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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 30 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: "Sand Box" Adventures  (Read 8137 times)
Vulpinoid
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« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2008, 03:20:56 PM »

Anyways, long post short, I think the trick is in detailed characters + detailed setting + knowing how to tug on those characters --> perfect game. I'm still working on making it all come together, but it's been getting closer and closer.

I was going to make a comment here saying that Sandboxing just requires a whole lot more preparation than regular play.

But re-reading through the posts, and reconsidering my thoughts on the topic, I'm not sure that this is the case at all.

Good sandbox play seems possible from a number of sources.

1. A very well detailed and mutually understood setting.
2. Players who are willing to take some initiative for themselves.
3. A GM who isn't too precious about where they want the plot to go.
4. Fully realised NPCs with their own agendas that could easily change based on the actions of the players.

Having more than one of these present seems to increase the potential and quality of the session. Having all of them would epitomise the concept.

Unless people think I'm missing something.

(And yes...I'd like to hear some responses on this, because I'd always considered this to be "my" style of GMing, but any ideas that could help improve a game are always welcome).
 
V
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hoefer
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« Reply #16 on: October 17, 2008, 07:34:14 AM »

Good sandbox play seems possible from a number of sources.

1. A very well detailed and mutually understood setting.
2. Players who are willing to take some initiative for themselves.
3. A GM who isn't too precious about where they want the plot to go.
4. Fully realised NPCs with their own agendas that could easily change based on the actions of the players.

Having more than one of these present seems to increase the potential and quality of the session. Having all of them would epitomise the concept.

Unless people think I'm missing something.
 
V

I would say (temper this with the fact that I am very narrativist in my style of GMing and my expectations of play), that there does have to be an understood nexis of the NPC's individual plots/motives.  Perferably (this is what I'm going to be keying in on for this adventure) there will be several points of intersection (nexis...nexies...nexises...???) that can be pressure-cooked into a final climax.  I know that there is the sentiment that the players should force the climax, but the more I play these kinds of scenarios and review them, it seems to me that they will typically shy away from large conflicts and thus the game bleeds out a slow death of intersting interactions and cool encounters that lead nowhere.  Even if characters accomplish personal goals, they sort of feel like "Well, I did what I wanted...  If you guys are ready, let's just mosey on to something new..."  -Just my summative thoughts after working on this point for awhile.

Louis Hoefer
www.wholesumentertainment.com
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: October 17, 2008, 07:47:04 AM »

I swear, I've been following this thread very closely and have been repeatedly blocked by urgent other posting needs. I'll be weighing in as soon as I can. This isn't to say that the thread lacks anything if I'm not in it, but rather to say how much I want to participate and soon will.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2008, 07:47:44 AM »

Hi Louis,

I've been composing this post and getting interrupted for a long time. I'm finally able to get to it. (I wrote those sentences over a week ago! This is really embarassing.) I'm really glad you began it, because this thread topic is serious business. I've been seeing versions of this question appear over and over for a couple of years now, and it's a big part of my re-write for Trollbabe. One of the many delays for this reply has been my effort to get that portion of the new text written to my satisfaction.

I don't think there's been any confusion about your topic so far, but it might be helpful to define sandboxing as a technique, to distinguish it from techniques that might or might not be used within it. Let's call it play with a rich setting, with lots of situations and NPCs with strong roles in those situations, and without any specific linear planning for the events of play. That rules out a number of things: a single-track plotline as found in most adventure modules, a Roads to Rome approach which is pretty much a bunch of possible linear tracks, and any sort of play which dictates player-character actions based on withheld and then suddenly-provided information. If unknowns and secrets are present in the situation, as they often are, player-character actions are still left open to the players when the information is revealed.

That definition raises some questions for some other time. For instance, although I'm most familiar with sandboxing relying on a central GM with full Content Authority, I can't say for sure whether that's necessary for it to work at all. But that's getting experimental and off-topic.

