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Author Topic: Name the phenomenon: Inter-player SIS incohesion  (Read 11022 times)
masqueradeball
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« Reply #15 on: January 30, 2008, 05:10:44 PM »

As a GM I'd have to say that the best technique I think of to handle this would be to force the players to deal with the reality of the scene as created by the other players:

here's the starship situation as you presented it:

Quote
Situation: An starship's engine is about to explode and the emergency alarm sounds. The crew of the spaceship all gather in the engine room trying to solve the problem.
Joe: "I'm going to try to figure out what's going on with the engine." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a failed roll) "You think maybe the exhaust valve is blocked."
Adam: "I'm going to try to double-check his work. Just in case." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a successful roll) "Seems like there's foreign substances in the core is causing a chain reaction. Those illirium crystals you picked up on Bane IV were probably impure."
Joe: "Okay, I'm going to try to clear the exhaust valve."
GM: "Upon further inspection, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the exhaust valve after all."
Adam: "I'll try to manually override the core to expedite the shutdown process." (rolls Propulsion System Engineering)
GM: "Okay, you think maybe it'll shut down in time now."
Joe: "Obviously I was mistaken about the exhaust valve so I will go back and check again." (rolls Starship Mechanic)

Now imagine it went something like this:
Joe: "I'm going to try to figure out what's going on with the engine." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a failed roll) "You think maybe the exhaust valve is blocked."
Adam: "I'm going to try to double-check his work. Just in case." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: Hold on a sec, Joe still down there fiddling. What is it you do exactly, crawl in behind him?

Or some such... this kind of thing might get burdensome after a while, but I think forcing the players to interact by bringing the physical realities of the scene to their attention is a good thing.

As for your catching the room on fire example. I'd probably have the NPC's flee the burning building or some such.

I think the reason GM's might avoid doing this is the same old issue: they want to tell there story and goddammit no one's gonna get in the way. As the GM, I might think there's no place in the story for Adam's actions, or whatever, so I effectively ignore them by allowing them to exist in a vacuum that has a little possible effect on other aspects of the story as possible. By doing this with my GM hat on, I encourage others to do the same.

Does that help at all? Do I understand the points your making?
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lachek
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« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2008, 07:23:48 PM »

As a GM I'd have to say that the best technique I think of to handle this would be to force the players to deal with the reality of the scene as created by the other players.

Agreed - as a GM with a traditional apportioning of power. What about as a player? In most games, players do not have the same power to dictate what is "real" in the fiction as the GM does. Is there an approach a player can take to reinforce their vision of the Imaginary Space onto the group, other than overtly stating "how things are"? Also, can you think of any system-level or scenario-design-level approaches to the problem? How could you achieve the same thing in a GM-less game, for example?

I think the reason GM's might avoid doing this is the same old issue: they want to tell there story and goddammit no one's gonna get in the way. As the GM, I might think there's no place in the story for Adam's actions, or whatever, so I effectively ignore them by allowing them to exist in a vacuum that has a little possible effect on other aspects of the story as possible. By doing this with my GM hat on, I encourage others to do the same.

It's awkward that the main example I have chosen is from a game which Hans GMs. Let me assure you that from what I have learned of Hans' GM style, what you're describing is nowhere near accurate. That is not to say that your analysis might not be correct for some cases, but it isn't the case for this specific example.
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2008, 11:57:57 PM »

What can a player do? Be courteous, I guess, bother to know about the other players and pay attention to them, to take into account their actions and pay attention to them. As far as rules... I really can't think of anything. Even with a rule set that might require high player interaction (like team tactics in Werewolf) I imagine that a player who persistently ignored others would continue to do so whenever it didn't benefit them to pay attention, and that a fair number of folks with this problem would do so even if it was openly flouting an in game benefit.

I think that a certain point, rules can't help. Its like playing poker when you don't want to play with real money... if you want to play seriously, you have to expect everyone to treat the chips as real cash, or very quickly everyone bets everything they have whenever they have anything higher than a pair or whenever they have nothing because their "bluffing." People think this behaviour is acceptable, "because its just a game." In poker, the meat of play is the interaction between the players, just like in RPG's, everything else is so much fluff... people who can't or won't focus on the interaction and its health should probably pick another activity.

Good news though, I thinks its mainly an accident, and communication should solve it.

