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Author Topic: Drifting toward a better Sim  (Read 6992 times)
John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« on: January 10, 2008, 07:33:25 AM »

Damn. I can't believe it's been almost a year since I posted this thread. High time for an update! First, I can't thank you all enough for your help and thoughtful advice. I've learned a great deal and you have made a positive impact on my group. That's no small thing.

So now, a question. Given the goals and techniques I'll describe below, what else can I do in the same vein to improve my game?

Goals:

* Keep players creatively involved in the game at all times
* avoid GM-obstruction and Force
* focus on meaningful, meaty conflicts
* The PC's aren't moving around inside MY story, the story should be about the PCs
* Get more done, less fooling around and more focus
* Keep the backstory safe, GM retains Content Authority


Lessons Learned:

I first came to the Forge because my game had become boring and flat. Something was wrong, and I needed to find out what. Turns out I was (and still am) burnt out on the kind of hard-core Sim my group was used to running. I can answer the question Ron posed in his Sim essay: in my case, Sim was 'enough' for about 25 years. I'm done now. At the least I need a new kind of Sim, or maybe Narritivism is for me.

I think I have a better grip on Creative Agendas now, and I understand why changing the group's CA isn't the way to go. There will be breaks in the current campaign, and I'll work in some Nar games when we can. It will be a good diversion and I can 'get my Nar fix" without abandoning the main Sim game.

It's the "new kind of Sim" that I'm shooting for in my current game. I think most of the things on my goals list are things I associate with good Nar games, but I don't see any reason why they should apply only to Nar. Let me give you some concrete examples.

About a year ago we had a great Social Contract discussion about what each player liked, didn't like and wanted to get out of the game. Everyone agreed we spent too much time on unimportant things. This group had been running under the age-old Sim tenant that every moment of every day had to be accounted for. If it took 7 days to go from Town A to Town B, then all seven days had to at least be mentioned (usually in some detail) in the GM's narration. Basically, there was very little scene framing, Situation just flowed in one continuous stream. Aggressive scene framing totally changed my game; the plot is moving 100 times faster, we're getting to the bangs and everyone loves it.

Another thing we agreed to do was shoot economics in the head until it stopped moving, then shoot it a few more times just for good measure. Keeping track of how much you spent for a night at the inn wasn't adding to our fun. Now major purchases are negotiated and for the most part I can just "say yes." Our game just isn't about money anymore and again, everyone likes that.

Next: Hi, my name is John and I'm an Illusionist GM. "Welcome John, thanks for sharing." For decades my group ran illusionist games, varying in degrees of function and dysfunction ... just figuring it out for ourselves. I have a lot of bad habits to break. So these are "new" rules for the unwritten system that has guided all my games: Look out for GM Force. Just don't do it. If you slip up, cop to it immediately and give the players their due. Specifically, tell the players everything that might be relevant to the current situation, even if their characters are clueless. Let the dice decide if the PC's discover the secret, but stop trying to surprise the players.

So I started out looking for some magical mechanics that would "fix" my system and discovered that we got the most bang for our buck by working on the unwritten, procedural parts of the game. The game got a lot better just by changing our focus and by running things a bit differently.


Next Steps:

I want to focus even more on meaty, important conflicts. I'll be happy when we end up moving from one meaningful conflict to the next with almost nothing in between. I hope that Sim can be supported by what happens inside the conflicts. So far we don't miss the connecting filler at all.

I want to tweak the illusionist, GM-centered plot that the game is built on so that we make it a story about the PCs. Note that the players enjoy the GM plot lines and expect me to drive them forward and resolve them in a satisfying way, but I keep looking for tie-ins to make the story really revolve around the PCs as much as possible. In particular, I'd like to work in some meaty moral conflicts for the PCs but as a supporting feature, not as the end goal of our play. The conflicts are more likely to illuminate a specific feature of a character rather than force a true narrative choice, but we'll see. Either is OK with me, it puts the spotlight on the PCs which is where I want it.

More suggestions?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2008, 03:36:33 PM »

Hi John,

I've begun to think aiming for a particular agenda, purely for its own sake, is a bad idea. If you think of the creative agenda's as tools like a saw or a wrench, then they are a means to an end, not the end itself. To aim for a sim or nar agenda is like saying 'I want wrench' or 'I want saw'. That doesn't make any sense. You don't want these things in and of themselves, you want them for some purpose - something needs to be cut in half, or tightened. 'I want to cut this plank in half...I want saw' makes sense.

