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Author Topic: [TSoY] I fought "The Party" and "The Party" won  (Read 7362 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: April 05, 2008, 11:03:00 PM »

I ran a Shadow of Yesterday one-shot for Portland/Vancouver's Gamestorm con this weekend last. It was my second time running the game. In some ways it went better than the first time, on other ways it was a bit worse. Overall, I had fun and learned a lot.

Like last time, I ran a game smack-dab in the Ammeni-Khale conflict, with the Zaru caught in the middle. For those who don't know, Ammenite merchants are sending troops and settlers into the Khalean forest, seeking priceless Moon Metal, and the Kahalean tribes who worship the trees as ancestor spirits are resisting fiercely. The Zaru are pacifist slaves, the people of the last nation Ammeni annexed, and shunned by their own if they resist their oppressors.

I had five players; Willem played Wind, a tranquil and conflict-avoiding Elf traveling for curiosity and amusement; Gilbert played Duval, a Khalean orphan raised as an Ammenite fleeing to find his native people after his foster parents' assassination;  Brandon made a wild warrior elf named Thag, seeking ever-greater challenges of glorious combat; Petrea played Long-Whiskers, a Ratkin aiding the Zaru cause who was taught the secret of Zu by the Moon Men; and Zach played Griskin, Gilbert's former Goblin pet, now become Human through the Affliction of fraternal love, and harboring the secret that *HE* killed Gilbert's parents!

The action took place across about three scenes: the Ammenites guided by Wind met Long-Whiskers who led them to a Khalean village, where Duval was accepted as a lost son, and they all (joined by the bloodthirsty Elf) went off to raid the local Ammenite settlement at dawn. In the raid, Thag sought out the biggest baddest soldier to challenge and got his ass beat, while Long-Whispers went to see to the safety of the Zaru slaves, who were arguing over whether to rise up against their oppressors. A handful did, but were routed with no serious injury. Meanwhile, Duval and Griskin took the Magistrate hostage and tried to persuade him to surrender to avoid bloodshed, but they failed and the Magistrate instead summoned his Guard.  They fled the house, but not before seizing some documents from the Magistrate's desk that cast suspicious implications on the murder of Duval's parents.

The Khaleans withdrew, and back at the village Duval confronted Gliskin who told everything--his parents were going to enlist him in the military, he killed them for Duval's own good! Duval, enraged, stormed off into the forest. There he encountered Khalean raiders from a rival tribe, striking when their foes were tired and weakened. Gliskin came to his rescue, and Duval rushed to the village and stilled the battle with the Secret of the Perfect Chord, blessed by Long-Whiskers' uttering of "Zu." The Chief  made an appeal to the raiders to let the feud end and unite against their true enemy. The raiders were doubtful their chief would agree, but left deeply touched by the Khalean prodigal's song.

*                    *                    *

This was an interesting TSoY session for me. A lot of things were sub-optimal, but there were a few things that were really, really right.

First, the awesome: I got to see Keys in action! What with just running a one-shot, so I didn't think I was going to get much Key-engagement beyond a general signpost for play direction. But I had a couple of guys (Gilbert and Zach) who set up a great conflict-pairing with their keys and drove the characters straight toward crisis. It was wonderful to watch. And Brandon with his Bloodlust was quite eager to take XP as Thag waded through hapless Ammenite troops.

Speaking of which, I got to see Bringing Down the Pain in action, which was great fun. Brandon initiated it before the roll, as he'd heard me mention it was the only way to kill a named character. It ran really smoothly; Thag's intention was to kill the Sergeant, and the Sergeant's intention was to drive Thag out of the barracks. We had one Parallel action, when Thag taunt the Sergeant as the Sergeant pinned Thag to the wall with his spear-shaft. Thag took loads of harm, filling tracks 1-4, and Gave. He was flung out of the Barracks and the Sergeant turned to muster the remaining troops.

Second, the not-so-awesome: I'll start with my own failings: It was early and I was tired, and and at first I forgot to set proper losing stakes for a bunch of conflicts. For simple combat, it was easy to infer "if you lose, you take Harm," but for other Contests it was a cause for confusion. I recovered, but I'd lost some ground in terms of establishing what TSoY does and how it does it. I think I missed some great opportunities for compelling stakes.

The biggest issue I had with the game was how easily the group fell into "Party Play" despite my best efforts to prevent it. My pitch was basically, "three factions in conflict, pick from them and go at it!" and envisioned a disparate group all converging on the same location with possible blood opera ensuing. But the players all drove toward "partying up" --like Brandon who had announced he'd have Thag make an entrance whenever there was a fight. I had him challenged by Khalean sentries, figuring he'd fight them, but instead he very carefully made peace with them and made signs to be directed to their chieftan, thus insuring that he was placed with "the group" both by proximity and allegiance.