Joe: "I'm going to try to figure out what's going on with the engine." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a failed roll) "You think maybe the exhaust valve is blocked."
Adam: "I'm going to try to double-check his work. Just in case." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
Joe: "So, Adam, is your character their in the engine room with me?"
Adam: "Um, I guess so. Yeah."
Joe: "All right, I check my findings against Adam's."
GM: "OK, Adam go ahead and roll."
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contracycle
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« Reply #18 on: January 31, 2008, 05:28:26 AM »

I think an important step is realising that perceptions differ and that these have to be managed purposefully and directly, not left to themselves.  That is one of the GM';s duties, to synthesize and to feed back the actual content of the SIS.  Another thing a GM can do is interrogate the players as to what they think is going on.  There is no harm in actually asking this directly, and getting feedback from the players directly.

I am struck by the failure, in the fire-lighting scenario, to acknowledge or endorse the players action by the GM, and then subsequently treating it as if it had happened.  I would at least have said either "ok" or "what? why?" in response to the player's stated intent to start a fire.  That should have been resolved right away, confirmed publicly as having entered the SIS or not.  Neither acknowledging nor rejecting this action left it indeterminate.

Different descriptions of the same event can also be given to different players.  If a game has a Perception-type stat this is something I make a point of knowing, and sometimes give differing descriptions accordingly, or add an element that the high Per character notices and the others do not.  This at least brings the issue of varying IS's into the open and reminds everyone that such divergence is possible.
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Hans
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« Reply #19 on: January 31, 2008, 07:34:41 AM »

And although I sort of backtracked from the example as representative of the phenomenon, one character lighting a room on fire while everyone else just stands around talking, that's an objectively disjointed narrative.

Picture a film.  The main focus of the camera is a tense, dramatic conflict, a standoff between two opposing forces.  But, what's this, in the background, what is that crazy kid doing?  Oh crap, that crazy kid, he's going to ruin everything, he's lighting the Lieutennants liquor on fire!  The camera now begins to zip back and forth between these two bits; tense standoff, crazy kid enjoying the fire.  Why is that kid doing that?  As an audience member, you'll be thinking to yourself, why the heck did the scriptwriter put this in?  And then, the tense standoff ends abruptly, the Lieutennant says, "Let's drink on it!" turns and finds all his liquour burning in a corner and starts swearing like Yosemite Sam.  "Ah", you say to yoursefl, "Now I see what the scriptwriter had in mind, the thing I thought was a tense standoff was really just a long set up for a joke with a rather silly punchline.  Eh, Not what I would have done."

To me, this is not a objectively disjointed narrative.  It might be a crazy narrative, a surreal comedy narrative, who knows what kind of narrative, but objectively disjointed...no. "Objectively" assumes there is some kind of standard that one can judge the "jointedness" of narratives by, and I don't think that exists.  People are all going to have their own personal standards for this.  However it is defintely a "subjectively unsatisfying narrative", at least for you.  This is because in the movie that is playing in your head, what just happened was, well, silly.  It left you cold. 

Disjointed narratives in the moment are stock and trade of fiction; we can all think of examples where things happen and you say "What the...what was that?!  What just happened there?  That made no sense!"  Vega and Jules come into the bar wearing t-shirts and shorts, when the last time we saw them they were wearing natty black suits.  But then later, when Vega blows the brains out of that poor schmuck in the back seat, and everything is explained we say "AH, now I get it!"  In fact, it is part of the trust we place in the author/director of a piece of fiction that we trust that when things SEEM disjointed, they really aren't. 

But in a story game we have two problems.  First, people narrate for reasons other than creating interesting fiction.  They might just have pet things they want to do regardless.  They might be angry at someone else, or demanding attention from someone else in some way.  Who knows?  Second, in a story game we have no luxury of time.  You don't have days to figure out the perfect line for the hero to say like you might when writing a novel, you have about 3 seconds.  So people make mistakes.  They lose track of what is happening.  They get confused.  They simply can't deliver at speed entertainment.  So, unlike fiction (or at least, well written fiction) things can get disjointed (Cacophony) due to no one person's conscious effort.  And yet, as fiction, we expect that if Cacophony occurs, it will have a satisfying resolution.  What to do?

My answer is its your job to MAKE the narrative not only coherent, but satisfying to yourself.  To always take on board what the other guy is saying, at face value, and then integrate it into your own IS in a way that makes some kind of sense. I think this is the fun challenge of story games like Dust Devils and Capes, one might even say a place where the gamist in me Steps On Up on the story level.  When someone hands you kids trying to light fires with the bad guys alcohol, you take it and make it satisfying to yourself.  Because, ultimately, its your responsibility to make things make sense and satisfy you. 

