[PtA] How are the narrative authorities working in this scene?

Started by Arturo G., August 28, 2008, 10:29:55 AM

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Ron Edwards

Hi Moreno,

"Yes, but ..."

... it's also worth noting that Arturo's character's Spotlight episode was immediate, right after the pilot episode. I think that's important. I think that indicates that the player is saying, "This character is not going to be some kind of indulgent exercise in playing a Fascist. We are raising this issue in order to deal with it, not to wallow in it." That's very different from someone who's chosen the spotlight to be in the final episode of the season, in which most of the fun of the character is wallowing in the wrong choices they might make.

And as I said earlier, and at the risk of national stereotyping and/or judgments, it's brave and important for this issue to be confronted by a Spanish group. You're right, though, about letting Arturo be the boss about whether this should be discussed here, or at least in this thread. Arturo, let us know what you think.

Best, Ron

Arturo G.

Sorry for taking so long to answer. I have come back to work after a long time and I'm a little overwhelmed.

QuoteI am forced to comment on how obnoxious your character is! Moreno, are you reading this? It also strikes me as important that this game is being played by citizens of the nation which endured the longest-lasting Fascist regime in Europe
I decided to play a little son of a bitch. But it is becoming much more twisted than I expected. Anyway, the tone of the series is quite satirical. I think we chose Italy fascism to start with because we are not so concern about it. I mean, if this character were coming from the Spanish civil war, we could be also moving to safer/lighter mockery tone when needed. But I'm sure there could be some connotations and situations that would be reflecting on more serious and nearer issues. Perhaps the character will be more extreme and bitter to play. Any joke or mockery could be much more loaded.

Moreno, this character has the approval of all the other players. We all think is disgusting, funny and grotesque, if these adjectives make any sense together in English.

In the other hand, during the scene where Vincenzo was alone with Alfredo, for a moment we were really expecting him to kill Alfredo. As a player I was prepared to accept it. After that we were talking about the possibility of characters to die or get lost and disappear from the series in climatic situations. It is open. I don't know. Perhaps it is our safety valve in case he becomes too much obnoxious.

Although my main concern is on narrative authorities and our way of playing, it is perfectly OK to talk about this issue here. I was not thinking on it previously and it is interesting.

Arturo G.

It was missing from the previous post.
I would say I was not really understanding what I was doing, but Ron is right. I have already pose what the character is about in this episode. Thus, I don't need and I don't want to make him repeat the same cliché to show how bad is him again and again in other episodes. From now on, Alfredo will be trying to deal with his situation and issue.
However, I think we are not so concern about the theme of fascism as it may look. We are not rigorous at all with history, facts or intentions. We have already modify its essence or treated it in a very abstract way. What is important for us is the kind of character. Not the exact political ideas supporting it.

By the way, the hilarious sentence was indeed a bad literal translation. Although in archaic Spanish may also mean the same and we may make jokes with it, the normal meaning does not implies that our series is for adults only. Well, it seems that the producer is including one scene every episode with some nudes to increase the audience, but it is quite innocent.

Back to the important matters.

Ron, your definitions of Situation and Plot authorities are slightly different from my previous understanding. I think I'm finally filling up the gaps.

First, I was missing the importance of Screen Presence choices at all levels for Situation. Is is indeed very important in PtA play. Second, I was not considering Situation authority also at conflict initiation. I was not having a name for that kind of interactions. About your comments on our play. I completely agree. I was not liking that kind of conflicts. I found them lame. But I had not an idea of the exact problem or what to do to avoid them. In my previous PtA play, a couple of pilot episodes long long ago, I was not having so much trouble with this. They were situation comedies and we were not having many scenes where noticing something or determining who was were was relevant at all. I completely buy your advise about it.

QuoteIt seems to me that Pablo did a good job of realizing this, as he made sure that the cards addressed specifically whether Alfredo was hurt.

Pablo has a long tradition of playing RPGs and thinking on how we play very naturally. He instinctively notices where the meat is and goes for it quickly. However, he is also very used to railroading and he thinks that it is needed to some degree to generate coherent fiction without pain. This is another reason I'm glad he is being the producer and experimenting with PtA.

About Plot authority. I'm beginning to see it with a new light. Previously I was associating it directly with the idea of plot-twists in a book-story, which is not totally correct. Now I'm thinking on the differences of its use in RPGs and another media.