There was a lot of player passivity as well. As I mentioned above, I got a lot of great engagement and proactivity out of Gilbert and Zach, and Brandon if single-minded at least drove toward character action. The other two players, not so much. I've played other games with Willem and found this not to be the case, but here he basically created a character who didn't care about anything. He had the Key of the Coward and the Key of Conscience, but never acted on the latter. Willem's stated himself that he dropped the ball. The other case was more perplexing: Petrea tied her character specifically into the conflict as protector and helper of the Zaru, but no matter how much Zaru tension and Zaru endangerment I threw at her, the responses were just. . .passive. "The Zaru leaders are arguing about whether to hunker down or rise up and fight." "I stay and listen." "The Zaru are rushing the troops, and some soldiers are breaking off to put them down." "I watch and see if any of the Zaru need healing." I just couldn't quite intuit what would compel action.

Thinking about it now, I can see I did drop the ball on one count: she had the Key of the Collector (collecting Zu syllables), and I failed to give her any to collect! She approached the Zu priestess early on and gave signs of recognition from the Moon men, and I had the Zu priestess reprimand her and tell her that the Moon Men are decadent fools for allowing Zu to spread through the masses. But that was that; I didn't press it any further, and her in-character reaction was basically "Oh, OK." Long-Whiskers didn't have any syllables beyond "Zu," so there wasn't anything for the priestess to try to wrest away from her. . .and I totally missed the opportunity to have the priestess use a syllable--owing mostly to the fact that I found in play that I'd forgotten to give her any! I couldn't think of a good one on the fly, so the priestess ended up playing a passive role herself. Damn! Now I'll never know if Petrea would have jumped on the opportunity to get in a Zu-battle. Man, what a waste.

Overall, I feel like I had a strong two-person game on my hands, with several background/window-dressing characters. I'm not entirely satisfied, but the good parts were really good. What I'm looking for here is to hone my TSoY-fu for future play; any advice or observations would be extremely helpful.

Peace,
-Joel
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2008, 08:20:24 AM »

Hi Joel,

I might be reading your description of "the party" issue incorrectly, so if I'm off base, forgive me:

Because we around here have made a lot of noise about there not needing to be "a party," that doesn't mean anyone is saying the Players can't have their characters play together, cooperatively, or whatnot. 

I found it funny when yo wrote, "My pitch was basically, "three factions in conflict, pick from them and go at it!" and envisioned a disparate group all converging on the same location with possible blood opera ensuing."  I mean, that's sort of like "anti-party play" where the GM has as strong an expectation of the Players not having their characters be cooperative for the game to work well as a lot of GM have a strong expectation that the Players better party-up for a game to work well.

The "there doesn't need to be a party" thing is never about making sure there's blunt conflict within the group.  It means that the Players are free to move in and out of alliances within each other.  There might be conflict, there might not.  This let's the PCs make any darned choice the Players want them to make in terms of actions. Which is the point.  It isn't: "Hey, Players, have conflict with each other!" It's, "Okay, guys, given that you can go any direction you want, which direction will you go?"

In the HeroQuest game I'm writing about (really, I've got the next post half written on my laptop!), it looks like the PCs are all in conflict.  But when a big Bang arrives that hits all of them, the PCs each put their differences aside and went off together to take care of business -- the father and the two sons bonding more strongly as the adventure continued.  I never saw it as "partying up."  I saw it as the progress of the story -- and, more importantly -- as the choices the Players wanted to have their characters make.

One of your Players wanted to be the outsider who makes peace with his enemies.  Cool.  Now just throw his own people at him or his new friends!  That's all.  Let the Players figure it out.  It's their problem now.  Time for new choices!

The kind of play your trying right now, having expectations about how the Players should end up playing in terms of the choices they have their characters make is going to lead to a lot of frustration on your part.  After all, you're inviting them to make choices!  You have to let them do that!  You're simply not allowed to have expectations about where the group is going to end up -- as a group or as individuals.


An example:

Last weekend I played a Sorcery & Sword game, run by Jesse.  Jesse set up a situation where there were these orgies that were part of lore rituals taking place in his Gothic Fantasy setting.  A disease was spreading from the parties of demonic origin. 

I created this good-guy sorcerer hunter; a proud member of The Order of the Scarlet Petal.  I decided that my character's Kicker was that my sweet, good-hearted fiance had gotten the disease.  (What this meant in term of my fiance's moral character -- innocent or secretly bad, I did not know.)

Another Player created a Kicker where he'd been finally invited to the big-big orgy held by a certain lord, but he had to bring a "guest" -- even if it meant bringing her against her will.  The name of the guest on the invite was my fiance. 

Well, I assumed that my PC and this Players PC would be at each other tooth and nail the whole game.  And sure enough, he was sneaking around my character's home looking for clues to my fiance's whereabouts when I returned.  He was invisible at the time, but I made a lore roll, whirled with my sword after sensing him, and went at it.

But during the fight we exchanged words, and I realized he might lead me to the source of the demonic disease.  (I didn't know what he intended to do with my guy's fiance.)  He wanted to live, I wanted the disease, he lied well. So we ended up becoming allies, racing from the house to work together.

It was great, with the opportunity for tension to erupt between us hanging over the rest of the game.  I didn't see it as "partying up" -- I just saw it as cool story stuff.