It IS true, though, that this often means you will end up with surreal comedy instead of what you were hoping for, because its only as surreal comedy that you often CAN make satisfying sense of all of the weird ass things people are saying.  I commented on this in a thread a while ago in the Muse of Fire Games forum with regards to Capes and something I called the Silly Limit.   

I am struck by the failure, in the fire-lighting scenario, to acknowledge or endorse the players action by the GM, and then subsequently treating it as if it had happened.  I would at least have said either "ok" or "what? why?" in response to the player's stated intent to start a fire.  That should have been resolved right away, confirmed publicly as having entered the SIS or not.  Neither acknowledging nor rejecting this action left it indeterminate.

As it was happening, I was acknowledging that the fire-lighting was taking place.  I was saying things like "Ok", a perplexed "Fair enough", and I might even have magnified a bit at one point with something like "Blue flames rise up" or something, although that might be just me filling in blanks in my memory.  But I wasn't denying the entry of the fire-lighting into the SIS; in fact if I had I think Mikael would have not used this as an example.  It is was exactly because both the fire-lighting and tense standoff were in the SIS that Mikael was having a problem. 

But really, mea culpa, in the end it slipped my mind.  I was caught up in the tense standoff and to me the fire lighting was just a distraction.  It didn't have anything to do with coherence...I just didn't see how it would be INTERESTING in the long run, so I simply ignored it (like everyone else, I think).  I freely admit that all the advice I am giving up above I was not putting into practice in that moment.  When I was forced to take it into account, I then attempted to resolve it in a satisfying way for myself, and, in hindsight, I actually think the scene was funny.  But I did have to be forced to do it, by the player reminding me of his own input. 
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Hans
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« Reply #20 on: January 31, 2008, 07:51:52 AM »

I think the reason GM's might avoid doing this is the same old issue: they want to tell there story and goddammit no one's gonna get in the way. As the GM, I might think there's no place in the story for Adam's actions, or whatever, so I effectively ignore them by allowing them to exist in a vacuum that has a little possible effect on other aspects of the story as possible. By doing this with my GM hat on, I encourage others to do the same.

Ouch again.  I disagree with Mikael, and will say that what you describe here is EXACTLY what was happening.  My only defense is that I was not so much telling the story MYSELF as it was myself and three other players telling one story (the tense standoff) and me ignoring (and perhaps encouraging others to ignore) the fire-lighting thing because it wasn't part of that story.  In other words, if it was a railroad, it was a highly consensual one among four out of the five people playing.  But still, you've hit the nail on the head here.

Now, what could I have done, in a Dust Devils context:

* Establish true intent at the first narration: "This alcohol lighting thing...what is your intent with that?  Are you trying to set the whole place on fire, or just make some pretty lights? Are you expecting an immediate reaction from the PC's or the NPC's?  Or do you mind if it sort of hovers in the background and then, at some point in the future, everyone notices that you have been busy lighting fires?"
* Go straight to conflict: "Hold on, you are trying to light his alcohol on fire?  Man, that's a conflict, he LOVES his alcohol.  Do you want to risk harm over that, because, if so, we are drawing cards!"
* Reflect it back: "Did you say you were lighting fires with the alcohol?  Holy crap, that is wild.  What do YOU think happens with that?"

Any of the above might have been better than what actually happened, and I think those are the kinds of techniques I usually use; I just failed to do so in this moment.

(Sorry that last post was so bloody long, by the way.  Brevity is not one of my virtues.)
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #21 on: January 31, 2008, 09:43:04 AM »

I don't know Dust Devil at all, so I can't speak on a system level. What I've noticed no one's brought up is the idea of asking the player to cooperate in the scene at hand.

Example:
Players A, B and C are all study Mr. Body, trying to figure out what might have killed him. Player D is break dancing.
GM: So, whats up with the break dancing?
Player D: My character's a Malkavian, his derrangement is uncontrollable break dancing.
GM: Can we highlight in a different scene? This one's about investigating Mr. Body here,
Player D: Sure.
GM: Cool.

or

Player D: No way! My guy's totally break dancing!
GM: Alright, that's not part of this scene, so, me and A, B and C will wrap up and then will do a scene about the break dancing...

Something like that... you know, asking disruptive players to cooperate. Still, this doesn't seem like the same problem as the one the thread started with, it's more about disruptive players, kind of, or, in a bigger sense, its about story controls and player rights to scene presence, etc...

