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Author Topic: [InSpectres] First game, and new to player authorship.  (Read 3307 times)
Nathan W
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« on: February 24, 2008, 11:02:00 PM »

I just recently played InSpectres for the first time. I was GM for three friends who have role-played with me before. None of us had ever played a game with as much player control as InSpectres gives, so it was an interesting challenge and a welcome change of pace.

Character creation took longer than I expected. I don’t think this had anything to do with the system; it’s just the way my players are. The fact that InSpectres requires little to no GM prep left me kind of bored while they brainstormed their characters. The thing I liked the most about character creation was that they were all able to create their characters after reading only 4 pages out of the book and being handed a character sheet. None of them had read any of the book prior to our playing that evening, though I had read it from cover to cover.

After character creation I briefly described how the core mechanics of the game worked. Since we were already stepping out of our comfort zone, I decided to play the game with a very stripped-down system to begin with. The game is already rules light, so I didn’t cut out much. Basically, I ignored Stress, Cool, and Confessionals, and didn't allow any of them to have Weird Agents this time around. After the game, I briefly explained how each of those worked and I hope to incorporate them the next time we play. The players seemed to think that Confessionals would be fun.

When I explained that a high roll meant that the player decided what happened, including what the nature of their client’s problem actually was and how they could solve it, the first response I got was “That means we have to do a lot of work.” That made me worry a little, but it seemed like once the game got underway they had no problem developing the story on their own. I thoroughly enjoyed the game because the majority of what we had played before were games that had a very strong GM role, and I was the GM 95% of the time, so it was nice to switch things up a bit.

Once the players’ creative juices got flowing, though, I hit a little bump. My impression of the rules was that when a player declares a task for their character to attempt they roll the dice, and if they rolled high then they narrated the outcome however they liked – including determining what clues they find and thus shaping the outcome of the job. The bump I hit was when a player would, on occasion, attempt to control the actions of the menace (alien parasites that could possess human beings) apart from any task they were resolving for their character. An example of this was when one of the PCs was possessed by the aliens. When another PC tackled them to prevent them from causing any harm, the player of the possessed PC declared “Oh! Now the aliens jump over into her (the tackling PC)!” It was a cool idea so I decided to run with it, but I wasn’t sure if that really fit within the framework of the rules. Technically speaking, the possessed character was doing nothing and their player made no roll. So, I’m not sure if it was out of line for that player to interject that idea. I considered having them roll for it, but what would you have a player roll to control the actions of a NPC like that.

I guess, essentially what I’m looking for is some advice on where the line should be drawn for player control. How much authorship should players really have in a game of InSpectres? Should they only be able to narrate when they are resolving a task for their character, or should they be able to inject any idea at any time and it be considered fact. Also, does anyone have any suggestions in general for playing/GMing this kind of game, where players are given a lot of control over the story?

Thanks for reading,
Nathan
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Willow
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« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2008, 04:40:45 AM »

Did anyone use the rules for the Confessional?  That's another cool player-narration tool.  I think one "right way" to do what you described would be the player sitting in the Confessional chair and stating, "But unfortunately for Joe, at just that moment the alien switched bodies from me to him!"

In general, when running a game that gives players such power, it's best to go along for the ride- you don't know what's going to happen anymore than they do, so live it up!  Enjoy their suggestions, build on them, and everything will roll along.  (Remember, if a player is introducing a plot element or stating something, they are interested in that.  When you do similar things later, the player will still be interested.)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2008, 08:44:45 AM »

Hello,

InSpectres is a pretty extreme game. You may be a little surprised to learn that the players not only narrate actions' outcomes, but also the outcomes of investigating clues! In other words, if they say that your alien parasites are really mutated rats ... then they're right, and you, the GM, are wrong! The key to GMing InSpectres is to provide enough weird little events so that the players invent something really fun to be the menace, and to act "as a player" and hence also as a menace-definer when narration rights about the menace fall your way instead of theirs.