Anyway, the question at hand seems to be, how do relevant and engaging crisis situations arise when sandboxing? Since the essence of those situations is part of how Creative Agenda gets expressed and satisfied for a given group, clearly we have to specify which CA is involved for them. You've done that here already, fortunately. The jargon is Story Now, or Narrativism. "Story games" isn't a defined term, in fact, it's left undefined by Andy Kitkowski's deliberate design. So that issue's settled for this thread. (I'm saying that sandboxing is great for the other agendas too, but the techniques for having relevant crises arise would be different. If someone wants to talk about sandboxing in other Creative Agendas, we can do that in other threads.)

Most Narrativist play benefits greatly from sandboxing; it's a key technique if not necessarily universal or required. It's also really hard to present as a textual
setting-situation package, and published adventures or settings that actively promote it are very rare. Probably the best example I can think of for a successful presentation is an old RuneQuest adventure called The Haunted Ruins. I had a rough time, although ultimately functional I think, adapting some of my sandboxing play to a HeroQuest adventure publication, as discussed in Designing Final Days at Skullpoint.

In my experience, probably the single worst way to try to sandbox but also "make story," is to alternate between irrelevant Brownian motion and brief instances of overwhelming railroading. Terry Gant called this the Panama Canal technique: let the player-characters wander all over and do whatever in the Atlantic Ocean, but when that becomes boring, herd them all through the Canal to get them in the Pacific, where they do what they're "supposed" to do. I described a version of this long ago in Narrativism and Bobby G, which got way up some people's asses for some reason.

Another way that doesn't work very well is to expect purely fictional input to prompt desired actions or especially insights on the part of player-characters. I wrote a bit about this in [trOS] Help! How to promote progress in discovery and [Rust Belt] Cruel cargo; also, more GM clumsiness; the latter also includes some recommendations which are relevant to this thread.

And finally, one way to make both of those problems worse, as GM, is to drop "climactic scene!!!" upon the players out of practically nowhere, expecting them to be as invested in every NPC and issue as you are even though they're only encountering most of them at this instant. There's a distinctive look of disappointment that can be seen on a GM's face when he springs the big bad villain upon the characters, finally, and the players are wholly unimpressed and treat what was supposed to be the climax as basically a wandering-monster encounter. I felt that look on my own face too many times, a couple of decades ago.

The only way for sandboxing to produce real stories rather than endless aimless wandering, then, is to play with full commitment to the richness and integrity of the fiction-so-far, and yet also with mindful attention to the breaking-points of characters in terms of drastic, responsive action. What promotes this mindfulness?

In Hero Wars/HeroQuest, the main intersection between character decisions and the setting-based situations is found at the stated character goals. I've found that this technique is unfortunately not very reliable, if the "Goal" blurb on the sheet is not treated as a vital part of the Positioning for the character. So as an isolated technique I don't think it's the answer. Here's what I think is the answer.

I'm currently calling it the Screwdown because I'm talking about an ongoing, heightening, ramping-up process rather than as a single "wham!" moment. It's best described as the developing, ongoing transitions of characters' attitudes, and thus their dialogue and actions, throughout the changing events of play. By "screwdown," I'm referring to the higher and higher likelihood of characters feeling as if they have less and less room for compromise. That doesn't mean less and less choice, but rather less and less option to stay sitting on the fence about various choices, or to wait and see what others do next.

From the GM's point of view, it's almost all about playing the NPCs as characters who can change their minds, and also to have enough conflict-rich material in the situation that removing a given NPC or changing a given NPC's mind about something does not drain the whole situation of available tensions. Another, perhaps optional element is any large-scale event or series of events that affect everyone, such as the threat of bandits attacking, or some kind of magic storm brewing, or whatever.