What's the important thing you want to get at? When you start thinking and discussing how you want to get at it, you'll find yourself reaching for various tools to do so. Oh, and the important thing needs to exist already - either some idea from the real world or some imagined world or imagined thing you've already got in your head. It can't be story, that doesn't exist yet and tools are made to work on things that exist. Anyway, that's my short post and where I think it'd be a good idea to start. :)
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2008, 10:18:29 PM »

I agree with Callan's points.  That said, John, I think your list of 6 goals is a perfectly solid reason to pursue Sim play.  I mean, if I envision achieving those while preserving my Right to Dream, it's hard for me envision not having fun.

I have an idea for how to give players a lot of control in deciding what a game's about, while still enabling one GM to have full Content Authority.  I call this idea the "seed adventure".

Basically, the GM thrusts the PCs into a situation with one clear goal and one clear path to that goal.  Lots of talk must be done before play to make sure the players can get pumped about this goal.  Tie-ins to backstory, a badass in-game reward, whatever motivates them.

The GM drops hooks for a million other adventures into his prep.  Using his knowledge of what his play group likes, he comes up with vague ideas of adventures or campaigns, and leaves hints of these lying around where the PCs can't help but find them.  A key, a map, a secret guild offering a deal, a crying peasant in need of help, a legend of a monster or palace or island, etc. etc.

Play the seed adventure.

Let the PCs decide what they want to do next.  Hopefully this will result in a lively discussion with plenty of good options to choose from.  The GM should pay attention and figure out why they're picking the option they're picking.  Then he can build a campaign that requires no Force to pursue.

If the PCs change their minds ("This is too dangerous, let's go get rich first.")?  Well, they've already seen other hooks that they can now pick from.  "Okay, how should we get rich?"  "Hmm, well there was that secret guild offer..."

I've found that long-term play in certain Settings eventually gets to the point where the players can always find something fun for the PCs to do.  The "seed adventure" is intented to expedite the process of getting to that point.
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2008, 06:40:50 AM »

Hi John,

I've begun to think aiming for a particular agenda, purely for its own sake, is a bad idea. If you think of the creative agenda's as tools like a saw or a wrench, then they are a means to an end, not the end itself. To aim for a sim or nar agenda is like saying 'I want wrench' or 'I want saw'. That doesn't make any sense. You don't want these things in and of themselves, you want them for some purpose - something needs to be cut in half, or tightened. 'I want to cut this plank in half...I want saw' makes sense.

Callan:

Then I'm very confused about GNS. My understanding was that CA is the point of play, it's why we as a group have fun playing this game, over the long haul. You use other tools to get to your CA, the CA is not a tool itself, but a goal. A particular tool (technique) either supports or undercuts a particular CA. Futher, I (mis)understood that in any particular game the participants will derive their fun from all three modes, but only one is the point or the main goal, for this game. So RPGs are tripods, but one leg is always longer than the other two. (What I mean is there will always be some moments of "I win!", some thematic content and some pure exploration and all are fun, but which is the main goal for this group?)

Please jump in and help me understand this.


Quote
What's the important thing you want to get at? When you start thinking and discussing how you want to get at it, you'll find yourself reaching for various tools to do so. Oh, and the important thing needs to exist already - either some idea from the real world or some imagined world or imagined thing you've already got in your head. It can't be story, that doesn't exist yet and tools are made to work on things that exist. Anyway, that's my short post and where I think it'd be a good idea to start. :)

And this sounds a lot like "the package" of Sim play. Our package is my Fantasy Heartbreaker, system and setting included. I can describe it for you, but suffice to say it's negotiated by our group over the years, I have final authority over  it for our group and we have a pretty good but imperfect idea of what to expect from each other. So in the sense you describe, our goal is "to play John's fantasy game" and we have a fairly clear idea of what that means.


David:

That is a great idea and I may use it someday. If the players choose to dump the existing plot lines and go in a different direction, I might pull this out of the toolbox and use the current scenario as the "seed".