In my view, you had the opportunity for cool story stuff from the choices of your players as well.  But you got caught up in your expectations of what you were expecting the players to do (the "right" thing for the players to do!) even before they got a chance to take action. And that's not where we're allowed to go with this stuff!


***
And a separate issue.  You referred to stakes in your description -- as in "If this happens, then this; and if this happens then this."  I don't think TSoY is played with those kinds of stakes.  I believe the game is best played with "I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and then, "And now I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and then, "And now I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and so on, till resolution is reached.

I'm no expert on TSoY, but having read it and read about it, I believe, like Dogs, Sorcerer, (and in my view, PtA), it is best served by having the Players state active intentions for the PCs ("I'm gonnat try to confuse him"), with specific descriptions ("Insert color details here") and roll dice, and then decide and narrate results after the dice determine which way the narration should go, combined with the color details to inform the narration.

Best,

CK
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Lemonhead, The Shield
Willem
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« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2008, 01:58:00 PM »

Hey, I played Wind in that game. I heard about the 'buddhists = elves' angle and I thought I'd explore that idea. It inspired me - could a person stay detached in a whirlwind of worldy conflict? So I chose 'coward (conflict avoidant)' plus 'compassion' as my keys, to represent that conflict.

Everytime I could, I avoided conflict, and when it came up, I chose compassion over conflict avoidance, but the situation rarely came up. Meanwhile the other warrior elf gained XP every combat round. :) I pursued my keys as best I could, but I felt like I had entered the wrong story for my character. I had a hard time finding his place, and couldn't feel anything to push against.

Meanwhile, I totally envied Zach and Gilbert's pairing up, as they immediately saw their opportunity.

I would recommend, though Christopher speaks against 'splitting up the party' for its own sake, if you really wanted to anyway, next time it would have helped me to develop IAWA-style best interests. Then I think I could've gotten a better handle on the whole thing. The keys just felt too abstract to develop in such a short timeframe.

I could see the warrior elf and i immediately going at it over the philosophy of 'conflict'. it didn't seem to fit though, when we played.
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2008, 03:19:57 PM »

Hi, Chris!

I found it funny when yo wrote, "My pitch was basically, "three factions in conflict, pick from them and go at it!" and envisioned a disparate group all converging on the same location with possible blood opera ensuing."  I mean, that's sort of like "anti-party play" where the GM has as strong an expectation of the Players not having their characters be cooperative for the game to work well as a lot of GM have a strong expectation that the Players better party-up for a game to work well.

The "there doesn't need to be a party" thing is never about making sure there's blunt conflict within the group.  It means that the Players are free to move in and out of alliances within each other.  There might be conflict, there might not.  This let's the PCs make any darned choice the Players want them to make in terms of actions. Which is the point.  It isn't: "Hey, Players, have conflict with each other!" It's, "Okay, guys, given that you can go any direction you want, which direction will you go?"

Hrm. You make a good point. It is pretty counter to the "you can go in any direction you want!' philosophy to have a particular group paradigm in mind, even if that paradigm is blood opera. I guess, now that I examine it, my purpose was not to have players "do anything you want!" "Anything you want!" is a sure-fire recipe in my experience for disjointed, incoherent play. My goal was to have a game of fun and grabby conflict, including PvP conflict, centered on a tense socio-political situation. I'm not sure if I communicated that well. I think my own mindset just sees that three-way conflict and assumes that at least some players will be on different sides.

The thing is, I've generally found "party play" dead boring, and had no desire to indulge that. In practice it's generally meant that either every PC pretty much follows the same ideals, or else a group of misfits with completely incompatible ideals is jammed together and has to constantly contrive lame reasons to tromp around like a big amoeba, and look the other way or bend over backwards to keep the ideals clash from coming to a head and self-destructing the group.

My gripes about the session all speak to that, I think. I agree that it can be great to have PCs unite, sometimes unexpectedly, for some purpose arising from the flow of the story. Awesome! I can't wait to hear how your Heroquest game turned out. And with a group of PCs that start out united in general purpose and ideals, that's cool and a fertile field for conflict as problematic situations arise (see: Dogs). But a situation where everyone's just kind of "together" for no real good reason, and pretty much ignores each others' business save to "team up" in battle or something. . .yeah, that's pretty unsatisfying. Like the example I gave above: Brandon said he wanted to get in a fight as soon as possible. So I started him out with a challenge from hostile sentries. But instead of fighting (which by way of character concept he had no strong reason not to), he made peace with them so he could get introduced to the village and the PCs as an ally and team up with them.

I think, really, it boils down to the passivity thing (you can regard "the Party" as a red herring if you like). If we had a motley crew of unlikely companions traveling around as Ye Olde Fantasy Party, I'd still enjoy it (with reservation) so long as everyone at the table was invested in everyone else's shit and playing into each other's issues (that is, Keys) in fun and conflict-inducing ways. But when you've got five people playing parallel games there's not much of a payoff, and it certainly doesn't play to TSoY's strengths. That's why I'm glad Gilbert and Zach created the collaborative character arc that they did; it saved the game for me.