I developed two terms for some powerful techniques in exactly this type of GMing. In Sorcerer, I introduce the concept of Bangs, which are strong shifts in situations (basically, "this happens!") which demand action but do not dictate specific actions. The Screwdown has a way of generating Bangs with practically no prep and without any need to plan or hope for what might result from them. In The Sorcerer's Soul, I introduce the concept of Relationship Maps, which are notp organizational charts or emotions-connections, but rather ties of kinship and sexual contact. School me on relationship maps probably does the best job of explaining their use.

From the player's point of view, it's all about playing one's character with immense drive and yet also responsiveness. Not responsiveness to what the GM wants (often abominably called "the story" or "the plot"), but rather to what's going on with and to that character as of this particular moment in play. Instead of looking at the sheet and seeing a fixed entity with fixed responses listed and ready to be applied, one looks at the sheet as the door to discover for what this character will do after he or she encounters tensions and confrontations which are different and new. Many of the new independent games feature very powerful player-driven reward mechanics to facilitate this process, such as the Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel, which inspired the Keys system in The Shadow of Yesterday.

With both, or rather all of this, going on ("all of this" because the GM plays multiple characters and usually there're multiple players too), many of the conflicts that arise after a certain point in the Screwdown will have tremendous resolving power for the in-setting, in-situation concerns of some of the characters. And furthermore, to arrive at those conflicts and also to see them resolved serves to fulfill what I, at least, informally call "story" - fictional conflicts that genuinely resonate with us, the real people, and whose resolutions produce a degree of catharsis for us. That doesn't have to be a highbrow thing; I consider Die Hard movie to be one of the clearest examples available, for instance.

Whew. What a bitch that post was to write, and yet how important it felt, to me anyway. Louis, I apologize again for the ridiculous delay, and I'm really interested in what you think of what I've written here.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2008, 11:55:37 AM »

Hi hoefer,

I have two questions about scenario design for you. 

1.  Did you come up with this idea--"Son of Nemo, on the Moon"--before or after players created their characters?

2.  Were the players told about the overall situation before making characters?  (Something like, "Your characters are going to get yoinked onto the Moon, and have to make the best of it/go home" or even, "Naughty Nemo Jr. is on the Moon causing problems on Earth")

3.  How extensive are each player's goals/motivations/desires in this scenario?  Are these characters just hanging out, trying to see what comes next, or have some of the players really gotten involved in a particular area (even if it isn't one you expected) so that, for example, someone has decided to help train Nemo's army and is now elaborately plotting to overthrow him?  In other words: how reactive / pro-active are your players?

===========
Because it seems like what's happening here is that you created a really cool Setting: Fin de Siecle Moon + Nemo, with several very weak Situations.  Meanwhile, it sounds like your players have created characters with weak Situations too.  So: the players sort of explore stuff, having a fun time interacting with your cool Setting, but they don't have any goals beyond this, and aren't too keen on interacting with your side of the Situation (the big plot you want them to interact with.)

Just to clarify: a Situation has three elements:
1.  The status quo
2.  A serious change to the status quo which opens up a whole can of worms
3.  A reason for the players to care what happens

Thus, the fundamental Situation in your sandbox is this:
1.  You guys were having fun on Earth
2.  Oh no!  You're on the Moon!
3.  The King of the Moon will execute you on the next "full Earth" (Alternately: Something you care about on Earth will go awry.)

With #3, the players are under pressure, and they have to explore for a purpose.  Trying to fulfill that purpose, and the challenges/obstacles/whatever, puts everything the players encounter into a larger story, which concludes with the creation of a new, stable status quo.  (You can generally sense when the players are reaching the crucial point, then supply the opposition as needed, and that's your climax.)  But without #3, there's no purpose beyond what the players bring on their own.  So there's sort of an aimless non-story wandering going on.

Note that you've tried to supply several smaller Situations, but based on your description there's no #3 either:
1.  There were these nice girls on Earth
2.  Oh no!  They're in a harem!  (On the Moon!)
3.  ______________.