For this game though, we have a good amount of plot already happening and the players are (finally) buying into it. But it still isn't their story. The plot for this campaign was my baby all the way, prepped as I was accustomed such that the players would know almost nothing at the outset and I would slowly reveal what was going on. Certain features come from that kind of prep:

1) All major plot events are caused by and primarily affect NPCs, not PCs.
2) The PCs theoretically carry out the wishes of one or more of these NPCs, so they're "involved", but only as a tangent.
3) Since the PC's don't know much about what's happening, the GM must railroad them to keep them in contact with the prepped plot lines ... we can't have them wandering off or they'll miss the action!
4) Players can't buy into the story until they see what the story is. This made the beginning of the campaign very flat.

Hopefully you see where I'm going here and why I see Nar play as a model. But that kind of PC-centered story need not be Nar, you should be able to do the same thing with a Sim agenda.

Here's how we solved the above problems (so far) and where I want us to go:

1) and 2)The "main plot" and the main question of the campaign are still rather remote from the PC's, but I'm tying them in every chance I get. One key is making them really care about these NPCs. Another is putting the important choices and conflicts in the player's laps, even when they are just agents of an NPC. We need to work on this more.

3) Let the PCs go off in other directions. Giving them the ability to teleport actually takes a lot of this pressure off ... they can go where they wish. I also loosened up the timing of the plot as much as possible, so when they want to engage a certain plotline they can TP to the correct location and the plot will be waiting for them.

4) Scene Framing let me focus on exposition, the plot is humming along and you can feel the momentum, so this is all good now. Freeing myself to talk to the players about the plot at a metagame level helped too.

So that's pretty good, but it's still not the same as a plot centered on the PCs, all the PCs tied together with grippy conflicts and so on. I just read Dogs in the Vinyard, and the issues I'm facing look a lot like the prep for a Dogs town. The PC's come riding in, how are they connected to the town? Why do they care about these people? Why do they care about each other? about the plot? My game doesn't have the benefit of all the crunchy goodness built into Dogs setting. You know the PCs are all Dogs, so they are connected by default. You know they are there to judge the town, so they have a built in reason to be there and they must take an interest in the town's plot or you don't have a game. Even at that I see a heavy reliance on "yeah, but she's your sister" to tie the PCs in further and give them more reasons to care about NPCs that the players are seeing for the first (and possibly last) time. In my case, the PCs are a pretty motley crew who happened to be hired by the same NPC. It's not exactly gripping drama there.

Any ideas on how to bridge that gap?
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2008, 09:50:54 AM »

OK, so my last post was all about plot. This post is all about procedure and partly to help me get it straight in my head and force me to put it down on e-paper; but your suggestions and observations are badly needed.

Mapping Authority, the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast and What do the Players Do?

This is all one big jumble in my head. Pardon me while I try to untangle it. In this particular Sim game, what do you do as a player, exactly?

1) Illuminate your PCs
2) Contribute to everything via suggestions, even if you have no Authority over it
3) Make meaningful choices.

If the following shoe fits for your game, wear it.

You accomplish #1 through big conflicts and trivial bits of color, by pointing a flashlight at one aspect of the character and saying "here's what he is about." This is Exploration of Character. The GM can prompt this by pointing a flashlight in your direction, but it should be up to you to describe what's under the light. The GM doesn't tell you what your character is about, that should be a sacrosanct Authority of the player.

#2 should be obvious, but it's important to articulate it and it's key to my goal of getting players creatively involved in the whole game, not just in their PC's. I think a key to this on the GM side is to "Say Yes" as much a possible and let the player's ideas override GM prep which has not entered play. The GM should only edit the player's contributions to make them fit with established facts, and even then I'd be willing to retro-actively edit the fact if the player's idea was cooler and didn't cause major earthquakes in the continuity.

#3 is the real bitch, and it's where all the "good stuff" lies. I also think it's where the CA makes a big difference in the how, the when and the why. Meaningful choice is key, to be meaningful the outcomes need to be non-trivial and engage the player's interest, to be a choice there must be multiple outcomes with roughly equal weight in the player's mind.