So it's not about your prep so much as everyone's in-the-moment input as the rolls fall one way or the other.

In practice, I've found that as GM my own input tends to be a little stronger than that sounds, and I've seen the same thing happen when I was a player, too. This isn't a bad thing - it simply means that your input before rolls (which are consistent with your original notions about the menace) tends to be incorporated very strongly. Some day I'd like to run InSpectres without any preconceived notion about the menace on my part, but I haven't done it yet.

In fact, in line with that, it is actually possible for all the clues to add up to ... no actual menace at all, if all narrations happen to go this way. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Interesting, eh?

To address your larger questions at the end: I think you can see from the above that managing or limiting player authorship is actually not a feature of InSpectres. The only limitation depends on what was being rolled for: an action or an investigation, and it applies to the GM just as much as to the players, and in the same way. And as Willow points out, using the Confessional mechanic also sets up events-to-come as "soft" constraint on later narrations, which is so much fun that everyone is more interested in staying within the constraint than in breaking it.

Best, Ron
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Nathan W
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Posts: 27


« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2008, 09:11:33 PM »

Thanks for the responses!

Quote
I think one "right way" to do what you described would be the player sitting in the Confessional chair and stating, "But unfortunately for Joe, at just that moment the alien switched bodies from me to him!"

That's an excellent idea. I hadn't explained how Confessionals worked because I was trying to ease the players into the new system. I plan to use them the next time we play, though, and maybe I can use that event as an example of what they can be used for.

Quote
it's not about your prep so much as everyone's in-the-moment input as the rolls fall one way or the other

That was the impression I got, so the only prep I did was to roll on the "Client Roll Chart" and describe to them their client approaching them with his complaint (weird lights were appearing in his restaurant). There was a mutual understanding before play started that any supernatural menaces would be aliens. That's what the players were interested in and they even chose to have their franchise set up in Roswell, NM. It was one of the players though who decided these lights actually were the aliens and that they could possess people. This was really fun for me as the GM because I needed a break from the sometimes "participationist" style games we often play, which don't offer many surprises for the GM. That's why I got the group interested in InSpectres in the first place, and for anyone who hasn't played it, I highly recommend the game.

Quote
The only limitation depends on what was being rolled for: an action or an investigation, and it applies to the GM just as much as to the players, and in the same way.

Correct me if I misunderstand, but the impression I get from this statement is that the GM should narrate nothing unless the players make a low roll. Maybe it was just because it was our first game of InSpectres, or maybe it was just my particular group of players, but it seemed like there were times when the story kind of skipped a beat, and if I, as the GM, hadn't just said "such-and-such happens, what do you do?" then it would have faltered. I guess the gist of my earlier post was to ask if it was OK for players to just insert a "such-and-such happens" statement without a roll being made, but now I'm wondering if it's OK for the GM to do that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2008, 06:22:22 AM »

Hiya,

Oh! I'd formed the mistaken impression that you had approached the session with the prepped notion of the aliens. So, fantastic.

You asked,

Quote
... the impression I get from this statement is that the GM should narrate nothing unless the players make a low roll. Maybe it was just because it was our first game of InSpectres, or maybe it was just my particular group of players, but it seemed like there were times when the story kind of skipped a beat, and if I, as the GM, hadn't just said "such-and-such happens, what do you do?" then it would have faltered. I guess the gist of my earlier post was to ask if it was OK for players to just insert a "such-and-such happens" statement without a roll being made, but now I'm wondering if it's OK for the GM to do that.

I think that such statements are a big part of playing any role-playing game. Rolls (or rather, resolution procedures of any kind) make most sense in a context of some kind, some sort of imagined events going on.

Now that I finally got on track with what you're asking, before rolls rather than after them, my answer is "yes" to the GM part especially. This is accomplished as you might imagine, simply with NPCs showing up, doing stuff, and saying stuff, as well as with any number of environmental features like the skies or the house or the basement. So it's a combination of framing scenes and playing NPCs, basically. Not any different from most role-playing as I see it, with the proviso that a planned outcome has to be left off the table.