Incidentally, in my own Heroquest game at the same con (which I'll be writing up shortly), I only had two players and they teamed up from the start. But it didn't bother me. It was a different sort of story we ended up telling and it had just the right amount of dramatic tension, with believable character motivations and a satisfying conclusion.

In my view, you had the opportunity for cool story stuff from the choices of your players as well.  But you got caught up in your expectations of what you were expecting the players to do (the "right" thing for the players to do!) even before they got a chance to take action. And that's not where we're allowed to go with this stuff!

Well, there's no doubt in my mind that I missed a lot of great opportunities. I found myself at a loss for how to address many of the PCs' flags, and let possibilities slip through my fingers. You may be right about the reason for some of those slip-ups. I'm just not sure how to approach it differently. I want to be open to player choice but I also have a minimum standard for my personal enjoyment.

And a separate issue.  You referred to stakes in your description -- as in "If this happens, then this; and if this happens then this."  I don't think TSoY is played with those kinds of stakes.  I believe the game is best played with "I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and then, "And now I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and then, "And now I attempt to do this," rattle-rattle, "Okay, here's what happens," and so on, till resolution is reached.

I'm no expert on TSoY, but having read it and read about it, I believe, like Dogs, Sorcerer, (and in my view, PtA), it is best served by having the Players state active intentions for the PCs ("I'm gonnat try to confuse him"), with specific descriptions ("Insert color details here") and roll dice, and then decide and narrate results after the dice determine which way the narration should go, combined with the color details to inform the narration.

Well, actually, TSoY does have upfront stakes. The [urlhttp://tsoy.crngames.com/Resolution#Types_of_ability_checks_and_how_they_work]relevant passage[/url]:

Quote from: the TSoY Wiki
First, the player states the character's intention and the Story Guide sets the stakes. This should be easy: "Pieter is going to try to climb that boulder" is a good example. The Story Guide could reply "If you succeed, Pieter's over the rock," but that's pretty implicit. Usually, the results of success are easily taken from the what the player said. The results of failure are determined by the Story Guide and players. In this case, failure could mean Pieter's not over the rock or it could mean something worse. The Story Guide has free reign here to say, "That's a giant boulder. If you fail, Pieter falls and will break a bone." What's important is that these stakes are stated up front.

So I'm doing that by the book as far as I can tell. It's important in TSoY to have the cost of failure up front, so that a player who fails an Ability Check can judge whether it's worth it to Bring Down the Pain.

Peace,
-Joel
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2008, 03:26:43 PM »

Hi, Willem!

Everytime I could, I avoided conflict, and when it came up, I chose compassion over conflict avoidance, but the situation rarely came up. Meanwhile the other warrior elf gained XP every combat round. :) I pursued my keys as best I could, but I felt like I had entered the wrong story for my character. I had a hard time finding his place, and couldn't feel anything to push against

Interesting. I totally didn't get that from play. I mean, yeah, I got that from the Key selection, but in terms of actual character action, nothing. I don't recall Wind ever taking action to help others in danger, but maybe I'm misremembering. Then again, perhaps I didn't provide you with enough juicy opportunities to explore that Key! That's entirely likely, as I kept forgetting you had switched from Key of the Unanswered Question.

I'm not familiar enough with In a Wicked Age (I know, I know! All the cool kids are!) to know how Best Interests work. I'm a bit surprised though, that you found Keys too abstract. To me they're pretty straightforward and easy to use.

Thanks for playing! I'm sure we could have a better go at this if we both get the kinks knocked out. :)

Peace,
-Joel

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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2008, 03:59:54 PM »

Joel,

Right call on stakes.  I had to go back and review the rules. That's how they're written. My bad.


As for the "party" stuff, for me, I guess the best way to put it is that I'm "Party Agnostic."  I don't think in terms of "party" anymore.  The PCs might be hanging or not, but whether they are or aren't isn't a matter of "party."

When you wrote, "you can regard "the Party" as a red herring if you like..."  Maybe.  I don't know.  I would look more at what you're seeing as passivity and such.  Active play can occur whether or not the PCs are working alongside each other, so I don't think thinking in terms of party is going to help much. 

The question are how can you help your players become more engaged in play.  I'm just suggesting that the "party" issue might not be the symptom that needs to be addressed.
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2008, 01:06:06 AM »

When you wrote, "you can regard "the Party" as a red herring if you like..."  Maybe.  I don't know.  I would look more at what you're seeing as passivity and such.  Active play can occur whether or not the PCs are working alongside each other, so I don't think thinking in terms of party is going to help much. 

The question are how can you help your players become more engaged in play.  I'm just suggesting that the "party" issue might not be the symptom that needs to be addressed.

Yeah, my above post is me musing and coming to the conclusion that it's not "the party" as such that's bugging me. So I think we're mostly in agreement. I think what I'm talking about is actually a set of behaviors that in my experience tend to accompany party play but aren't intrinsic to it. Not sure if there's any causation buried in that correlation. But it's those behaviors (most notably failure to engage with the other PCs) that stick in my craw.

Do you have any observations from the passivity/non-engagement incidents I've described?