For Nar, the player must be able to judge the Situation, for Gam the player must be able to exploit the Situation, and for Sim the player must be able to change the Situation. And I think that's key: my Sim players want their actions to really "make something happen", they want to have real control over resolving Situation A into Situation A-prime. Of course that can happen for any CA, but for Sim it's The Point of play, the tip of the spear for "what makes this game fun".

I think that may be a major thing that has been missing from my Sim play. It's not the whole nut, but not having it significantly hampers our CA.


Conflict Resolution:

We need it, we don't have it. My opinion is that conflict resolution is a necessary feature of System but it is often punted entirely to GM fiat (force, illusionism) or is negotiated free-form. In short, Task Resolution does nothing for me. Again, good Nar games have many attractive features that should work well in Sim.

* Who creates conflicts? When? How?
* How do we drive play toward conflict?
* How do we make sure the conflict is interesting to most or all of the players?
* Is the mechanic of resolution fun in itself?
* Is it challenging in a Step on Up sense? Just enough for the target CA, too little or too much?
* Do the mechanics require adding cool stuff to the SIS throughout resolution? (as opposed to only at the end)
* Are the resolutions produced consistently satisfying for the target CA?

So that's a gaping hole I need to deal with. What we have now is not very different from D20: stat + skill ranks + modifiers = chance of success. Straight task resolution is called for by the GM with no formal guidelines about when, how or what it all means. Here are some of the bits we use to improve on that.

* If I roll the dice, it must effect the outcome. (Anti-illusionist technique)
* Say Yes or roll the dice
* set stakes before you roll (this has been very uneven)
* if you roll, someone must add a chunk of narration to go with it. "You hit" isn't enough. (also uneven)


Whew! that's a lot to chew on. All thoughts, opinions, experiences and ideas are welcome!
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2008, 11:54:53 AM »

2) Contribute to everything via suggestions, even if you have no Authority over it
. . .
#2 should be obvious, but it's important to articulate it and it's key to my goal of getting players creatively involved in the whole game, not just in their PC's.

I gotta ask: is this a goal in itself, or do you just think it's necessary in order to serve goal #3?

Personally, I prefer to pursue goal #3 without doing #2, because I don't like how the world and plot "come across" if the players are complicit in them.  But maybe that wouldn't be a problem for your players...?

3) Make meaningful choices.
. . .
#3 is the real bitch, and it's where all the "good stuff" lies
. . .
for Sim the player must be able to change the Situation.

Not sure if this'd be true for all Sim CAs, but it certainly has been true for most of my own Sim play, and I'll accept that it's true for yours too.  As a GM, I've had good success finding ways to give the PCs the power to impact my world-altering plot-lines:

1) The PCs can do something useful that no one else in the world can do.  Something that the world-changers (kings, generals, etc.) need.  Of course, this doesn't work if the PCs have no leverage and can simply be coerced, so try to make their usefulness something that must be voluntarily given.

2) The PCs know something that no one else knows.  Their decision of who to tell, and when, will tip whatever balance of power is in flux in the larger plot.

I've gotten immense mileage out of this latter, using everything from "the PCs know the Mandragon army has begun to march" to "the PCs know the Mandragon general is secretly a shape-shifting demon-worshipper."  This had led to play in which the payoff scenes are largely communication scenes, updating and advising the world's powerful people.  Want some combat?  Someone tries to kill the PCs to stop them from delivering their info. 

One slightly odd result of working this way has been that, if there's a Final Battle between the powers that be, the PCs usually don't contribute much to the outcome during the battle.  This has been a disappointment, but rarely a major one (cuz often, the players made the battle happen in the first place!).

Allowing players to manipulate the plot's events via their characters is a more satisfying version of "getting players creatively involved in the whole game" for me personally than allowing them "plot" or "world" suggestions.

I'm not trying to convince you that my way would work for your group (without some Actual Play accounts of your game, I couldn't even guess), I'm just throwing another data point your way.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2008, 04:39:58 PM »

Hi John,

When I say 'I've begun to think...' I really mean it. It's my line of thought - I may be deviating alot from the forge. Do not start doubting your own understanding of the theory - I'm merely offering my own conclusions to you.

