC, UNLESS represented by a threat token, is effectively out of the reach of the system.  In addition, there is a clear distinction between a scene where the NPC is not so represented, and one where it is: in that case, the implicit restriction has been exolicitly lifted.

So anyway, that is pretty cliche scenario, but its one that's often cited in this kind of thing.  But I think it is a useful precedent, in that it it labels things in the fiction according to the manner in which the players can systematically interact with them.  In a similar light, in another thread I described some things I do to create the impression, rather than the actuality of danger.  I might narrate gunfire or similar that arrivers near the characters, but which is not a rolled attack.  This is all aimed at creating atmosphere and tone, rather that doing the roll-for-attack-and-then-fudge-it-away thing.  Again, 3:16's abtraction allows this sort of narration as part and parcel of describing a fairly wide, generalised situation, inside of which discrete acts of system occur.  In a conventional reality-modelling system, each of these should implicitly be acts of system, but not so at 3:16's level of abstraction.

On a related note, I offered the HeroWars people an abstract battle system, in which you had abstract range bands and alignment blocks, and units could move between them based on a roll against their attributes.  The idea was to be able to indicate which unit was able to act against which opposing unit without fiddling about with rulers and manoeuvre points and that sort of thing.  Although this was systematically complete, it would, I thought, have left more scope for narration and such rather than breaking out to a top-down, depersonalised battle system, as is usually the case.

In all of these, what I'm describing is a move from modelling to abstraction in order to capture an appropriate subjective experience, and to  make a space in which the GM's authority can be introduced without the need to suspend the action of system.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 02, 2012, 09:47:57 AM
In all of these, what I'm describing is a move from modelling to abstraction in order to capture an appropriate subjective experience, and to  make a space in which the GM's authority can be introduced without the need to suspend the action of system.

Gotcha.  Yeah, I think that in-fiction causality-modelling certainly can't be the highest-order logic for resolving things in SBP.  That said, I think we want in-fiction causality to still show up in an important way, right?  Just like we discussed with samurai and Hastings in the other thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32397.msg289909#msg289909).

That 3:16 example with the threat token is a cool option to explore.  An SBP GM could use such an overt mechanism to operate the highest level of resolution, which includes, "Do we use modelling here or not?"  Depending on the options in a given game, it could be as simple as "GM decides Yes or No and signals that" or as complicated as a bidding system that determines the cost of modelling or not modelling what parts of the fiction right now.

Telling the GM, "Depending on the system's output, maybe you can't manage your plot the way you want," defeats Story Before, so that's why I say "cost".  Or, as Frank put it, the system could tell the GM "Yes, but" as opposed to simply "Yes" or "No".

Some games seem to take the approach of, "Yes, but pay the players for any agency you've cost them":
  • FATE Compels: GM decides that a character's weakness applies here and now, thus stopping the character from attempting the action the player wanted.  The player is then awarded useful Fate Points as compensation.  (A player can bid against the GM to resist the Compel, forcing the GM to give them more Fate Points or abandon the Compel.  Not sure if that fits with SBP, where we may want the GM to have unlimited points, but just thought I'd mention it.)
  • Todd's awards of Style Points (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=32122.msg288731#msg288731) for when he takes control of someone's character in Hollow Earth Expedition.

I have mixed feelings on this.  I like the fact that there is GM-player communication.  I like the fact that taking agency away from players is called out as significant.  I vaguely dislike the distance between the GM's action and the player's benefit -- it reminds me somehow of a bribe or a conciliatory payment, and rather loses the sense that even the GM's action which disempowers a player is actually, in itself, constructive and beneficial to the player (if not the character).  I don't have any brilliant ideas for "Hey look, by holding you back I just gave you a cooler experience!" though, so perhaps that's an idle thought.

I do have some ideas for alternative awards to the above "Help You Succeed At Character Actions" points.  Stuff like "your character's sub-plot gets more fully woven into the GM's main plot."  I'll go into that at some point, but I want to see folks' thoughts on the above first.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 02, 2012, 10:35:49 AM
Gareth, I just realized I have a major question here:

in 3:16, the system operates explicitly against threat tokens, not described individuals, so a villainous named NPC, UNLESS represented by a threat token, is effectively out of the reach of the system.

Does token presence/absence simply describe scene framing?  ("This NPC's too far away for you to shoot.")

Or does it describe possible outcomes regardless of scene framing?  (This is what I assumed in my previous post.)

If that latter, what happens when the evil NPC walks up to me to taunt me, and I want to shoot them?

- Do I shoot them and then the GM makes up some crazy reason why they don't die?

- Do I make up some crazy reason why none of my guns work right now?

- Do the GM and I brainstorm a mutually acceptable reason why I don't shoot?  I explain my character's thinking and motives, and the GM changes the scene so that now actually isn't a good time to take the shot, and my character would rather wait?

- Something better?  Hopefully?!


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 02, 2012, 10:36:54 AM
Mutants & Masterminds and Smallville have similar systems, directly (IIRC, in M&M the GM gives the players Hero points when he does things like having the villain escape without the PCs being able stop them) or indirectly (in Smallville the player gets the resources the GM expends in winning against them).

One thing that might be problematic with this type of mechanic is that it could push the players into rebelling to get the reward for having their rebellion defeated: They know they won't succeed in killing the Big Bad before the rooftop showdown, but trying will force the GM to give them goodies in compensation for frustrating them. For SBP I think I'd rather have a system that gives the players goodies when they go along with the story or which makes explicit what things they can and cannot do.