Peace,
-Joel
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1159


« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2008, 08:31:35 AM »

Hi Joel,

Most of my experience the last two years has been Players actively engaging.  There has been one time (rare) when I was at a table and realized I was outnumbered and the Players just wanted a lot of fun color.  I threw myself into making fun color and we all had fun.  (One can do that.)

And then there was one particular case that leaps to mind about one player.

A young man who arrived at at PtA game carrying an Order of the Stick compilation he had just bought at the dealer's room.  He had never played PtA before and had only played versions of D&D.

In the opening scenes he was pretty disengaged, and really just wanted to grab on to some goofing around story stuff (we had set up a CSI in the middle ages show, but he wanted to play pranks on the other Player's character rather than get around to the murder).  It struck me all as pretty "protective" behavior -- staking out a bunch of turf that was his that also couldn't get him in trouble.

I did two things:

First, I stopped the game.  I said, "Okay, hang on.  We just spent the last hour creating the setting for this TV show, and I know you're not used to playing this way.  But I'm going to ask that you give it a try.  Here's a bunch of words that we've come up with in that brainstorming session..." and I listed a bunch of words, many of them out of his own mouth.  "For the next couple of hours let's stay focused on those concepts."

I want to point out that while I don't know how that's going to read on the page, the tone was warm and excited in that 12-year-old boy way I get when I'm excited about something.

The second thing was that he has created a girlfriend for his character.  HE did that.  So I put the relationship with the girlfriend in danger.  His PC's issues was "Obsessive Genius" so, I had the girlfriend show up when he was working on his inventions or the murder investigation -- and the the scenes were about whether or not he could tear himself away from his obsessions to deal with her.  He was shy kid (I'm saying "kid" but he must have been 19-12), and I'm guessing dating and girls were still big issues for him.  So he REALLY got engaged on this issue.

Also, he really wanted to go the mechanical genius route, so I gave him scenes where he had to do his work under pressure from political figures who didn't wan him to do his work.

The game worked out great.  He stopped reading his book, only paid attention to what was happening at the table, and at the end of the session (it was midnight) looked at the table sadly and said, "I wish we could keep playing.  I really want to know how this all ends."

So, that's really the key for me. I try to rummage around and dig out things for the character sheets that I'm pretty sure the Players are interested in.  And then I address those things.  What's established SOCIALLY is more important than what I arrive with alone, if that makes any sense.  And it seems to be working out pretty well.

CK
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Lemonhead, The Shield
elegua
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Posts: 3


« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2008, 09:35:57 AM »

I played Duval in that game and had some observations.

It was a convention game with players who were unfamiliar with the game and each other. I think this was what hung things up the most.

Zach and I worked because I designed by character to have several possible hooks for interactive tension and Zach (being the most experienced story gamer of the players) latched on quickly to them. His character was designed from the beginning to take advantage of what I had created and expand on it greatly. Even though I had a good time, I will admit I wasn't on my game as much as I would have liked and missed some great opportunities to escalate even further.

Petrea's character was the next best fit for intrinsic plot hooks, but nobody at the table really understood what she wanted. It seemed pretty clear from my seat that she wasn't comfortable creating her own story in the game. I don't think she was familiar enough with the style of game. I could speculate all sorts of reasons for this. My take is that learning to encourage folks like this to be more active in creating a dynamic character should be a focus of the community, particularly those who are trying to initiate new members.

Neither of the elf characters seemed to be integrated with the setting at all. Neither of them had links to what was going on locally or any strong feelings about what to do about it. Not only that, but their general character motivations were completely opposite. This had opportunity for conflict, but Brandon was indulged in his bloodlust and Willem didn't find any sort of groove of interactivity, which is all the more important when you have 3-4 hours to do a complete story arc. This is probably most closely related to Joel's lack of engagement at 9am after short sleep as he just rolled with everything that was happening in character creation and didn't try to get players to build up those ties. I think this is what would have improved this particular session the most.

Given that view, it probably would have been better if Zach and I hadn't clung to each other considering we were the two players most interested in engaging others. Of course, we had no way of knowing this in advance and by the time it became apparent there were problems, it was too late.
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elegua
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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2008, 09:40:13 AM »

Oh, and this isn't to talk down Willem at all. I played with him several times over the weekend as well and had a blast. This game just didn't connect.
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Willem
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« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2008, 09:57:43 AM »

Guys, I think the fact that I didn't click with the flow has some valuable revelation in it. I feel like we're talking about me in the third person, and apologizing for it, as if some sunspot randomly made me act like a newbie story-gamer (well, a more newbie story-gamer). Don't worry about apologizing, but also I don't think that making it all about me 'choosing passivity' helps either. I think a fairly simple resolution lies in the middle of all this, even if I can't see it right now. To tell my story:

I chose the keys of compassion and cowardice.
I guided the players to the land of the forest people, out of danger, to follow these keys.
When personally requested by his sidekick, I followed and looked after Duval into the battle, in spite of my distaste for violence.
To end the battle and resolve my struggle, I looked for the governer in his mansion and tried to talk him into surrenduring.