In short (cause I just can do Ron length posts), lets take a game situation like a friend at work has commited fraud to support his gambling problem, and it's come to the point where you have to decide how your going to deal with that. This situation could be played in nar, gamist, or sim. Now lets take two designers who want to make a game about this situation and similar situations. One makes a nar game. One makes a gamist game. Why? If you asked them why they chose a certain CA, they'd give you all sorts of reasons (perhaps not articulated well, but they'd have strong reasons). Some part of that reasoning made them decide on a particular agenda. This reasoning is above agenda. It decides which agenda is used. Agenda isn't the whole point of play - that reasoning is. Agenda is decided from that reasoning, then techniques are decided from that agenda, and so on. But it starts at that reasoning!

What is your original reasoning about - what is it centered on (it has to be something that already exists)? It's not an easy question, but at the same time saying 'I don't know' is a fine start - because any sort of start is a good thing.

But...
Quote
And this sounds a lot like "the package" of Sim play. Our package is my Fantasy Heartbreaker, system and setting included. I can describe it for you, but suffice to say it's negotiated by our group over the years, I have final authority over  it for our group and we have a pretty good but imperfect idea of what to expect from each other. So in the sense you describe, our goal is "to play John's fantasy game" and we have a fairly clear idea of what that means.
Final authority is a technique, and having a good idea of what to expect from each other is essentially a technique. I think I have to add techniques to the list of 'things that don't exist yet'. As in, they only exist once the original reasoning decides agenda, and agenda has determined what techniques to use. Talking about techniques is too far removed from the original reasoning, except perhaps when talking over a beer at a convention or something :) You'll have to dig deeper.
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John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2008, 04:11:56 PM »

Callan, I'm afraid you lost me there. Maybe you could post an example of what you're talking about from one of your games and I'll see if I can relate.

David: That's close but I was thinking of small changes at a local level: "do we save the cheerleader," not so much "did we save the world?" It should be "SHOULD we save the cheerleader?" not just CAN we save her. I think the CAN part of the equation has a bigger role in Sim play and we would keep that, but the players should also consider outcomes where she dies and maybe work toward those. I was also thinking of many choices ... at least a couple every session, not just one or two big branch points in the campaign.

Creatively, meaningful choices are more engaging than suggestions, but why limit yourself? Take everything they can give you! Suggestions during play keep the players focused and should lead to more fun for everyone. Maybe some negative examples would illustrate it better:

* My players expect to spend entire sessions (3-5 hours) making minimal contributions to story lines which don't interest them. Another player has the spotlight, and everyone else is expected to ride along.

* Players yawning and even falling asleep at the table. (And yet they insist it was a good session! Go figure.) A less extreme but more frequent example is players flippingthrough other books, often unrelated to the game when they're not in the spotlight.

I want to shoot that damned spotlight.
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David Berg
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« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2008, 10:33:42 PM »

My best solutions to the "give players meaningful choice" conundrum, short of improv, can be found here (Phase C will probably be of most interest to you).

As for your "spotlight" problem, how exactly does the spotlight get grabbed?  Are the PCs all in the same place, or did one of them wander off to do something meaningful in private?  What triggers spotlight grabbing?  What triggers wandering off? 

In my own experience, this has been solved during character creation, by vetting character personalities and motives against "what we're gonna do together".
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John Adams
Member

Posts: 90


« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2008, 08:50:40 AM »

We're playing tonight, and I'm going to try to inject some of those meaningful choices.

Player/Character:  Mark/Tusk, Andy/Kenlei, George/Ephriam

Situation:

Tusk's race lost the Great War and was nearly destroyed. Fifty years later they live on the fringes of society, except for one last warlord named Blackbane who has rallied a sizable force and attacked the Empire. He has no hope of victory, he and his men are looking for an honorable death and to damage and disgrace the Empire as much as possible in the process. Tusk wants to kill Blackbane and save as many of his race as possible. He has tried and failed a couple of times now.

Kenlei's father is a Thane of a Noble Order of the Empire. The Noble Orders are all Clerics. The Empire created the Orders to separate military power from the Churches and bring it under direct Imperial control. So Kenlei's dad is a Cleric with strong religious loyalty to the Church, but he answers to the Chamberlain who answers directly to the Emperor, not to the head of the Church.

Tonight we will fight out the final battle between Blackbane and the Noble Orders. Kenlei's dad is there with Kenlei and the Chamberlain.