Also, A is A... you know. So there's definately a way to come up with a working definition of an "objectively disjointed narrative."
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dindenver
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« Reply #22 on: January 31, 2008, 11:39:28 AM »

Hi!
  Well, to be fair, one of my recommendations was to stop the action and figure out what's going on.
  But it sounds like this has been figured out. One person is not jiving with the group and no one wants to deal with it.
  Anyways, I like Spacial Dissonance (the others are fine though) as a term. Spacial because it involves the SIS and Dissonance because it denotes action and/or voice that are happening, but not necessarily in harmony... And maybe a definition of "An event or events that occur within a roleplaying group that suggests that the SIS is not, in fact, shared properly." or something like that...
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Dave M
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lachek
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« Reply #23 on: January 31, 2008, 12:18:30 PM »

I appreciate everyone's input. I think everyone's suggestions have been functional and well-informed.
We've diverted pretty far from the intent of the thread, though, which was to systematically analyze and approach a general problem of spatial dissonance (din, I think this term fits perfectly what I'm trying to describe).

As I see it, these are the viewpoints that have been presented so far:

  • Spatial dissonance is not a problem. It can be humorous or aesthetically pleasing in and of itself, like an absurd comedy or a David Lynch film. It is up to the player to find meaning among the dissonance.
  • Spatial dissonance is a problem, and it is caused when people engage in dysfunctional play for social reasons. Fixing the dysfunction will fix the spatial dissonance problems.
  • Spatial dissonance is a problem, and it can occur spontaneously between perfectly functional people who normally play well together.

Of course, all three can be true, but for purposes of this post I am personally only interested in addressing the last of the viewpoints.
Hans, I agree that spatial dissonance is not always a problem for the reasons you've listed (Lynch is a flippin' genius), but stating that this is always the case and putting the onus on each player to individually make sense of a story that might possibly consist of nothing but Racket is a little too dirty hippie for me to swallow.
I'm also not looking to solve the entire field of social dysfunction in RPGs in this post. All the comments about talking to your players / GM, negotiating theme etc are excellent, but tangential to the issue I'm trying to address.

So feel free to take this in any direction you like, but my preference is to discuss how techniques, scenario-design and system can be utilized to enhance inter-player communication and build a strong SIS.
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dindenver
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« Reply #24 on: February 01, 2008, 07:30:40 AM »

Hi!
  Thanks for the nod.

  OK, but in the larger "Theory" sense of the word, Social Contract (and the resulting dysfunctional play from a bad social contract) is part of the "System." That's part of what Indie/Forge-style design is about. Forget about the dirty hippie vibe some games give off and look at the core. Its about a game that some how encourages good social contract, good themes, good mechanics and good techniques that are all tied together by a cohesive design philosophy motivated by actual play and not high-minded theory. So, when you say that dysfunctional social issues is outside the scope of System, technique and scenario design, that doesn't leave a lot left to try, does it?
  I am not trying to say I have all the answers, but I wold like to put forth the idea that the answer lies at the earliest moments of RPG gaming, social contract. That narrow little window where players can talk about what they want from a game, what they like in a game and what they expect from a game before everyone assumes they know the answer. In an ideal system, this would be an on-going process, but in most gaming groups, you get a window that is about 10-30 minutes after the group switches GMs/Campaigns/Systems to state your needs. And after that, its assumed that the group knows/understands. Can a system change the trend? Can Scenario design, is there a Technique that solves that issue?
  I think there is and I listed the heavy hitters before. But the main point I want everyone to take away from this is: Social Contract is malleable. It changes from moment to moment. It is impacted by the flow of the game, the flow of the group and outside factors that the group has no control over (reading an article in a newspaper or a post on a forum can totally change your mind about issues like abuse, dysfunction, etc. And there is no RPG group structure that can affect that, is there?). So, its almost like "where people are at with their Social Contract Issues" is a submarine and you have to constantly ping them to find out where they are at, no?
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Dave M
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contracycle
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« Reply #25 on: February 01, 2008, 09:12:46 AM »

I was thinking the other day, in relation to the murk-in-combat discussion, that you could use a picture of a place in a similar manner to the purpose served by maps.  Maps are of course top down and pictures usually horizontal, similar to human eyesight.  Using a picture or photograph of a space, you would not be able to put tokens on it, nor count squares probably (you could with a perspective overlay), but you could still say that someone was "here" as opposed "there", and get some idea of movement distances, line if sight etc.

Similarly I think pictures of people are important.  One of the "murkiest" things in my experience is what NPC's look like.  A verbal description of a person is highly unlikely to make a lasting impression, I find, unless its reliant on gross or abnormal features.