So how does this work when it's players, not the GM? It varies greatly by game, but in InSpectres, pre-roll narration by players is confined to the actions of their characters. Those statements and deeds can certainly prompt dice rolls as urgently as anything the GM says, so basically, anyone and everyone can get things going such that a dice roll is required.

What if a player has a really good idea for something to happen which is external to his or her character? (and again, I'm talking about before a roll, or rather, before any urgent conflict is happening) That's where two things come in. The first has already been mentioned: Confessionals, a great mechanic for this very thing. The second is plain old table-talk: you say, "The housewife smiles at you a little desperately," and John, whose character may not even be in the scene, says, "Hey, her eyes glow now," in a not-serious, but "wouldn't it be funny if" way.

In many groups, such talk is routinely ignored, pretended to be ignored, or even discouraged. I suggest that the GM, or anyone really, can benefit a lot from thinking of it as offerings. The suggestion can be taken or not, but it's a great boon when the group understands that they can all make such suggestions. This helps a lot for those players who get stuck sometimes, because they still hold the rubber-stamp and thus are not cut out of the act of play because others are talking and suggesting.

Anyway, it sounds like a great game. I strongly, strongly encourage bringing the Stress/Cool and Confessional rules in, because they both matter a lot. Pile on that Stress! Otherwise InSpectres just turns into slapstick. On the other hand, I applaud avoiding the Weird Agents for now, having seen by playing one myself how much they can detract from the "regular joes trying to make a business work."

Best, Ron
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Nathan W
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Posts: 27


« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2008, 08:21:34 AM »

Ah. Thanks for clarifying what you were saying, and I apologize if my original post was somehow unclear.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2008, 09:04:46 AM »

No way man, apology not accepted. You were clear and I was confused, and you fixed it. That's just normal dialogue, not an infraction of any kind. You never have to efface yourself at the Forge.

I'm loving your game report, by the way, because first-time InSpectres posts are just about my favorite thing to read here. Let us know what happens next.

Best, Ron
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2008, 05:55:00 PM »

Hi Nathan!

I just wanted to reinforce Ron's point by stating it in a slightly different way: just because the players have more control over narrating stuff, does not mean that the GM has less control. In InSpectres, the "GM stuff" to do includes a lot of stuff you're probably used to as a GM, like introduce the situation, play NPCs, describe the environment the characters are in, and so on.

This will become really important to keep in mind once you add Stress and Cool into the game. Stress is fantastic, and there can be some hesitance to use it - fight this! Call for Stress roles freely and often! As an InSpectres GM, I don't feel comfortable until the players are grabbing dice off their franchise cards all the time to bolster their rolls.

I, personally, almost always go with player contributions of color or stuff that "makes sense" given how the scene is going just as part of non-mechanical gameplay and kibbitzing. In the case where a player wants to add or change something about a scene without their character actually doing something, or just to declare an NPC action (as you describe in your post), I would say that that would be in the province of the confessional.

Anyway, I hope this post is helpful. Yay InSpectres! It sounds like you had fun, and the Stress rules will only help on that account!
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Nathan P.
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Nathan W
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Posts: 27


« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2008, 09:27:39 PM »

OK, we played our second game tonight. I wasn't sure what the proper etiquette for posting a follow-up actual play report was. Should I have made a new thread?

Anyhow, I did what you all suggested and used the rules for Stress and Cool this time. I also reminded people about Confessionals at the beginning of the game, but when the game was over it occurred to me that none of the player had used them. I'll try to be more  proactive about encouraging their use next time.

Stress and Cool worked well. By the end of the game, most of the players had their Skills reduced significantly and most of the franchise's card/bank dice had been used up as well. It seemed to make the players fret more over each roll, which I thought was fun.

Overall, I think the second game went even better than the first, and I'm looking forward to our third.