Players generally aren't going to care about injustice "just because."  It has to sit up and bite them.

None of this directly relates to sandboxes in the abstract, but I think they're relevant to some of your frustrations with this particular game.

==============
Regarding sandboxes in the abstract, I think you guys are maybe getting off-track with your "detailed Setting" requirement.  I think sandbox play does not require a detailed Setting, though the two often go together. 

It's entirely possible to create a great sandbox game that uses one Big Situation, 3-4 Little Situations which are like spokes out of a hub, and that's it.  As the players explore any particular Situation, add more Situations onto it, with the necessary Setting Elements.  In other words, it's a "dynamically expanding sandbox" (this is a stupid name) with the players' activities always on center stage.  Situations can be contributed by the GM or players, either prior to play or in play.  I'm doing this now with my current D&D sandbox game.

The main GM skill comes from slowly advancing the Big Situation to the point where the players become highly aware of it--and then--cannot safely ignore it.  (I think this is what Ron's talking about by the "screwdown" but it's also related to really hammering the #3 aspect of Situations in general.)
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hoefer
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« Reply #20 on: October 28, 2008, 03:18:41 PM »

...Well...A lot to respond to here and Ron and James's posts have even made me question what CA I'm really operating from. 

Let's start there...I've always assumed (possibly with through a misunderstanding of GNS) I (and the majority of players in the groups I'm in) was a narrativist gamer.  That is, the priorities of our games center on "Story" after story comes the element of "character" and from there we slip into seeking realism and rule use.  So now, what we want when we play is a sort of thrill-ride of plot, character development, and suspense found in good books and movies.  In the same breathe we absolutely hate games where it's all about the "real-life" of your character, or GMs who just want to "wing it" and leave it to the players/characters to get things going.   Again, we want "story," we want foreshadowing, development of NPCs and interplay with the PCs, and a plot that cycles up the further the PCs play into the story. Give us either a situation that begs to have action taken on it, or a situation we can react to.  The plots come to a head, the game is resolved and the characters reprise their roles in another subsequent plot the next group of sessions.  Relationships that the characters form are carried over (so far as they are necessary to the plot of the next game, or entertaining/expected).  The plots, antagonists, and goals are typically directed toward the interests/abilities of the characters/players a head of time.  However, we do (when playing games off the shelf) use adventure modules and just adapt the story to better integrate the characters the players are taking into the story.

...SOOO, is this narrativsit play?

Now, back to the regularly scheduled thread:

Ron, I would be very interested in reading a excerpt from your Haunted Ruins adventure or the Skullpoint one.  I followed your threads there and have a vague idea of what the format might have been like, but some of it still seems mysterious.  And that is my real interest here, How do you best present a sandbox adventure for publication and ensure it can be used by various players with varying CAs and ensure is can come to a nice climax?

I get what you're saying on the points of what doesn't work for sandbox games (this particular one ended with the "climatic scene drop" when we played it), but some of what you suggest will produce "real stories" such as the "commitment to the fiction-so-far and mindfulness to character breaking points" always leads to the split up of the PCs and the dreadful lag of running in-depth parallel stories for each PC.  This has been my experience anyhow.  You focus in too tightly on developing the character, the character's responsiveness to the environment/NPCs, and their interests and goals and pretty soon each player is waiting 30 minutes for their turn to "interact" with the story.  It seems to wind up as simultaneous bits of fiction instead of a shared work.  -This is not to say "railroading" is the only other option by the way.  I'm not sure if it is the same thing as the HeroQuest Goal system, but in Century's Edge each character has a pressing goal they are trying to achieve so that the player may advance the character to the next Rank.  These goals are set up by the Narrator and the Player individually so as to facilitate a plot-driven game while giving a nod to the player's interests in their character's development.  In this particular case we used the generic goals offered up in the main rule book -which definitely added to the issue of characters' being "climax-shy."  These generic goals should have helped push the climax (for instance one character's goal was to obtain a new piece of technology which he could have more than easily done within Quisquis's lab), but still the players would explorer to the point of realizing how these goals could be accomplished but not attempt to accomplish them (i.e. find a nifty new technology, decide how it might be removed from the sultan's workshop, but then not actually attempt to remove it).