I think ion some respects the DIY tradition of RPG has become slightly counter-productive here; there are things we could do with properly constructed props that we cannot do with description and gesture.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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Balesir
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« Reply #26 on: February 06, 2008, 07:32:26 AM »

Hi,

I may be way off, here, and it may just be due to the phrasing of the example given, but I have an observation that addresses the original question, I think.

In the example:
Quote
Situation: An starship's engine is about to explode and the emergency alarm sounds. The crew of the spaceship all gather in the engine room trying to solve the problem.
Joe: "I'm going to try to figure out what's going on with the engine." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a failed roll) "You think maybe the exhaust valve is blocked."
Adam: "I'm going to try to double-check his work. Just in case." (rolls Starship Mechanic)
GM: (notes a successful roll) "Seems like there's foreign substances in the core is causing a chain reaction. Those illirium crystals you picked up on Bane IV were probably impure."
<snip>

It strikes me that there is a pattern (in both examples, actually) of:

  • Player action described
  • Player action resolved
  • Player action described
  • Player action resolved

...and so on.

After each action is resolved there is scope to go back and revisit other actions, but I can't help thinking that room for intersection of intent is not being allowed, here.  Each player's input is being closed out as soon as it is made.

If the model for action determination were more like this:

  • All players state their character's intended course of action (including the GM for NPCs, but possibly only mentally/internally)
  • Synthesise from the intended actions the probable interactions, interferences and conflicts that arise
  • Resolve the conflicts (including skill rolls for 'conflicts with the environment') in the order in which they would logically resolve

The outcome should then encourage a joining/interaction of the IS's:

Joe: "I'm going to try to figure out what's going on with the engine."
GM: OK - hold that roll a minute.  Adam?
Adam: "I'm going to try to double-check his work. Just in case."
GM: OK - are you cooperating in the diagnosis or both going through the whole drill?
Joe: "Um - given the urgency, do you just wanna give me a hand, here?"
Adam: "Oh, er, yeah - OK"
GM: OK - make a roll with an assist (or whatever - two rolls maybe, depends on the system you're using)

The GM then relates the outcome based on the total resolution.

Is that the kind of technique you had in mind?
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Andy Gibson
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lachek
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« Reply #27 on: February 06, 2008, 07:56:15 AM »

Andy, that's a good example of a technique I'm interested in.

Your suggestion also leads me towards another observation - in past games that have been faltering in this way, my interest has occasionally piqued when the game enter "combat time" - i.e. a structured and heavily moderated chain of events like what you describe. To moderate the entirety of the game in such detail would no doubt be overwhelming for the GM, but to utilize it as a technique when you find that the game is deteriorating into incoherent solitaire play sounds like an excellent idea.

 
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lachek
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« Reply #28 on: February 06, 2008, 08:16:52 AM »

Dave, I'm confused. Are you saying that problems with spatial dissonance originates with confusion about social contract? I guess I'm not disagreeing with you per se, I just feel it's too wishy-washy to be useful to me. I'm uninterested in discussing social dysfunction because, while I recognize its importance, I believe we can cover more ground by leaving such considerations for another day.

A good game design cannot "heal" a dysfunctional group, although it may be able to alleviate the symptoms temporarily by avoiding the contentious issues.
A poor game design, on the other hand, can cause a previously functional group to be unable to play successfully.

So, what I'm interested in are approaches to system, scenario design and techniques that, when utilized by previously functional groups, contribute to strong SIS. It is true that if the social contract (specifically, sub-contracts like theme and mood) is not coherent between players, spatial dissonance will occur. I'm consciously assuming this is not the case, for purpose of exploring such techniques.

Or did I misunderstand you?
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lachek
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« Reply #29 on: February 06, 2008, 08:30:43 AM »

contracycle, using pictures and photographs to strengthen the SIS is a great suggestion. I agree, it is something that used to be very common when published modules were what people played, and it's a facet of gaming that has fallen by the wayside to some degree, I think.

My wife uses this to great effect in her All Flesh Must be Eaten game. She printed off series of portrait photographs from Flickr - in particular, photos tagged with "Homeless" - and glued them onto bristleboard for longevity. It is much easier to attach a voice and personality to a photograph than to a verbal description, and this has made the NPCs really spring to life for us.

Obviously, this technique involves strong GM direction and imposition of their IS onto the rest of the group. Is there a way something similar could be used in a more collaborative environment? Since it requires pre-game prep, I suppose not.
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