(I think that token thing from 3:16 seems like a great mechanic for this. With something similar, the GM can clearly indicate what goals are reasonable for the players in a specific scene without having to state them explicitly.

Actually, maybe that could work as a kind of bribe mechanic as well. "We can't kill the Big Bad even though he's in the scene because his marker isn't among those available, but there's this one that will give us a bonus in the inevitable showdown.")


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 02, 2012, 10:39:46 AM
If that latter, what happens when the evil NPC walks up to me to taunt me, and I want to shoot them?
If the GM does this, isn't he just being a dick? I'm not sure this is a system-level problem.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: JoyWriter on January 02, 2012, 11:06:11 AM
Gareth that sounds to me a rather unusual solution; partially dissociating the mechanics the players have access to from the game world for the sake of making use of that fuzy link for plot protection:

How does that compare to say, creating a game in which HP and character health are tenuously linked, and going to 0 may have little negative effect unless specified by the games master?

It sounds like I'd start to feel like someone in a satelite above the game world, or an experimeter on the other side of glass. I would talk proactively about what I did in the space station, and see how the planet responded.


I made a wushu hack a while ago that played with this kind of distance thing; you roll to see if the GM will sideline your contribution with new information. Sounds harsh, but it was a way to get around the strange abstract resolution wushu uses while retaining clear fictional logic links. Basically you say what your character does to a certain level of detail, within the context of a GM defined conflict, and you do whatever you say you do, but whether it matters depends on how high you roll. It was also a bit of a psychological experiment/training exercise, about dealing with being shot down.

Anyway it occured to me that the resolution system in the second post seems to be doing the same kind of thing; succeed and your action is impactful, even if it is responded to and counteracted by others. The GM will spend some time affirming it, even as he counteracts it. Perhaps at the scene level in that example, you would have one of the pirates intentionally scuttling the ship, rather than random chance burning it down.

But I think in order for that kind of thing to work, you would have to constantly elide descriptions of the distributions of forces in the situation: Knowing who is on top politically, socially or militarily, and people's regions of influence, is always off the table, blurred over and obscured. How many pirates are there on that ship really? If you have that, then you can alternate between using a GM's ability to contextualise player action and the actual forces of the story, depending on dice rolls.

If they win a roll and you don't want them to succeed, escalate the power of their opposition, if they fail and you do want them to succeed, have some other faction/coincidence help them out. What people are rolling for or making decisions toward is how much of their success is of their own making, and how much of their failure is due to things outside of their control.

The nice point of this is that players who know this don't need to worry about assessing the danger levels they are in; if they want to they can enjoy the ride and emerge winners due to luck. There's a few downsides associated with that too though, like accidently slipping into tone damaging over-casual character actions etc.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on January 02, 2012, 06:15:31 PM
Gareth, I just realized I have a major question here:
...
Does token presence/absence simply describe scene framing?  ("This NPC's too far away for you to shoot.")

Or does it describe possible outcomes regardless of scene framing?  (This is what I assumed in my previous post.)


The latter, as I understand it, although I'll confess I'm working more or less at second hand.  But the systematically important things in 3:16 are: 1) whether or not a threat token is removed, and 2) how many enemies your character kills off.  So you roll in an attempt to damage or destroy a threat token, and one of the outputs is a kill count.

From this it follows that killing of this or that specific enemy individual is purely a matter of narration.  As long you are not cheated out of removing a threat token, it's perfectly reasonable for the GM to narrate in such a way that a villainous NPC survives.

Quote
If that latter, what happens when the evil NPC walks up to me to taunt me, and I want to shoot them?

Well the point is that system doesn't really work at that level, of resolving attacks on individuals.  Enemies come in swarms, the weapons are powerful, the scale is expressly set at military firepower rather than small unit tactics.  A weapon doesn't do "damage", it kills 1d10 enemies, or whatever.

So one of three things would have to be going on: its not a battle scene, and just down to narration, in which case it can be assumed that the NPC can just be killed; or it is a battle scene, and the NPC either has sufficient, indeed indefinite, minions to absorb the damage, or it is a full scale monster that can absorb damage as if there were minions, like tentacles or hydra heads or something.

In a sense, named individuals don't really matter to the system.  It wasn't designed to do the kind of thing I'm describing, its just coincidentally a way it can be used.  The abstraction that the system governs doesn't bother to say you shot this person, you did so much damage, and that leaves scope by default for narration to step in, without the system having to be fudged, or forced, or suspended.

Which leads me back to the bidding idea.  I don't really like these, becuase either you do allow players to overrule the GM or you don't.  Cost and so on is not an effectove deterrent; you just end up hoping that the players will "realise" that they shouldn't, say, commit all their story influence points to shoot your pet villain in the middle of his villainous monologue, which is pretty much back to square one.

Joywriter wrote:
Quote
Gareth that sounds to me a rather unusual solution; partially dissociating the mechanics the players have access to from the game world for the sake of making use of that fuzy link for plot protection:

How does that compare to say, creating a game in which HP and character health are tenuously linked, and going to 0 may have little negative effect unless specified by the games master?