I kinda think I used your screwdown model.  I had several events going on, many underlying plots and self-motivated (yet flexible) NPCs.  The PCs dabbled in a given area and those actions led to new problems or the revelations of new plots/encounters.  As the plots were followed or time was invested in any given one, the intensity would increase -some were increasing whether the players involved themselves in them or not (all these things were the "Bangs").  The problem was, the players never got to the point of having to "leave their fence."  I originally wrote the adventure so that the player's interests, motives, and convictions would be the force that drove any given plot into a final climax.  But they all just wondered about involving themselves in plots to the point it was boiling up -but do all they could to keep them from boiling over.  Eventually I had to tag the whole "large-scale event" on to the experience to bring it to an end.

On the point of it being "all about what is going on with one's character and their drive," I don't think my players and I would agree.  "The Story" is our goal.  Developing its rise, climax, and resolution with the reactions, interactions, and personalities of our players is what makes it enjoyable.  Just wondering around being in-character and seeking out our own interests isn't enough for us.  "The Story" is that unifying force that makes it a shared experience and keeps the pacing and tension in tandem for all the players.  To try to make it clearer (by using a lame example) -it is not interesting to us to be "Luke Skywalker" and experiment with all his feelings, whimsies, abilities, and reactions within and open-ended and far stretching world that happens to have a Death Star in it.  What is interesting to us is being Luke and applying his personna to the menace of the "Death Star" through a series of defined conflicts and situations that both the player and GM know are moving the story clock forward toward that point (I know this is a gut-wrenching example, but replace "Luke Skywalker" and the such with any PC in any story and it holds).  Now, that doesn't mean the path to the Death Star should be narrow (we equally hate playing games where the PC's choices have no real effect).  But there is a great medium out there where the players realize a plot and are able to act within a large swath to get to its climax and figure a way to resolve it.  Without this, adventures seem to take too damn long or players feel they are in separate "cubicles" of play instead of on the same swath together...

I feel I've started to ramble too far on this post, but I'm going to post it anyway.  I'll try to come back in a few days and get something more intelligible up that can explain my points/inquiries better...

Oh, James,
1) I did not write the adventure until after character creation was done (though if I want to figure out how to publish sandbox adventures I have to break the code of how to do it irrespective of the characters that might go on it).  And just for the record, The "Son of Nemo" adventure took place in the sky, not the moon...  His floating palace used Cavorite -a material described in Well's book, The First Men in the Moon -maybe that's were the confusion is, not that it matters...  This was the 3rd adventure for these particular characters.

2). The players had no previous knowledge of the sultan or the adventure.  Many bits of foreshadowing connecting to the plots offered in it were dropped throughout previous adventures, but I never blatantly told them X, Y, and Z are going to happen in this adventure.

3.  The character's goals were fairly weak/thin (which is admittedly a problem with this running of the adventure).  The players were 50/50 on the proactive thing.  They would wait and react to some stuff, yet also proactively plan some things but then hold off fulfilling the plan (i.e. they made some explosives and gained access to a means of escape but didn't utilize either.)

-Your description of the screwdown is also how I perceive it and I felt I was almost accomplishing it.

-Oh, and I feel the setting has to be super-detailed for a sandbox to work (at least from a "published adventure" sort of view) -so NAH!
:-)

Louis Hoefer
www.wholesumentertainment.com

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James_Nostack
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« Reply #21 on: October 28, 2008, 06:49:47 PM »

Hi Hoefer,

Quote
So now, what we want when we play is a sort of thrill-ride of plot, character development, and suspense found in good books and movies.  In the same breathe we absolutely hate games where it's all about the "real-life" of your character, or GMs who just want to "wing it" and leave it to the players/characters to get things going.   Again, we want "story," we want foreshadowing, development of NPCs and interplay with the PCs, and a plot that cycles up the further the PCs play into the story.