QuotePlot: the input which closes the outcomes of the crisis situations which are set up via Situation Authority, and therefore it occurs as an ongoing, organic personal interaction with the mechanics of resolving conflicts, resolving scenes, and introducing consequences.
The definition was difficult to follow at first. It talks about "outcomes of the crisis" and the "personal interaction with mechanics" and "introducing consequences", which made me think immediately on resolution and Narrative Authority. The sentence that has helped me to understand you was:

QuoteAlso, and more subtly, the use of the cards is also subject to judgment, such that a particular point can be made without them as well. That occurs, in this game, when a person decides that the play up to this point has already satisfactorily produced Plot.

Now I have a complete different problem. I'm feeling like an overlap on the way I think about Plot and Narrative authority. As the later seem to be a possible part of the former in the decision making machine to generate plot.

Ron Edwards

Hi Arturo,

That's not a problem or a misunderstanding, it's an insight! Remember that the four authorities are Techniques in Big Model terms. That means that they can be formalized as rules, in many, many possible combinations or applications.

In the case of PTA, Narrational Authority* is in fact tied to Plot Authority. This is what the design of the game is intended to do. It uses the same logic as Dust Devils toward that end, and Dust Devils was inspired in that feature by The Pool.

However, that is clearly not necessarily the case. In HeroQuest, the GM is called the Narrator, for a reason - he or she narrates, even for outcomes that are generated by other people's characters. In Sorcerer, narration is left completely unconstructed, based on the risky but generally valid observation that anyone's narration is accepted as long as it's engaged with the fiction and with everyone else. Yet both of those games are just like PTA in that Plot Authority lies very strongly with the people playing the protagonists. Also, unlike PTA, in those games, Plot Authority is expressed specifically as how much risk and consequence arises in quantitative terms as the conflicts are resolved.

Now that you have a better idea of what the authorities are, you'll be able to see how different systems formalize and arrange them. For instance, although the GM has Situation Authority in InSpectres, it's the players who have Content Authority through their dice-rolls.

As a final point, sharing is also a Technique. In PTA, Situational Authority is extremely shared, almost to the point of being a blend.

Best, Ron

* Narration, not narrative. Narration = literally saying things; narrative = story as a flow of communication

Arturo G.

I think I get it much better now. I will do some homework analyzing again games I know to detect how the authorities work.


Moreno R.


Thinking about it, I decided to limit this to some explanation about what I said in my previous post, leaving the more general considerations about the authorities in different games to another occasion, to avoid derailing the thread.

About the character of Alfredo, I don't want my previous quick comment to be seen as any sort of accusation again Arturo, his group or his characters: the comment was very, very "local", in the sense that I was talking about the combination of my own play habits, this specific game (PTA) and my personal thoughts about the real-life Alfredo (if you know the comic book "Preacher", they are best summed by Rev. Jesse Custer words in issue #48). It's so dependent on this specific combination that I would have no problem in playing with that character in another game, or with seeing it played by other people in PTA: this is because the issue is not of morality (I think I can differentiate between the morality of a character and the one of the player), but it's of my play enjoyment. And anyway I would not even have posted in this thread if not "called out" by Ron, that remembered a old actual play post of mine with a character (not mine) with similar political belief that I killed to avoid having him reaching an happy ending...

What is the problem, for me, with PTA, with a character like that? It's the way the PTA system "protects" the player characters from forced changes (death in this case is a possible change). The character is defined mechanically by an issue and three traits, and by a story-arc. ALL of this can't be changed in any way by conflicts or other player's decision. The only one who can change these is the player, with a independent decision, during the spotlight episode (a trait and/or the issue) or after (the issue). More than this, the producer is encouraged to push for conflicts and situations that challenge the issue, and during the spotlight episode the character is the most important one, with all the "flashlight" on him and his issue.

This mean, in practice, that for me the game "works"  only if I actually LIKE the other player' characters. Because I have to be interested a lot in what it will happen to him, about his choices, about the way he will change or will not change (that, I feel, is the question at the heart of PTA as a game: without the real possibility of character change, and the equal possibility of the character resisting any changes, the game loses a lot of its "bite"), without having the power of influencing that choice in any real way.  It would be different in a game where the characters are less "protected" from the other player's input and where the game is less pointed to his internal issues. 