Well the only unusual part is using it for plot protection.  In fact your latter example is a good one, because early D&D did just that: losing hit points did not imply bodily wounds, they could be position or a sort of running out of luck.  It would be perfectly within the rules to narrate every hit that caused HP to be lost as a near miss, and the last one that finally kills as a single, clean, stab to the heart.  I don't think its that weird.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 02, 2012, 09:17:26 PM
Ah, okay, I guess 3:16 doesn't answer the question "How do we integrate plot protection smoothly into the fiction?"  Perhaps I was jumping the gun with that line of inquiry.

Returning to my Pitfighter example above, I guess an abstracted system might concern some sort of direction or progress?  "No, don't hijack the pirate boat!" could be signaled by either a "No Plot This Way" token or a "Next Destination: the City of Haven" token.  The former would have to be played responsively, while the latter could be played during scene framing.  Or perhaps some text-based computer adventure game logic could be used in scene framing to express possible directions ("forward"/"back"/"anywhere"/"subplot A"/etc.)? 

Or perhaps destinations could be like 3:16 Threats, with tokens put down to indicate they are accessible (and perhaps how challenging they are to reach).  So any destination the players propose that doesn't elicit a token from the GM is a no-go.

Was there some other application you had in mind?

Separately, are we agreed that we might well want modelling pending the determinations of the abstract system?  E.g., GM drops a Kill Me token on the Saxon army so now we go to the Formation Fighting rules.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on January 03, 2012, 04:15:16 PM
I don;t have any other specific applications, the idea with raising 3:16 as a jumping-off point was to suggest that a useful approach is in framing the "moving parts" of the game, distinct from what the imaginary space implies.

The distinction in your Pitfighter case is essentialy between the implicit nature of the boat as a vehicle, and its functional relevance to the game as terrain. Some computer games, even like Streetfighter etc, have used that sort of thing; you jump back on forth on a sinking ship or what have you.

I'd be inclined to suggest something like "publishing" a list of chapter headings and objectives.  So this scene would have been explicitly labelled as a ship fight, and the next scene as, say a caravan journey.  Or maybe, in each discrete scene, the GM provides a list of "exit conditions", which in this case says stuff like defeat the minions and head west to the caravanserai.  Both of these make it quite clear the taking off with the ship is not a feasible option.

As for the modelling thing, I'm not sure that applies to all cases.  I just want to be do-able in the cases which need it, ratrher than moving on to assuming that an inherent step for SBP is to eliminate modelling of reality in exchange for modelling psychological states or whatever.  You could use chapter headings alongside physics modelling easily enough, for example.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 07, 2012, 08:03:35 PM
Chapter headings and exit conditions make sense to me.  I think it somewhat depends on the GM's Story Before leanings. 

In Pitfighter, I liked to think I was flexible, except when I wasn't.  In other words, though I needed the party to get to Haven, I didn't need them to get there in one step, and any number of intermediate steps might have turned out fine.  In fact, when a player invented their own scene B to connect my planned scenes A and C in a novel way, that was particularly rewarding to me as GM.

So, pre-determining, "After this scene, they'll be in Haven," is often a little beyond what I'd prefer to do.  At times I was a railroad conductor, but at other times I was more of a beat cop, who looks out for inappropriate stuff but otherwise stands back.

The keys for my decision of "No, you can't grab the badguys' boat and go after their organization" included:

1) The fictional focus of play.  Thinking about the Silent Wolves and pursuing a meeting with them was right where I wanted the players.  I had planned some reveals based on this focus, that would move them further into the intrigue and drama of my plot.  So going after the Diamondbacks would have been a problem, because:
a) It had nothing to do with discovering the Silent Wolves' secrets, and
b) It would take up lots of play time, making a quick return to the script unlikely.

2) Timeline.  Synchronizing the players with my NPCs.  I'd already established that the Silent Wolves, their allies, and their enemies, were all moving forward with some urgency.  New developments were coming soon, and I wanted the players there to witness them!  Letting the characters dick around in the southwest for a month of fictional time, only to eventually get to Haven and find that those same urgent developments were still waiting for them, would have seemed nonsensical.

3) Geography.  Haven's way north, the Diamondbacks are southwest.  Mainly relevant as it relates to the first two points.

Those were my concerns at the time.  Looking at it now, I can see many ways to navigate that situation.  Here are two ideas:

I. Handle digressions quickly

"Okay, guys, this is going to be an Interlude.  You grab the boat and row back into Diamondback territory.  You scope out a new place and can grab some exotic fruits and leaves, but there's a fire in the distance, and by the time you arrive, everything's been destroyed.  It's not clear whether they knew you were coming, or something else was afoot.  You've seen storms in the north, which might well delay overland travel, meaning Siltra and the Nightrunners haven't reached the Silent Wolves yet.  There should still be time to get there first."

What this requires is:

1) Some knowledge of an Interlude: what it is, when it may be used, and how it fits into the whole game.  I didn't have an elegant way to do this in Pitfighter.  The above quote would have struck my players as a pretty harsh "What you say doesn't matter" moment.  Is context enough?  If an SBP system gave payouts for squashing player agency, this could be a time for one.

2) Some sort of addressing the players' query.  "You get some weird fruit and the badguys torch their hideout," isn't great, but it's a step up from "Nothing happens."  This is an issue that probably deserves more discussion: How for the GM to respond to unanticipated player interests?  It seems to me that the optimal solution would be to somehow say, through the fiction, "You will get to explore that, but the best way is by following my script!"  Maybe in the remains of the Diamondbacks' burnt lair is a distinctive weapon from the Silent Wolves?