So, I did all these things to follow the Keys, but I'll admit that I myself never felt that I had any struggle or character discord. I did indeed feel disconnected from the story. It felt like a "following the letter, but not the spirit" of the rules. I suppose in any one of those above instances, another character could have made the choice to act (or not) more difficult for me, but I hadn't made an agreement like that between Gilbert's Duvall and Zach's Goblin.

In "In A Wicked Age", to make best interests, you take a moment before you start to pick two best interests that you want to accomplish, at least one of which you preferably aim at another character (I actually don't know if the rules state it like this, but I do it this way). This ends up engaging everybody really strongly.

But Christopher's PtA story applies here too. How could my elf have found himself pushed into a hard choice? Or perhaps my elf just didn't belong in this story? Perhaps his Keys differed too much from other folks? Should the other Elf and I have consciously paired up for a challenging dynamic, specifically and intentionally, at the beginning? I got the "D&D vibe" from him, like he just wanted to kill stuff (which he did - a lot), instead of engaging in character. I also could have paired up with the Ratkin, I suppose. But I didn't understand what she wanted, either.

In all truth, I would have happily made a different character if it would have helped.


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Joel P. Shempert
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Posts: 484


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« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2008, 05:20:17 PM »

Chris,

A young man who arrived at at PtA game

[SNIP]

So, that's really the key for me. I try to rummage around and dig out things for the character sheets that I'm pretty sure the Players are interested in.  And then I address those things.  What's established SOCIALLY is more important than what I arrive with alone, if that makes any sense.  And it seems to be working out pretty well.

That's a pretty instructive example. Thanks! It's becoming clear to me that I didn't do nearly all I could to promote engagement and interaction. I think a lot of it is a practice and confidence issue, and as I run more Indie games with a more diverse sample of people I'll continue to get better at it.

Gilbert,

Petrea's character was the next best fit for intrinsic plot hooks, but nobody at the table really understood what she wanted. It seemed pretty clear from my seat that she wasn't comfortable creating her own story in the game. I don't think she was familiar enough with the style of game. I could speculate all sorts of reasons for this. My take is that learning to encourage folks like this to be more active in creating a dynamic character should be a focus of the community, particularly those who are trying to initiate new members.

I'd say your observation about her not wanting to "create her own story" is spot-on. My puzzlement arises from her reaction to the story I did feed her. She'd declared that she was about two things: Protecting the Zaru, and Collecting Zu. I didn't deliver much on the Zu front, but I gave her plenty of Zaru-protecting fodder, which mostly fell limp. Climactic example: "The Zaru are rushing to attack trained soldiers with only tools and clubs! The soldiers are turning on them to repulse them! What do you do?" "I wait and see if any of the Zaru need healing." My internal reaction--hbwhaaa? I only wish that some Zaru had been hurt or killed (as luck would have it, both the Zaru and the soldiers failed their fighting rolls. I ruled that the Zaru were routed without serious injury). Maybe I should have just decided the outcome of the battle (a bloody rout, death all around)? That seemed too heavy-handed. Meanwhile Petrea remained mostly a spectator to the story, despite my actually throwing her the strongest bangs in the game, I'd say.

It's that nut I'd like to crack, in terms of how to handle a situation like that in the future.

Neither of the elf characters seemed to be integrated with the setting at all. Neither of them had links to what was going on locally or any strong feelings about what to do about it. Not only that, but their general character motivations were completely opposite. This had opportunity for conflict, but Brandon was indulged in his bloodlust and Willem didn't find any sort of groove of interactivity, which is all the more important when you have 3-4 hours to do a complete story arc. This is probably most closely related to Joel's lack of engagement at 9am after short sleep as he just rolled with everything that was happening in character creation and didn't try to get players to build up those ties. I think this is what would have improved this particular session the most.

I'll totally cop that I dropped the ball on this game, especially during chargen. Sleep issues aside, I was caught in that "let everyone make the character they want" groove, which is a fine groove to be in provided it syncs up with the "all the characters 'click' in a story together" groove. I shied away from steering or dissenting during character creation, relying on my original pitch to do the work. Even when I had some red-flag issues, like not one but two Elves--how I expected two "aloof, don't care about anyone but themselves" archetypes to work in the same game consisting of strangers in a limited timeframe I'll never know.

I guess that's my particular hang-up of the "you can do whatever you want!" variety. A firmer hand, explaining and reiterating when necessary just what we're trying to do here (like in Chris' PTA example) would be preferable to, uh, to what I did.

Willem,

So, I did all these things to follow the Keys, but I'll admit that I myself never felt that I had any struggle or character discord. I did indeed feel disconnected from the story. It felt like a "following the letter, but not the spirit" of the rules. I suppose in any one of those above instances, another character could have made the choice to act (or not) more difficult for me, but I hadn't made an agreement like that between Gilbert's Duvall and Zach's Goblin.