By the way, I consider, for this very reason, PTA one of the "safest" narrativist games around: nobody can literally change your character, apart you. But this "safety" can be turned around by a pad pitch where the series is not created in a way that respect everybody's wishes.

Ron, this thread did show me that I had misinterpreted your past description of plot authority. Am I right in thinking that the choice of changing the issue and the traits in PTA are a case of plot authority given fully to the player, about these choices? And that the same could be said about the choice of fallout in DitV, for example? (while the amount of fallout is decide by the plot authority shared by the players in conflict and the game system)? I am still thinking about plot --> outcomes, and the way this would place the total player control of the final choice of an outcome (given by a conflict or not) as essential in a lot of narrativist game designs, much more that the more flashy condivision of content or situation authority. (in Sorcerer, at first sight, I would say that the choice of taking a dice penalty to the next roll instead of doing what your opponent want, and the rewriting of the character sheet, are both two examples of this kind of exclusive plot authority, at the conflict level and at the complete story level)

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Ron Edwards


Moreno, you wrote,

QuoteAm I right in thinking that the choice of changing the issue and the traits in PTA are a case of plot authority given fully to the player, about these choices? And that the same could be said about the choice of fallout in DitV, for example? (while the amount of fallout is decide by the plot authority shared by the players in conflict and the game system)?

Yes, you're right. However, you're not quite right in identifying the player (by which I assume you mean non-GM) as the relevant holder of that authority. The key is that Plot Authority is subject to the events of play, including mechanics-based choices, as a common feature of Narrativist design. Arguably it's also a big deal in Gamist design, now that I think of it, for similar reasons. The point is that it's not governable by pre-determined structure or anticipation.

Best, Ron

Moreno R.

Hi Ron!

I would be interested in discussion the different authorities in DitV, with its particular structure of "subroutines inside subroutines" (story-arc < town < conflict < single raise and see -> narration of the single see or taking the bow > stakes resolution > fallout choice > judgment > final judgment ) but I don't think this thread is the right place, being Arturo's thread about PTA.  But I am not sure about multiplying the number of threads about the narrative authorities in different games, too. Do you think that a single thread for any game example would be better?

About PTA...  after playing "One Can Have Her" lately I am somewhat fascinated by mechanics that give any single player a choice with very strong consequences in the fiction, not influenced mechanically by anything apart the fiction created up to that point. In One Can Have Her is very noticeable because of the endgame rules. One of the players commented that at the end, winning all the conflicts didn't make any difference during the endgame. I agreed up to a point: winning all the conflicts didn't have any mechanical effect on the endgame. But it had a very noticeable effect on the decisions of the other players: every single one of the other players did rat on him. At the end of the game the fiction created (and the sympathy for each character) is much more important than winning the conflicts.

After noticing this in OCHH, I thought about the other games where I saw other system-protected single-player decisions like this. The Choice of Disclosing in Spione, for example. Nobody can force a disclosing on a principal's player in Spione using the game system. But he could feel "forced" to do this to save some other character. In many ways, these protected choices are a specific and potent authority given to a player to a specific aspect of the plot.

It's in this sense that I say that the choice of changing the issue/traits... or not, in PTA, is fully in the hand of the player. Yes, what happened before, the story created until that moment, is very important, but the player is free to act upon it as he/she wishes.

One example: last year I played a season of PTA based roughly on the concept "the Addams family with alien superheroes meet comedy gangsters" (don't ask... it was a very difficult pitch...). My character ("Jack Flash") Issue was immaturity. his catchphrase was "who need maturity when you have superpowers?" (hypervelocity in his case). He was, really, a well-intentioned immature moron who created more problems that he solved. I created him with every intention of having him forced to grow. To get to that point, I used any episode until my spotlight to cause problem to the other characters, trying to "help" them, getting everybody really angry at him (the characters. The players instead were giving me a lot of fan mail, more than I used, until I got to my spotlight episode with a dozen tokens of unspent fan mail)

But when I played the spotlight episode, really, IN THE MIDDLE of it, I realized that I really liked that character exactly how it was. And began to spend every token from that mountain of fan mail to win conflict after conflict, until at the end of the episode he had solved (for the moment, at least) the big problems he did cause, using only his superpowers and not a bit of maturity, and at the end escaped from the others really angry characters saying... "I don't need maturity. I have superpowers!". And as his player I "signed" this statement by not changing anything on his character sheet.