Some GMs can simply do this without help, but I'd like to provide help for the rest.  It could be a chapter outline, list of plot points, NPC arc checklist... plus some random table of "how this thing links to that other thing"...?  Seems helpful, but not perfect...

3) A non-stupid way to make the planned NPC actions and world events wait for the characters.  Something that's not just weather.  Maybe a random table of delays and/or intermediate actions/occurrences that lead into the main events.

II. Mechanically Define Possible Outcomes

Rather than making the GM match "what happens in the fiction, and how much we play through it" to various game situations, we could just say, "Identify this handful of situations and roll on the corresponding outcome lists."

Apocalypse World style:
When the players grab a tangent, roll 2d6 +Urgency of your next plot point.
10+ = The tangent effort becomes a dead end immediately.
7-9 = The tangent effort eventually dead-ends, but not before providing something.  Pick one of the following:
- clues leading to your next plot point
- unique resources
- info dump on a faction or area
6- = The tangent effort eventually dead-ends, but not before providing something.  Pick three of the above and one of the following:
- unavoidable injury
- unavoidable loss of resources

Through regular use of that mechanic, players will come to know what's on the table when they start taking their characters in non-obvious directions.  Alas, it gives no one any ability to anticipate what the GM will consider a tangent.  But maybe pairing it with a single Obvious Direction option could suffice.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 07, 2012, 08:19:18 PM
Here's some more fodder for this discussion.  I'm not sure how to apply it, but hopefully someone else will have ideas.  This is Eero telling me about the Finnish diceless system FLOW, as used in the game Stalker, last year on Story Games (http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=12278).

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
The GM in FLOW considers the player's contribution in two categories, Idea and Roleplaying; the former basically concerns the immediate realism of the character's proposed course of of action in the fictional context, while the the latter is about whether the proposed course matches with the abilities and nature of the character (and whether it's entertaining for the rest of the group and dramatic - entertainment concerns are usually scored in this category). Basically you fare well in the game by describing action that seems likely to succeed in achieving the stated goal while remaining true to and expressing with clarity who and what the character is.

Both of those categories are scored on a 1-5 range (there are various scoring tools in the book to help in this), and the results are then multiplied with each other to gain a final score, which is then compared against a difficulty level also determined by the GM.

Characters have skills that can influence the final score, too.

The weirdest thing in that whole system is that it's all in the GM's head, and the players basically have no mechanical input into it whatsoever aside from using the get out of jail free card when a challenge goes awry. To an outside observer the system doesn't differ from GM fiat in any way whatsoever, which is pretty neat if you're into immersionism and mechanics not "getting into way". From the GM viewpoint it's pretty different from pure fiat, though, as you're on your honor to utilize the authoritative yet reasonably objective standards of evaluation provided by the game. I myself make the scores public when playing, in fact, instead of just telling the player that he succeeded or failed; this can be pretty intense, as any pretense of the adjucation being something else than an expression of the GM's creativity is swept aside: your goal is to get rated well, and you only get rated well by having a good creative relationship with the GM. Matrix Games have a similar feature in how they rely on the players judging each other's contributions.

My judgment of the thing FLOW does is that it's not really qualitatively different from GM-as-physics-engine. In fact, that's very much the vision the designer in question has about the GM's job. The novel thing about the game is that it's very frank about the source of the adjudication by removing all interposing dice rolling and charts, and it gives you a mental framework to use in making the GMing choices. I find that this leads to more deliberate play on both the player and GM side as compared to the typical system that tries to accomplish the same by giving the GM a large number of rules references to use in judgment. Surprisingly enough it seems that participationism stripped of all mechanical fetishes leads to a sort of intensely cooperative creative interaction, which is something I wouldn't have expected without trying this game.

As a player, a big part of the game's challenge is to simultaneously cover the bases of "do what would work" and "be interesting, colorful, and true-to-character". Usually it's not difficult to get a high score in one category, but also typically you can't rely on being able to get very high in both at will - it takes fortunate circumstances, usually ones that highlight your character somehow.

In Stalker it is relatively easy to please the GM, because the genre of the work is very unstylized and low-key, and thus "pleasing the GM" isn't a big production of genre cliche so much as having searing insight into how the world works; the easiest way to please the GM is to say something about the game world that the GM in hindsight agrees to be true.

Idea and Roleplaying could be replaced by whatever's appropriate for the SBP GM's plot.  Idea and Plot-Relevance, or Plot-Relevance and Roleplaying, or something.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on January 12, 2012, 04:14:01 AM
I think your point about wanting to "railroad" some of the time, but not all of the time, is right on the mark.  At least, it is for the way I like to do things; I don;t mind the players pissing about with this or that for quite a lot of the time, but I do want to reliably move on to my set pieces and planned events.

What do you think of the Cutaway thing from Star Wars I mentioned in the other thread?  Maybe, say, after the players defeat the Silent Wolves, but before they set about sailing off into the wide white world, you did a cutaway scene that was a sort of "meanwhile, in Haven..." kind of thing, do you think that might have worked?