I'm not trying to marginalize you in the dialogue. Bu all means let's delve into your portion of the game and why it went the way it did. For starters, I totally forgot about you trying to talk the Magistrate into surrendering (possibly because Duval later tried to threaten him into doing the same thing). So you were driving toward your Keys more than I realized. I think I had a hard time tracking in my brain between the Key you first picked and the one you later settled on. In all honesty, I didn't really get what you were doing (even though a lot of it was right in front of me!) and so it didn't really look from my end like you were doing much of anything. I think I've got a lot to learn about the GMing practice of driving toward conflict. The goodness in our game came about mostly 'cuz I got lucky and Gilbert and Zach did most of my work for me.

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Willem
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« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2008, 05:38:09 PM »

Quote from: Melinglor
I'm not trying to marginalize you in the dialogue. Bu all means let's delve into your portion of the game and why it went the way it did.

Alright, but I'd like to accent that I don't want to imply any marginalization of myself. As you hint at, I think my character just occupied a communal blindspot of some bizarre kind, something I saw happening as I made him but didn't know how to stop myself. :) Now I think I best could have simply said, "Hey everybody - I don't see how my character will stay hooked in the story. Could someone help me, much like Zach and Gilbert have decided to help each other?"

Especially as a story-game, the GM in TSOY has enough to worry about without also doing all the player's work for them. I've mentioned before that I felt I had dropped the ball, and now I suspect it happened when I didn't speak up.  I made a character in a detached way, and ended up with a detached character storyline.

Player Empowerment Now!
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1159


« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2008, 06:42:47 PM »

Hi Joel (and all!),

This is a big issue.  And complicated.  And almost impossible to do over the internet.

But some things leapt to my mind. I have no idea if I can break it out any further than what I'm about to say, so this might be it.

No player can "create her own story."  I'm being very blunt and literal about this, just stating a fact.  So I'm not trying to "catch" anyone here in a misstatement.  I'm just stating a fact.

I was talking with Ron Edwards about this very issue last week. 

Here's the thing.  There's a reason why some games have GM.  It's to provide resistance for what the Player's character cares about or is trying to do.  Without that, there's no story.  (Even, say, Polaris, which has no "GM" certainly puts Players in relation to each other so they're pushing conflict at other Players -- serving in the role of the GM, even if that role rotates.)

I bring this all up, Joel, not to say you weren't doing this (from the posts so far, I kinda of get yes, and I kind of get no).  I bring this up to say when I first grabbed at these new-fangled games, my attitude was, "Cool! I just set up all this narrative stuff, the Players decide what they want the story to be about, and WHAM! it all just happens!"

Man, was I wrong. 

What it took me a while to realize was that without me, as GM, providing open conflict and resistance their characters actions and goals, nothing was going to happen.  Without putting pressure on the PCs, there wasn't going to be much going on to help drive the game forward.

Remember in the thread where we were talking about your upcoming HeroQuest game, and I kept prodding you about having a PC group of mixed Luars and Heortlings.  I couldn't figure out why that kept sticking in my brain.  You kept saying, "Well, I want there to be all this conflict."  And I finally figured out why it kept bothering me. 

See, there might be conflict between the PCs. Or there might not be.  That's up to the Players, and there's no way to know until the moment of play what is going to happen -- moment by moment.

What concerned me in ways I could not articulate or understand was that -- I think -- you were unwittingly abdicating your responsibility to provide pressure on the PCs yourself, handing (and hoping) the Players would pick that task up for you.

I'm not sure if this was the case.  But I can assure you that for me a few years ago, it certainly was.  I didn't want to step on the Player's empowerment and what not.  I didn't want to deprotagonize and stop them from driving forward toward what they wanted play to be about.

But what I learned was, without the GM being a strong hand of resistance, nothing happens.  I learned it mostly from PtA, by the way.  When I first played I really thought I could sit back and enjoy the Players driving the story forward.  And it became this mess.  The next time I ran a game (the one I wrote about above, in fact), I kept my brain on fire coming up with conflicts over the PC's issues.  I just kept thinking, "What's the worst thing that could happen now?" or "What's the last thing the character would want to happen now."

And because I stepped in with a strong hand and really pushed TROUBLE at the Players' characters, the game went really well.

Now, I wasn't at your game, so I don't want to make guesses at the micro-details of what was offered by the Players, what was proffered by you, and so on. But everything in your phrasing suggests that you're very much in line where I was when I first played Sorcerer and The Pool and other other games I found around here.

All I can say is, GMing TSoY or Sorcerer or these other crazy games isn't like how we used to GM D&D...  But that doesn't mean there's not a lot to do.  There's a lot to do!  Like putting pressure on the PC's moment by moment.


I am going to get specific about one thing:

I want to clarify that the GM of these games never feeds anyone a story.  A story is the accumulated events, and if we're making them up as we go along, there's nothing to be gained by expecting any character is going to have one kind of story or another.  All the GM can do is keep putting pressure on the PC with fictional elements. If these fictional elements are call backs and heightening of ideas, NPCs, events and so from earlier in play, all the better.