Now that's all good, but it doesn't provide the kind of meaningful choices I want.

1) One obvious way to go is to tie the result of the battle to the PC's success or failure. They could turn around a critical point in the fight or it could be more meta with the ebb and flow of the battle following their round-by-round success. Combat will give some tactical options and the players are already invested in the outcome of the battle.

But I'm not going to have a huge battle every week. I have some other things planned which are much closer to the bush I've been beating around in this thread. So here are good examples planned for tonight:

2) Tusk has promised he will do "anything" for another chance to kill Blackbane. The God of War heard him and possessed him with a Fire Spirit to give him the power he needs. Blackbane is almost certainly going down. Now there's a price ... "do anything" in this case means "kill the Chamberlain" once he's done with Blackbane. This will almost certainly put Kenlei and his dad against Tusk in battle. If they can't bring Tusk down, the Chamberlain dies.

This is tricky to pull off well. First, there is no chance Tusk will die. I recently convinced the group that PC death isn't a good thing for this game, and we agreed to have a go without it. (Fear of PC death forced me to pull my punches too much.) Second, this was Mark's suggestion, so I know he's invested in the outcome, but Andy doesn't have a clue. I may ask Andy before we start if he expected a fair chance to kill Blackbane himself. If so, this would amount to GM Force, so it needs to be fairly transparent. I might need to make it a "race" to see who kills Blackbane first.

Now meaningful choices will happen in that battle, but my hope is that the best stuff will come out afterward. Will Tusk decide to follow the God of War? Will Kenlei really trust Tusk after this? How will they explain this to the Chamberlain and Kenlei's dad, assuming they survive?

Hopefully you see how #2 is meatier than #1 and the fallout from #2 offers the most PC-centric story bits.

3) The flashlight. Last week George let a gem slip about his character. "I'm a healer" he said, "I'm here to save lives." Now to look at his PC you wouldn't guess that was so important, so that's precisely where I'm going to hit him. What about healing an enemy? what if he begs for you to let him die? (Wants an honorable death.)

4) This idea hit me out of the blue: Kenlei will fight a skilled warrior during this battle and when the final blow lands his opponent's helmet will fly off and he'll realize he was fighting a woman (Not typical for these folk) and she is badly injured and out of the fight, but alive. After the battle the Chamberlain (if he lives) will decree that Kenlei has the right to claim her as his slave. A beautiful, ass-kicking slave. Who is one of Tusk's race.

We'll see how that plays out!
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2008, 10:16:22 AM »

I think you just answered my question about what triggers "spotlight" moments.  It's the way you go about providing character-centric bits. 

As far as giving the PCs meaningful choices, imagine if they could do the following:

1) stop the battle from happening, or make it short and decisive, or turn it into a bloodbath that doesn't end until one side is eliminated

2) convince Kenlei's dad to betray the chamberlain, or convince the chamberlain to betray the emperor

and imagine some meaningful consequences of these decisions:

Fire spirit scars Tusk for life for disobedience, Kenlei's dad becomes corrupt vs. Tusk's race wiped out, Kenlei's dad killed.

Maybe these examples are unfeasible for your game, but my point is that they are proactive, directing the flow of in-game events, rather than reactive, taking your decided events and processing them. 

I'd also make sure that outcomes that matter to one player are correlated withoutcomes that matter to the other (i.e. if Tusk's race is saved, Kenlei's dad dies - players opposed; or, if Tusk's race is saved, Kenlei's dad lives - players united).  Without this correlation, you get spotlights.
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David Berg
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« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2008, 10:21:02 AM »

Er, when I said "the other", I meant "the others."  Forgot about poor George entirely.  I hope you give him a reason to be invested in the larger events; dealing with some injured chick in battle sounds like a nice bonus, not a reason to play the session.
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John Adams
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« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2008, 06:50:27 AM »

Real life is a bitch. So George couldn't make it at all and Paul was an hour late and we got about 1/2 of what we wanted done. That's the reality of Actual Play as you get older, kids.

Update: Blackbane and his lieutenants are dead by Tusk's hand, the center of Blackbane's line is broken but the battle's outcome is still uncertain. I introduced the potential slave girl, for the moment she's unconscious and forgotten on the battlefield.