I also wonder if there might be some linkup here with having a greater hand in character design, perhaps a bit like other designs of recent vintage.  So frex, when the characters are built one of them must have a sort of "damsel in distress" motivation, and then a cutaway to showing how the damsel is now in more urgent peril in Haven might provide something of an explicit prompt.  That;s a way of saying to the player that their characters, personally, has reasons not to go off on an unnecessary diversion.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on January 12, 2012, 04:38:48 AM
Actually a slighlty more coherent idea just occurred.  Many of the sandboxy CRPG's have a "Quest Log", for two reasons: first, because a player may save and then come back to the game, and need a reminder of what they were doing, and also because many of them can co-exist, and you are not opbliged to do them exclusively or in order.

Borrowing from that, maybe such a game could have a sort of "campaign sheet" which lists objectives for the players.  As with the CRPG's, XP and so on are awarded for resolving the quest in some pretty tight, particular manner, and its then cleared from the list.

This allows the list to be used to govern diversions.  A quest on the list might also have activation conditions, and only when those conditions are met does it become available to pursue.  In your shadow Wolves scenario, it might have been possible to do almost exactly what you did, have the boat catch fire etc, and to "reward" the players with a new quest on the list, something like "Pursue the Shadow Wolves to their lair", but in an Inactive state.  This communicates to the players that they will be able to do it at some point in the future, but that they don't have all the things or information they need right now (example: the must-have dragonslaying sword has not yet been found; they have not yet learned that the damsel-in-distress is being held hostage in said lair, which they need to know so they don't just nuke it from orbit).

This offers a number of possibilities.  First, the players achievements and intentions are being recognised by the GM, so they know they are not just being fobbed off; by implication, there is some kind of Plan at work.  Second, it directs play towards discovering the appropriate conditions to activate the quest, which also keeps the quest on the agenda and in the mind.  It also alerts them to ther fact that there may be other quests to be discovered in the rest of the game world.  Third, there is a mechanical linkage in the form of XP awards.

Fourth, there are some ways this structure can be manipulated.  For example, at a later date they can discover that they should be cooperating with the shadow Wolves; at that point, there's a little "tring" sound, they get some XP for clearing the quest they have, and a new quest is added indicating that they should "Join the Shadow Wolves" or similar. 

It also allows the GM to do a bit of bluffing, in the sense that if there is in fact no plan, it can give them time to go off and make one.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: happysmellyfish on January 12, 2012, 09:36:43 PM
I like the Quest Log, but it seems to exacerbate the problem trying to be avoided: the world goes on hold while the players aren't around. There's no sense of urgency, and no sense of the world as a real and continuing context, if the PCs have time to mess around with every niggling task that comes their way - safe in the knowledge that the Evil Wizard won't cast Armageddon until they choose to arrive at his lair.

I do like it, but it only seems suited to pretty knowing and explicit "video game" worlds.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 12, 2012, 11:00:02 PM
Options in the quest log don't need to be available forever... or the situation when the players decide to go after them doesn't need to be the same.

"Right, so you travel to Idyllic Village to help with the bandits you heard about a month ago. When you get there the village is burned to the ground." (Removes 'Save Idyllic Village' from the quest log and adds 'Investigate the burning of Idyllic Village'.)


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Callan S. on January 12, 2012, 11:56:43 PM
Options in the quest log don't need to be available forever... or the situation when the players decide to go after them doesn't need to be the same.

"Right, so you travel to Idyllic Village to help with the bandits you heard about a month ago. When you get there the village is burned to the ground." (Removes 'Save Idyllic Village' from the quest log and adds 'Investigate the burning of Idyllic Village'.)
Sounds good! Though put a date on the quest when recorded, so the GM has some idea of how much game world time has passed once/if the players take it up again.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 13, 2012, 02:23:21 AM
Sounds good! Though put a date on the quest when recorded, so the GM has some idea of how much game world time has passed once/if the players take it up again.
Yes, I'd assume the GM would keep track of these things to have them mesh with whatever he's got going on behind the scenes.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: DWeird on January 13, 2012, 12:12:06 PM
There's one other technique - I'm playing in a game online right now where it's used succesfully.

Play we're talking about is a bit of the fill in the blanks variety, so why not extend that same thought to chargen?

The GM "owns" all of the characters, and "lends" some of them to the players as appropriate. The GM-created PC is basically an outline of a character that nevertheless has a motivation that points to the GM's plot (This is a fair and just general, he wants to win this war, but his forces are besieged and heavily outnumbered. Sam, what is this guy's name and what does he do?). Since the GM made the important bit of the character - the reason why he does things - he can then just railroad the character to the point where he want him and then "unload the passengers" into a free-play zone. What do the players do? Well, the characters so created are sketchy at start, and then get 'filled in' by players as time goes by.

This probably wouldn't be that fun in a party game, where after such a process a player would get *less* than one full character to play with, but it can totally rock when playing a wider faction, which we're doing now. The GM can "take away" characters he lent and zoom in to other ones (okay, so that was the general's plan! Lets see how things are going on the ground! Marksman, three troopers and a wounded sergeant, you're trying to hold your position when you hear the sound of enemy aircraft too near for comfort. What? Yes, you *do* have a Stinger-equivalent!), giving different viewpoints on the plot he crafted. This is significantly easier than making sure the same group of actual people is always where the most interesting stuff is happening, too.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 13, 2012, 02:18:18 PM
I don't think any old Quest Log would help, but some of the specific stuff Gareth mentioned sounds excellent here.  Activating and revealing what's on the GM's to-do list for you sounds very promising.