So, when you wrote you "fed" Petrea a story I get a little jumpy.  Now, you might think you didn't mean it that way.  But let me point something out:

Petrea declared that her character was about Protecting the Zar.  And then, later on, when the Zar enter combat she makes a tactical decision to stand back and heal as needed.  And this disappointed you for some reason.  I don't know why.  What did she say she wanted her character to do?  Protect Zar.  What was she doing?  Protecting Zar. 

Now YOU as a player might have made a different choice.  But you weren't the Player.  She was. 

Moreover, I'm a little confused as to how the battle played out.  Were there other PCs involved, or just NPCs against NPCs.  I ask, because the way you spoke of it, it sounds like NPCs vs. NPCs, and yet -- you "wished" the battle had gotten bloodier.  To which I can only ask (if that was indeed the case), "Why didn't it get bloodier?"  I mean, it's your choice, right?

And if you wanted her to get more involved, that would have done the trick. Right?  Now it might not have been the whole thing you wanted her to do or whatever, but she would have been finding her way in a game where she is able to do what she wants to do.  And you were providing opportunity to do it.

Now, the conflict and pressure.  Let's say the battle's going really badly. She's providing healing support, but they might get wiped out.  Could she even help?  I mean, really. If there's this big battle going on, and everyone's dying, and she's one PC, what could she do?  I have no idea.  Maybe she was staying back at the early stages because she guessed, as seems to be the case, that if she invested too deeply she'd only be investing in a fight that she'd be certain to lose.

In other words, what could she do?  Where was the ring of power that had to be destroyed?  Where was the grail that could heal the Zar's leader who could win the final battle? 

See this is where you come in. She can't make up the solutions to her own problems.  Play and experimentation has proven this is dull.  She wants to protect Zar.  Fine.  You want her engaged in the action on some bigger scale.  Great. But give her something to do that will really test her in some larger and concrete manner.

If you describe the battle about to be lost and then offer up some prize that can save the day, my guess is she would have jumped at it.  If you say there's a wizard wiping them all out, and she's seeing the Zar fall, and if that wizard falls the Zar have a chance, there would have been a narrative focus that would have given her direction in her action.  Now she's got pressure -- can I get to that wizard before the Zar are killed.  And what will I do to make that happen.

Was there anything like that?  Or was it two armies fighting. Because if you had removed the plot shenanigans from The Lord of the Rings and dumped Frodo into a big battle between Gandalf and Morder -- sure Frodo would have participated in the War of the Ring... but he would have lasted two pages and it wouldn't have been much of a story.

And this isn't you getting in the way of her story or her imagination or her empowerment.  It's you providing the opportunity to pursue those things in active play.  Again,I wasn't there, but I sense a Player who was actually successfully doing (in that moment, at least) exactly what she claimed she wanted to do -- in the scale that was available to her.  For a bigger scale, she'd need some sort of fiction/narrative socket to go after bigger scale stuff.  Because she didn't know the rules of the world, because the threat wasn't present in such a way that one PC might be able to really make a difference.

If you go dig up the AP of Sorcerer game I ran at a local con last year, you'll see I made sure to lay out narrative details that Players could focus on to get things done in an actual plot.  And in the HeroQuest game you read about, Daleeta, the pregnant worshipper of the Red Goddess became the focus of play.  (The Players made her up, but if they hadn't, I would have had to come up with something.)

Go check out the Art Deco Melodrama thread (it's in four parts, all badly labeled!  But you can find them!) and you'll see Ron doing the same thing of making objects and goals and specific fictional foci that give the Players something to hang on to. 

We do this all the time in stories.  Indie has to get the Ark of the Covenant.  Neo has to rescue Morpheus.  Frodo has to deliver the ring to Mount Doom.  John McClaine has to protect his wife from the thieves.

It's the GM's job to provide specific shape and context for this stuff. Now how the PCs respond to it is, of course, the business of the Players.  But without this shaping, there's no context, focus, direction, pressure and conflict.  The GM must do this stuff.  Its the job.

CK
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
elegua
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Posts: 3


« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2008, 08:23:31 PM »

Now, the conflict and pressure.  Let's say the battle's going really badly. She's providing healing support, but they might get wiped out.  Could she even help?  I mean, really. If there's this big battle going on, and everyone's dying, and she's one PC, what could she do?  I have no idea.  Maybe she was staying back at the early stages because she guessed, as seems to be the case, that if she invested too deeply she'd only be investing in a fight that she'd be certain to lose.

In other words, what could she do?  Where was the ring of power that had to be destroyed?  Where was the grail that could heal the Zar's leader who could win the final battle? 

See this is where you come in. She can't make up the solutions to her own problems.  Play and experimentation has proven this is dull.  She wants to protect Zar.  Fine.  You want her engaged in the action on some bigger scale.  Great. But give her something to do that will really test her in some larger and concrete manner.

While I don't want to sound disagreeable to this approach, I would like to include a bit of nuance of the situation.

In order to intentionally leverage character motivations, those motivations need to be understood. The frustration here is that this character's motivations were never understood by anybody other than the player (if even). There were some clues dropped, some bits of information, but they seemed confusing and sometimes contradictory. If anything, getting better at communicating about intention with reluctant players would be a good result from this interaction.
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