I'm sure Ron, or some other Forge veteran, will say this more insightfully than I, but what your describing doesn't really have much to do with Narrativism as it's used in GNS-jargon.  "Narrativism," as it's used on the Forge, is all about the development of what my literature teachers used to call "theme," and which Ron calls "premise."  Generally, Narrativism is about forcing players, through their characters, to make very difficult moral decisions, and exploring the consequences of those decisions.  "When you do X, ______ happens," and we're playing to find out what fills in the blank.  It's about "relevant" play, play that makes a statement (by implication) about the people at the table and the world we live in. 

What you're describing is great stuff--good pacing, excitement, characters who are "fit" for a particular set of challenges or the nature of a setting, nice use of continuity.  But it has little to do with "Story Now" in the very specialized sense in which Narrativism is operating. 

Quote
I did not write the adventure until after character creation was done . . .  (though if I want to figure out how to publish sandbox adventures I have to break the code of how to do it irrespective of the characters that might go on it).  . . .  This was the 3rd adventure for these particular characters.

Hoefer, can you explain a little bit about how you designed this adventure to be relevant to these particular PC's?  In other words, is there something relating to these players or these heroes that led to the design of your sandbox / Situation thingy?

PS.  I know nothing about publishing, particularly publishing RPG's.  But if the goal is to have PC's for whom this adventure/sandbox/Situation is relevant, it would seem there are only two ways to guarantee this: either construct several pre-generated characters and include them in the scenario, or specifically instruct your readers to collectively create PC's designed to interface with the salient facts of the Situation.
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #22 on: October 30, 2008, 10:16:39 AM »

Regarding the CA issue, there's a thing here.  If you take a fictional character, and put him into an untenable situation that demands his action, and he deals with the situation in a way that stems from who he is (whether that means falling in line with who he is or breaking from it, or any combination thereof), and the situation ends up with some manner of resolution due in some extent to the character's actions, you will create a theme.  Whether you meant to or not.

Narrativism and story-heavy Sim both include the above dynamic; the question is, who has authority over the character's relevant (i.e. actually having an impact on the situation's resolution) actions?  If it's the character's player, it's Narrativism.  If it's the GM, or if it's frontloaded by the game's design, or a module, or a preset collection of tropes (y'know, that pastiche thing), it's Sim.

(Tropes and such can still be used in Story Now -- even if they frontload some thematic decisions -- as long as there's still thematic questions to be answered by player agency alone)

That's what made it click for me, at any rate.  Louis, does that make anything clearer?

-Marshall
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #23 on: October 30, 2008, 08:42:00 PM »

That's just flipped a few of my preconceived notions by 90 degrees...I'll have to take some time to think about that comment.

V
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #24 on: November 03, 2008, 10:02:57 AM »

Er, it might be good to clarify that I was working from some assumptions in that last post.  One being that Louis has reliably ruled out a Gamist agenda altogether, and another that his payoff for play is story-related, and therefore it's a question of whether it comes from collaboratively creating a story, now, at the table (Nar), or one of the many different flavors of story-based Sim.

'Cause, in Gamist play and some Sim play, the theme-creation process I described in my previous post can be present but incidental, so my previous post isn't quite true if you don't count the assumptions.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #25 on: November 03, 2008, 11:24:14 AM »

Hiya,

I'm going to pre-empt the lonnnnng post I'm drafting for this thread and hop in with a quick refinement of Marshall's post. I think my modification is not only a bit more accurate, but it will tie the point very strongly to your concerns, Louis.