Combat was OK but on the slow side. It's a pretty crunchy system with high Points of Contact to put out a small bit of fiction. We made it more than a simple hack-n-slash and injected some tactics and some interesting story elements like Kenlei's overall confusion over what the heck was happening.

I gave Mark the buffed numbers for Tusk + Fire Spirit but let him narrate the effects so he became a ten foot tall pillar of fire stalking through the enemy lines. Player Creativity = More Fun.

Paul/Endymion magically possessed Blackbane's top LT and loudly exclaimed "Enough! You are no longer my Lord!" as he started attacking Blackbane's other defenders. This had a devastating effect on the morale of everyone in earshot. Player Creativity = Fun ++

Melee itself is highly structured, but the "good stuff" above, the meaning of the combat is entirely free-form. Maybe that's fine, but I feel it's lacking a formal structure.


David: We're basically on the same page about "what", but it's the "how" that I'm looking for. Surely, George needs a better reason to show up than to play 1 short, possibly disconnected scene. The plot definitely needs to weave the PCs together, and the fundamental problem is that this wasn't setup from the beginning. The answer to all of this is simply to "fix it" as opportunities allow without exerting GM force, creating new PCs or dumping whole story lines.

I like your examples of meaningful choices and the Phase C stuff, but I infer you mean I should set all this up during prep and that's not going to produce the kind of opportunity I'm talking about. Choices need to arise spontaneously during play. I don't really want the onus entirely on me, either. I'm not going to see every opportunity, and what I think is a meaningful choice (especially on the fly during play) may not grab the players the way I want it to. I need the player to see a choice that grabs him and have the power to go for it. I also need to retrain my players who still expect me to drive the entire story.

I think my "spotlight" is a red herring. The fundamental question is do all of the players care about this Situation? If not, how do we make that happen?

I think the "how" that I'm missing is a functional conflict resolution system which focuses and empowers the players. I look at the engine that drives a game like Capes or DitV and I say "hell yeah!". The trick is working within existing mechanics and supporting Sim rather than Nar.

Ideal Features:

1. several iterations of the technique must be applied to resolve a conflict
2. each iteration adds cool stuff to the fiction
3. each iteration builds interest and intensity
4. a great final payoff

This is a tough nut to crack. I have some ideas but I need to play them to see how they work. Vincent's ideas on resolution are a good start.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2008, 07:40:28 AM »

Hi John,

I think you're coming to some strong conclusions, and I agree with you that spotlight is not the issue. I'm working up an extensive reply and wanted to let you know.

Back soon, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2008, 09:13:48 AM »

Overall, I think there’s not much to tell you. I’m actually a little bit hesitant to interfere with the obviously successful process you’re undergoing under your own direction. Even before posting, you and the others have passed two major milestones already: the time thing and the money thing. This is where you guys finally admitted that Gary Gygax’s in-bold, in-caps advice in the D&D rulebook (see my Simulationism essay) was and is complete ass. So far so good.

The group seems to be right on track with you regarding all of these issues. I see a real success story brewing, and that’s exciting.

I think it’s especially valuable that you are willing to work in steps and are not demanding full insight, full techniques, full solutions, and perfect results to be handed to you in some kind of perfect instruction manual.

I’ll isolate a couple of quibble-type points or sentences that kicked off responses for me, and then I’ll try to summarize what I think your next steps or concepts might be.

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* The PC's aren't moving around inside MY story, the story should be about the PCs

I’ll re-word this in a couple of different ways.

1. “There is no ‘the’ story. We won’t have a story until after we play together and the characters have made decisions right there in the developing fiction.”

2. “My job is to provide pregnant situations, interesting characers, and problems for which I do not have an answer in mind.”

3. “The players can be prompted into action of some kind, but not cued to deliver actions of particular kinds.”

Usually, I talk about these techniques in the context of Narrativist play, but you’re right, they aren’t restricted to that mode (although necessary to it).

The new kind of Sim

You’re absolutely right that this isn’t about finding magic mechanics. In terms of my Big Model, you are talking about fundamentals of the SIS, not about details of Techniques within System.

It might help to lay out some my thoughts about this thing. More and more, I’m coming to realize that a key portion of functional Simulationist play is to recognize what non-gaming information or material is going to be held up as valuable during play.