Letting list items pass you by because you didn't get to them in time sounds like a good result, but I worry that the process of supporting that will be tough on the GM.  If you come up with something you really want the players to do, letting them do something else instead ruins the point of Story Before.  I guess I could see a Trail of Cthulhu deal, where there are mandatory core scenes and optional supplemental scenes, and it's the optional scenes that must be weighed against each other, with some not being pursued.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 13, 2012, 02:43:58 PM
DWeird, that is really interesting.  As GM, I would love those tools.

I also love what it says.  It tells the players that their job is about momentary contribution, not story direction, and that their reward is in story discovery, not in character tangents.

On the downside, I think it puts player plot discovery purely in audience terms.  It somewhat ruins one of the stronger roleplay opportunities that SBP provides, which is to experience and be changed by the unfolding plot.

There's probably a spectrum.  At one end, the desired experience requires one character per player, at the other end you can play 20 characters in 20 scenes, and in the middle you get 2 or 4 characters per player, plus occasional one-scene characters.

Can you relate this idea to resolution?  Under this system, what's the GM's role in determining what happens?

(Separately, a quick "hell yes" to plot-based GM direction of char-gen.  I think we might have covered that in one of the other 2 threads, actually.)


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: DWeird on January 13, 2012, 04:16:48 PM
It's a freeform thing where the 'GM' basically sets the scenes and puts pretty pictures along with forum posts. I'm not even sure it's roleplaying exactly, but it scratches the same itch for me.

Here's a link (http://www.mspaforums.com/showthread.php?29238-Art-of-Domination), if you want.

We are totally an audience to an author's story there. But, we're a specific kind of audience - we're fans who the author likes. It might be impossible to play SBP if your players are not fans who you like, maybe! So there's this occassional mindmeld that has player-created ideas slip into the narrative, or the 'author of plot' delegating an important in-character, plot-defining choice to the players.

Also, in our case, there's always a backdrop that ties in all of our choices regardless of what character we're playing exactly. We're part of a faction that's fighting a war. The leader's decisions matter when we're playing grunts, the grunts' successes matter when we're doing interrogation of the prisoners they caught, the information they give us can be important to the resources we can muster, and so on...

And, yeah, we're definitelly somewhere in the middle there. There are definitelly major characters we see every once in a while and will mostly likely get to control directly if they get into trouble, there are recurring dudes who we see when missions demand their special skills, and there are sometimes moments with guys we never see afterwards.

So we are constantly experiencing and being changed by the unfolding plot in the "I'm a part of this! Me!" sense. Whatever we do, our success matter and our failures hurt. That doesn't stop the big reveals from coming, but it changes how well we can deal with what they bring. It's completelly possible that, for example, the characters we're playing in a given scene are all going to die, and then we can zoom to another character to see what problems our deaths have caused her. That doesn't really hinder experiencing or being changed by the plot - it might even help it ("*what* are they doing with the corpses of the guys we played? Vengeance!" - look at what's happening! We're experiencing real grief and anger for these people who just died, and we still have legit channels to express it in game).


In terms of GM's role in resolution, or at least how player success can become problematic by causing plot derailment, this whole thing mostly ties into the question of what's getting resolved, exactly. If a player does not have primary authority over a character, then the GM doesn't even need to inelegantly remove options through fiction - he can do that through pre-agreed authority direct. "Okay, you've won that fight! Now you're back on the road to Haven." Not doing what the GM says the characters would naturally do is never really an option that resolution could result in - unless the GM fancies to allow such things. It's exactly what you present in the OP, I guess, it's just that it pushes the "if the GM wants it to succeed or fail, it does" deeper into the game, so it requires less moment-to-moment legitimation and is probably easier for the GM to deal with.

A bit of a trick is all this is, I guess.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 13, 2012, 06:16:46 PM
I guess developments in any story where one has input are gonna feel like some sort of experience.  All I can say is that I've played RPGs where input alone wasn't enough for me to get that "Oh my god!" rush I get from in-character discovery.  That said, this actually does sound super fun:

"*what* are they doing with the corpses of the guys we played? Vengeance!"

Following the fate of the specific thing you formerly controlled may be powerful in a way that most mere "I did stuff in your story" is not.

If a player does not have primary authority over a character, then the GM doesn't even need to inelegantly remove options through fiction - he can do that through pre-agreed authority direct. "Okay, you've won that fight! Now you're back on the road to Haven." Not doing what the GM says the characters would naturally do is never really an option that resolution could result in - unless the GM fancies to allow such things. It's exactly what you present in the OP, I guess, it's just that it pushes the "if the GM wants it to succeed or fail, it does" deeper into the game, so it requires less moment-to-moment legitimation and is probably easier for the GM to deal with.

Hmm.  I see how your crew does it (thanks for the link!), but in-person play presents different communication requirements than forum posting, and I'm failing to envision how to bridge that gap.  Let's say a player rolls the dice to kill the last Diamondback warrior, then instantly has the idea to commandeer their boat.  What do you envision happening there?

Does the player look to the GM for guidance on character motives, treating all their own inclinations as provisional?  "My guy realizes he could board the other ship; does he want to, GM?"

Or does the player just play ("I board the ship!") until the GM interjects with a correction ("No, actually, that guy wants to go to Haven.")?

There might be options with passing of character sheets...  A player's authority over the character would be complete, but the beginning and end of that period of authority would be clear.  You kill the Diamondback and then as you're coming up with your idea you see the GM reaching for your character sheet, and that's that.  Hmm...