Some observations:
One of my players made the sarcastic remark that I was getting lazy by choosing a game where the players have to make everything up. Another player seemed stumped after making a high roll and, after mentioning an idea he had produced for an earlier high roll, said that he's only good for one or two ideas per night. Towards the end players were occasionally abdicating their authorship rights to fellow players due to their lack of ideas. Is this common to groups that play InSpectres or similar games? Can anyone offer any suggestions on how to jump-start group creativity?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2008, 08:31:27 AM »

Hello,

My general experience with dice-assign-narration mechanics is that it's best to view them as passing around authority, rather than all the input. In other words, I recommend table-talk: a lot of it. The key is that the currently-designated person really does have the authority to pick and choose "what goes," up to and including telling others to back off or "no" or "let me do it" when he or she wants to.

The benefit is that no one is put on the spot in a sea of silence, so performance anxiety or the tendency to provide elaborate nonsense do not arise as much. There's no getting away from it, though; InSpectres and a lot of similar games do require basic creative action on the part of everyone. That's how they are.

I think that the accusation of lazy GMing is fundamentally illogical. By that assessment, most RPGs are guilty of lazy non-GM playing. However, whether that's worthy of an actual debate between persons isn't my call. The question is whether the person who said was merely taking a poke at you because he could, or making a valid point ("the GM doesn't work as hard as in other games," perfectly true), or expressing a valid preference (nothing is wrong with "I don't like it as much"), or really wants to hash it out verbally (just a guess: unlikely). You'll have to decide about that one.

It looks as if the curve is positive, though - I hope the group latches onto Confessionals, because that's one of the core mechanisms for shaping the actual tension, arc, and (most importantly) relationships within the story that's being created on the spot.

Best, Ron
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jydog1
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Posts: 6


« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2008, 06:01:47 PM »

Howdy.  I'm going to be running Inspectres at a minicon in June.  It's safe to assume that most of the players will be unfamiliar with the system, so I ask those who are more versed the following:
 1) I'll have the chance to communicate with both sets of players (i'll be running it twice) via email a week or so before the con.  Should I break down the basics of the system in email so they have a concept before we get together, or just toss it at them as they come through the door (all will be experienced gamers)?  i mean, if you were a player, how would you prefer it?

2) pre-gen characters or let/force them to do it at the beginning of the block?  Pre-gen is easier for everyone, but this seems like a game that embraces and rewards creativity and would be more fun with them making their own little ghostbusters.

3) How far off what I've loosely planned should I expect gameplay to go?  For instance, I have an outline for the first mission (well, three of them, actually) - where they have to go, what they'll face, why it's there in the first place, etc - but in reading accounts it seems like I'm only fooling myself to think it'll go that way.

I may have more questions.  I'll probably not be afraid to post them.  Wish I had some locals to playtest it with, but not right now.  Oh well.  Cool system.  thanks in advance for any help.

Kit
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Nathan W
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Posts: 27


« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2008, 11:01:44 AM »

I'm no expert as I've only run the game 3 times myself, but I'll offer what advice I can.

1) I'd let them know some of the basics before hand. At least explain the idea that rolling high means you narrate and rolling low means the GM narrates. Also, letting them know the basics of character creation will help with your next question...

2) I'd let them make their own. It gets the creative juices flowing, and char-gen in InSpectres is fast anyway.

3) Throw your notes away and be prepared to go with the flow. I've found that the best preparation for this game is to roll on the "Client Roll Chart", or just spend a couple of minutes thinking up a memorable opening scene, and then just let things develop from there. Depending on your players there may be times when you have to jump in and decide where the story is headed, but for the most part it's going to be up to your players. For example, if a player decides to investigate an NPC and rolls a 6 then they get to decide what they find out about that NPC. So forget having a detailed mission planned out and just let it develop during play. Don't plan beyond the first scene. The great thing about this is that you, as the GM, get plenty of surprises from the story just like the players.
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