It could be a genre (“westerns! with magic!”), in which case, the problem is being too general. “Westerns” is actually pretty vague and various; one might consider, for instance, the role of Native Americans as critical content whose presentation causes westerns to differ greatly. “Science fiction,” “superheroes,” “horror,” all have the same problem, so my point is to narrow it down with specific examples. If I say “westerns like The Wild Bunch and magic like Hellblazer,” that’s pretty damned different from “westerns like Stagecoach and magic like Bewitched.”

It could be a value system, a subculture or style of some kind. In which case, the problem is flash over substance, basically verbal dress-up with nothing happening. Unless there’s some kind of social context with added value of its own (e.g. getting laid at clubs and LARPs), the activity founders. It’s worth considering what sort of problems and hassles the characters are expected to be dealing with (either pushed at them or generated by them), and that everyone understands that as an obligation

I can go through any number of other bases for Sim play (physics, fantasy-physics, probably being the next obvious one; some kind of scaleable physical modeling), but I think you probably get the idea. Get one’s head, and the shared group-head, out of role-playing, and into considering something that everyone recognizes and values. Then that’s the creative standard – and later, a procedural standard – that serves for the celebratory content, even if it’s radically tweaked.

Illusionism

Quote
Look out for GM Force. Just don't do it. If you slip up, cop to it immediately and give the players their due. Specifically, tell the players everything that might be relevant to the current situation, even if their characters are clueless. Let the dice decide if the PC's discover the secret, but stop trying to surprise the players.

Indeedy-do … or is it? I agree with you about the Force itself, but I also think that we should go over some of the things which are done in its absence. Let me pull out a couple of things from there.

1. About surprise, I suggest letting the players be surprised on their own time using information that’s available to them, primarily through observation. If it happens before the characters are surprised, fine; if it doesn’t, also fine.

2. I strongly, strongly suggest considering what information you know they must have, surprising or not, in order to play after a given point. In that case, remove all Fortune from the process of acquiring that information. Fortune, by definition, means that something might not happen. Trying to link “they must know” with “conversation skill roll” or “perception roll” is a quagmire in which entire groups become mired for years.
Overall, the real insight or point about this whole Force thing is easy (although scary): that the GM is not the font of the creative experience. This is not film, in which the director and other creative people present the film to the audience; it isn’t literature or painting or comics or any other art form or medium. Everyone is a contributor to the SIS (“shared”), and so that means everyone has his or her own relationship to the source material and to the tools of play (which may indeed be different, e.g. GM tools vs. player tools).

That’s a big deal, isn’t it? Even if, as a non-GM in your game, I have no Authority over back-story, I do have contributory Authority at other levels – and everyone trusts me to value our shared creative activity just as much as, in a traditional group, everyone is supposed to trust the GM.

Meaty, important conflicts, and the timing thereof

Seems to me as if you’re focusing on the timing, but I think that we might do better, at least at the moment, to look at the meat instead.

[Cue: very strong temptation on my part to joke about how “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion” is only partly true, but that reveals what a bad person I am and distracts the puritans among us, and we shall now move on. No one likes my sense of humor except for Vincent.]

Quote
I want to tweak the illusionist, GM-centered plot that the game is built on so that we make it a story about the PCs. Note that the players enjoy the GM plot lines and expect me to drive them forward and resolve them in a satisfying way, but I keep looking for tie-ins to make the story really revolve around the PCs as much as possible. In particular, I'd like to work in some meaty moral conflicts for the PCs but as a supporting feature, not as the end goal of our play. The conflicts are more likely to illuminate a specific feature of a character rather than force a true narrative choice, but we'll see.

Well, what can I say – you’re doing it, just as you’re describing in your posts. I like the conflict-situations you’re tossing up, because essentially you’re using Bangs, a concept I introduced in Sorcerer. Now, I gotta say, what I’m reading now is starting to look like plain ol’ Narrativism, and you said you didn’t want that so much, or at least not yet. How that turns out might depend more on them and less on you, actually. Maybe we ought to hold off on that issue until after you and the group have tried playing with these hard-framing, mind-blowing, character-specific situations (in which players choose or even create the conflicts within them) for a few sessions.

Best, Ron
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