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: DWeird on January 14, 2012, 02:48:32 AM
Dave, could you tell me about an episode when you or your players experienced and were changed by plot, as you say? I don't know if I'm fully sure what you're talking about.

To me, there's nothing wrong with being an audience, nor is there a definite fix by giving players more control. Started my roleplaying in freeform where player contributions were the whole story. Most of that was of the "okay enough, I guess" variety, though there were some downright awesome moments as well. I do sometimes get that "Oh my god!" rush when I'm playing this current game, too.

Not sure if that's what you're talking about, though. Am sure that SBP play inevitably has the possibility of moments where the GM tells the players there's something their characters can't do. The secret is making them like it, I guess, and I suspect them "being an audience" may be one of the ways to do that.


Seamlessly making "GM character moves" is probably not as easy in a live setting, but it can probably be done. Something like "Yeah, you can take it, but the characters want to go to Haven right now. What do you do with it?" There's no changing what will actually happen - they're going to Haven, that's that. Details of the situation can change, though, and maybe the GM will incorporate that second boat into the story somehow sometime later.

This whole thing rests on the GM being able to say "the characters want to..." without breaking the social contract.

Works signficantly less well if going to Haven is not part of the character's motivations but plot makes it necessary for them to be there (because there is a surprise there that will, after the fact, make it part of the characters' motivations), which can be cool too.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 14, 2012, 03:35:05 AM
Dave, could you tell me about an episode when you or your players experienced and were changed by plot, as you say?

One PC (Kwailun) had a mostly-offscreen relationship with Siltra.  When Siltra came up to him and tried to convince him to side with the badguys, revealing she'd been working for them, his reaction was pretty intense.  The player, Gabe, didn't generally react that strongly when he wasn't seeing things through his character's eyes.  Out of character, betrayals were more like, "Whoa!  Fuck.  Neat."  But in character there was a real jaw-drop shock moment.  As GM, I loved producing those.

I think that's all I have to say on that topic, I didn't mean to derail.  A lot of that comes down to taste, who finds what immersive, etc.

This whole thing rests on the GM being able to say "the characters want to..." without breaking the social contract.

Agreed!  The thing I'm trying to pin down is how that's handled moment to moment, especially in transition between player and GM authoring the wants of the same character.  Any ideas?  I think passing the character sheet might work, but may not be the most elegant for back-and-forth switches.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 14, 2012, 04:03:20 AM
If you've got a rhythm where the GM does some story narration between the scenes then that could probably work.

Player: The bad guys are all dead now. Hey, I've got a great idea - let's take their ship!
GM: Actually, I was going to do a story bit here. Could you wait a bit? *narrates the PC's moving on to the next scene, throwing in the ship being on fire*


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: contracycle on January 14, 2012, 05:58:57 AM
I'd speculate that once this expectation became established, it might be quite easy to handle.  Frex, a player in this case, instead of narrating action directly, as in "I take the ship", could wonder out loud "I could take the ship...", and thus flag up this potential course for the GM to approve or refuse.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 23, 2012, 02:00:16 AM
My first stab at a broad takeaway from this thread follows, but I'm still thinking.

Styles of SBP resolution:

1) There are certain types of fictional developments that the GM always resolves.  Players will look to the GM when such situations arise.  "We've finished the battle.  Where do we go next?"

2) There are certain types of fictional developments that the GM might choose to resolve in any given instance.  In applicable situations, players may either ask the GM directly ("Where to next?"), ask the GM indirectly ("I'm thinking about boarding the ship..."), or just proceed, but not mind being shot down ("I board the ship!"  "No you don't."  "Oh, okay.").

3) The GM might resolve anything at any time if doing so is important to their planned plot.  Players just need to not mind being shot down.

Personally, as a player, I find it easier to permanently relinquish control or consistently ask permission than to whole-heartedly accept unexpected manhandling.

Perhaps the thing to do now is to look at the above and ask "Which types of fictional developments?"  I'll re-read a bit and think on this more.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 31, 2012, 12:27:14 AM
Random inspiration for representing "GM makes higher-level decisions, modeling mechanics produce specific sub-outcomes":

GM keeps all the dice.  Different dice resolve different levels of uncertainty.  2d6 resolves what an action looks like, but leaves its outcome to the GM; 3d4 resolves a task's outcome but leaves the GM to narrate the resulting situation; 1d12 means players can heavily interpret and narrate the results with impunity.

So, players have no dice, and when they try stuff, the GM decides which dice to hand them.  When handed 2d6, they know it's time to get in reaction/reflection mode, and when handed 1d12 they know they're allowed to steer for a bit.

I think Danger Zone does something like this with scene types?  But this dice system, while worse at setting ongoing expectations, might nicely allow GMs to flexibly adapt to changing circumstances.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 31, 2012, 09:02:21 AM
You could also use the same type of dice but of different colours (which would fix some of the math wonkiness of using different types of dice).

As a way to clearly but indirectly describe the limits of the player's actions, I like it.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on January 31, 2012, 10:41:22 AM
Yeah, if it's the same mechanic but operating with different parameters, then it should be the same dice, with something else to distinguish them, like color.  I was just thinking that maybe it'd be three totally separate mechanics, each designed to fit its specific parameters.  Though I guess my example where all 3 versions have a high roll of "12" doesn't best illustrate that!  I should have said, "2d6, 1d100, a pool of Fudge dice" or something.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on January 31, 2012, 01:45:54 PM
Ah, gotcha. Hm.