I could have chosen the other option. The fiction did inform my choice (making me enjoy playing that character) but it would have justified other choices too. I could have him repent and trying to change even after saving the day. He could have refused to grow up even if he did NOT be able to save the day. The choice was informed by the fiction, not forced by it. The final _Authority_ (as in "the buck stop here, I decide") about changes to the character is in the player.

But this mean that it could be pre-determined. As I said, I started playing already thinking about how to making him grow. This WAS predetermined, so much that I played the first episodes sowing the seeds that could justify that change afterwards.  Now, this border on another concept, about honesty in playing (honestly playing to create a story together mean giving attention to what happen in the fiction, to the other people's input, and being willing to change idea following the flow of the story. Where instead playing with an inflexible idea about "where the story will go" is being unwilling to really play with the others), but there is nothing in these systems that can really avoid having a player pre-determine what he will decide when it will be the time to decide.


(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)

Arturo G.

Moreno, I was not feeling accused of anything. I just wanted to clarify that all the players were happy with the apparently disgusting character to be sure we were talking about the same thing. And it has brought up an interesting matter from you. I was not thinking previously about PtA "protecting" the characters from other players. But it is true that I noticed it during the scene where we thought Vincenzo was going to kill Alfredo.

The final _Authority_ (as in "the buck stop here, I decide") about changes to the character is in the player.
This is true. But this is not directly plot authority. Is it? I would say that plot is generated when the player manages to introduce in the fiction something that reveals or expresses the changes or their consequences in the story. But this is done using the whole system and with the collaboration of the other players.

As you are also saying, what happens in the fiction may be really significant for the player to decide to make changes and to decide about their meaning. This is happening during play. A player may think on what she is planning to do. But they are just plans in her mind; only events that happen during play get into the SIS. She can not really pre-determine how it will come to be.

Ron Edwards

Hi guys,

Moreno, let's have a different thread for the Dogs question. Anyone can start it with their own actual-play account. I'll certainly chime in with two definite moments from my experiences. I very much want to encourage multiple threads for a topic of this kind. I also think that Dust Devils might be one of the foundation games for that issue. Eero, you've played a lot of Dust Devils in the past couple of years, so maybe you'd be a good candidate for a third thread.

I agree with Arturo about the nature of the authority in the circumstances you're describing. What's being done between Seasons in PTA, for instance, is actually Content Authority regarding the character, setting up for later play.

Moreno, as far as your account of your PTA character is concerned, I think that in general, and if the group isn't falling into the play-before-play problems we've been discussing over several threads, people tend toward what you describe. They might have a pre-planned notion for the character, or more often in my experience, a tentative concept for his or her "path," but it is simply more fun - and fortunately, obviously more fun to do what you did. The player ends up saying, "I totally went the other way from what I thought I'd do." He or she can experience a sense of inevitabillity in what the character does, which is artistically extremely fulfilling. You experience the inevitable as a surprise, even though you are personally creating the final step in that process and delivering it to the others.

I think the key to making that work is for play to be under way without really knowing the point of a given scene before it happens in the SIS. The idea of generating the conflict before playing the scene is straight out the window. In this, I'm agreeing strongly with Arturo.

I submit that Spione is so constructed that planning for any character's future is extremely obviously not functional; in fact, Seth recently posted about this in the Spione forum at my request after he emailed me. Your own game last year also showed that. After reading Annalise, it looks to me as if Nathan has been thinking along similar lines: there literally isn't any more point in planning ahead than there might be in, say, playing poker. What's gone before matters very greatly, but thinking about the hand after the current one is tantamount to losing right now. I'm bringing it up here because the key feature in both games is that no one really creates whole scenes - they only create the openings of scenes, and "stuff gets added" in small bits, without knowing what's important and what's not.

Best, Ron

Matt Wilson

I never spend enough time on the Forge. This is an interesting thread.

That last thing Moreno posted about predetermined choices. I think a lot of people who play the game will think like script writers. What kinds of things will happen to my guy this season? How will he or she react? What choices will my character be making?

And just like in real life we all think, man, in this situation I would probably do X. But like the guy said, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

It's probably good for the development of the cast, and for the creation of scenes that don't drag on, to think about the kinds of choices your protagonist might make.