That could serve to further distinguish the various types of resolution, but on the other hand it means the players have to keep track of three different resolution mechanics. I think I'd prefer to have just the one - maybe an AW style list pick, with different levels of impact depending on the dice rolled.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Motipha on February 08, 2012, 01:13:22 PM
You know, this entire discussion reminds me of the first Assassin's Creed game: in that, there were discrete challenges that the main character needed to complete before moving on to the climactic scene, and those challenges each gave more information about the circumstances surrounding the upcoming assassination.  The following games kind of lost a little of that feel, but that's neither here nor there.

I've yet to make my way through the decoupling Reward Systems thread, but it definitely seems to be a factor:  What is the reward, the carrot for the players in this style of game?  If "being awesome" or "creating theme" are not why they are doing things, then it must be "To find out what's going on."  Have you considered abandoning a Fortune system all together?  Using a karma system much like what Nobilis has?

David, would it be right to say the basis for the dice system you started this off with (from your addmitedly illusionist pitfighter game) engages more the less important the decision point?  That all important decisions are predetermined?  Where "important" means "affect plot or story advancement?"

Have you looked at the Gumshoe system?  The Trail of Cthulhu implementation seems to have a lot to offer for this type of play.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: David Berg on February 10, 2012, 02:01:11 AM
Anders, yeah, there's probably an efficient way to signal which types of outcomes are at stake without forcing people to remember 3 systems.  Rolling on lists might be an option.

Motipha, that's a neat point, to look at Story Before through the lens of video games.  Writing an RPG script probably has certain constants between video and tabletop.  Sadly, I'm pretty ignorant of video games.  Insights welcome!  Do you know any story-based video RPGs that are multi-player?

I think you're generally correct about my Pitfighter m.o. of "engage mechanics least when plot is most at stake".  And yeah, Trail of Cthulhu is a good comparison.  Luck factors into any given task you might attempt, but when it comes to the stuff that's required to move the plot forward, then it's time for a Core Clue that can't be missed.

There's something weird about using your Investigative Ability in ToC... it looks like a way to signal "Okay, GM, I've decided we're done here, so I'm using my IA; what's the Core Clue here?"  But it doesn't seem like that actually happens a lot.  It seems like the players more often look to the GM to see if they are ready to move on.  "Did we do everything there was to do here?"  I don't think ToC offers much clarity on whether the players will get to make consequential decisions or roll dice for anything relevant in a given scene.  Sometimes a scene is just about soaking up the GM's atmospheric color, sometimes it's about pretending to investigate and wonder whether you'll find the clue (which you do, in fact, know you'll find), and sometimes you might actually get to shoot someone or flee pursuers or catch a traitor.  But I've seen a maddening lack of clarity on which scene is which. 

That clarity is a big part of what I'm looking to provide here.

As for a reward system, that deserves its own SBP thread.  (The "decoupling" thread didn't really start getting into solutions.)  If you've got relevant AP, please start one!  If not, I'll try to get it to it soon.


Title: Re: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on February 10, 2012, 08:27:52 AM
Do you know any story-based video RPGs that are multi-player?
Star Wars: the Old Republic might count. The heavier story lines there are individual, however (based on my limited time playing it).

I'm not sure you need to look to multiplayer games, though. Many tabletop RPG:s work more like single-player computer RPG:s anyway, with all the characters sticking together and following the same story.

Just throwing some stuff out there about computer games templates that could be useful (or not):

* Typical MMORPG quests and quest lines are completely linear: kill ten orcs, go there, talk to that person, deliver this thingy, have a boss fight. There may be random or semi-random elements in there (exactly where do you have to go, what's the layout of the place you fight in, where do you find the orcs and so on), but in many games it's always the same. The player gets to choose in which order they do the quests and which they ignore completely, but usually there are a few that are required to progress at all with the story (and improve your character).

* Adventure games are similar in that there are fixed solutions to the problems the player faces and that some things have to be done in a particular order. There the focus is usually on the actual problem solving: "I need to open this stone door without a handle. There's a small hole in the wall over there and a box overe there that I can move around, and I'm carrying a candle, a squirrel and a spatula. Hmmm..."

* Many computer games make heavy use of movie cut scenes to deliver the story, the equivalent of GM narration sequences. There's a clear separation between gameplay sequences (where you can affect the game world according to the usual rules) and cut scenes (where you're strictly an observer, not rarely of your own character's actions). Often game play is divided into discrete areas or zones with cut scenes signalling transition from one to the other. (Maybe just having a keyword the GM says when moving into storyteller mode could be useful? When the GM says "cut scene" the players know they're spectators, "action" and they get to do what they want again?)

Many things that are annoying in computer games have parallells in dysfunctional tabletop gaming: invisible walls vs. the GM making up contrived reasons for you to stay in a particular area; cut scene stupidity vs. the GM not allowing you to affect a scene with all GMPC:s; enemies that don't follow the usual rules by being impossible to target etc vs. GM pet characters that always get away and so on. Whether these work in a computer game or not depend a lot on player expectations (are you expecting a game where you get to control the story or one where you just shoot stuff and watch some cool movies?) and presentation (are the invisible walls in areas you don't want to go to anyway or right in the middle of where you do want to go?)

That was way longer than I had planned. I hope it makes some kind of sense.