Marshall wrote, and I have tweaked in bold,

Quote
If you take a fictional character, and put him into an untenable situation that demands his action, and he deals with the situation in a way that stems from who he is (whether that means falling in line with who he is or breaking from it, or any combination thereof), and the situation ends up with some manner of resolution due in some extent to the character's actions, you will create a plot. Furthermore, that plot will express a theme which could not have been anticipated or expressed in the fiction until that moment of resolution.  Whether you meant to or not.

I think this is key regarding the final point in your reply to me, Louis, where you wrote,

Quote
On the point of it being "all about what is going on with one's character and their drive," I don't think my players and I would agree.  "The Story" is our goal.  Developing its rise, climax, and resolution with the reactions, interactions, and personalities of our players is what makes it enjoyable.  Just wondering around being in-character and seeking out our own interests isn't enough for us.  "The Story" is that unifying force that makes it a shared experience and keeps the pacing and tension in tandem for all the players.  To try to make it clearer (by using a lame example) -it is not interesting to us to be "Luke Skywalker" and experiment with all his feelings, whimsies, abilities, and reactions within and open-ended and far stretching world that happens to have a Death Star in it.  What is interesting to us is being Luke and applying his personna to the menace of the "Death Star" through a series of defined conflicts and situations that both the player and GM know are moving the story clock forward toward that point (I know this is a gut-wrenching example, but replace "Luke Skywalker" and the such with any PC in any story and it holds).  Now, that doesn't mean the path to the Death Star should be narrow (we equally hate playing games where the PC's choices have no real effect).  But there is a great medium out there where the players realize a plot and are able to act within a large swath to get to its climax and figure a way to resolve it.  Without this, adventures seem to take too damn long or players feel they are in separate "cubicles" of play instead of on the same swath together...

Oh hey, we're on the same wave-length here. This is an old topic in my design-discussion history. I think you're underestimating what I mean by "drive." I do not refer merely to dressing up, verbally or literally. I refer to actions and decisions that most traditional GMs find terrifying and outright challenging to their sense of authority, authorship, and rules-role. Imagine a game in which Luke's decision to join the tie-fighters against the Death Star was generated solely by the player, and it carried with it the possibility of utterly failing to succeed. And in which (positing the original context in which Leia was actually the love-interest and not retroconned as his sister) doing so completely changed the relationship with Leia, bringing in the possibility, so far waaay unlikely, that she might become his lover.

That's a "drive" in my book. That's the kind of play and decision-making which, over time, often means that a GM's role abandons most of its "make Story happen" functions because the unifying force you're talking about is emergent from powerful game components, not the least of which are player-characters which are actually doing something.

More to follow soon. If it's OK with you, I'd appreciate holding off on replying before I get it posted. It'll be really hard to reply both to your previous post and a new one.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: November 04, 2008, 10:37:14 AM »

Hi Louis,

I'm not sure whether you've read my essay Narrativism: Story Now. If not, then I recommend checking out at least the first couple of pages, in which I argue that the phrase "to create a story" is actually a false lead in trying to understand goals of play, or at least, it becomes a false lead without further refinement of the concept.

I'm especially sympathetic to your points because what you do, how you and group interact about it, and your current solutions as well as frustrations are exactly my own experiences for many years. I also used the adventure module adaptation technique, which we can talk about later.

PART ONE: YOU, NARRATIVISM, AND YOUR GAME

Here's the thing: you're dealing with a false dichotomy of "character vs. story." As Marshall pointed out, and as I tried to refine, [if[/i] the characters act toward goals, respond to conditions, and commit toward things in a Premise-y way, then what happens is story (or to be fair, that's one way to get story, the "Now" way). If that's happening, then less and less story-planning, GM-adjusting, "ensuring there's a climax," et cetera, has to go on - in fact, such a GM role tends to become intrusive. I realize that's a weird concept. Hold off on it for a minute, let me develop it throughout the post.

To address whether your current play is Narrativist ... the following answer is tuned specifically toward your game and does not constitute a generalized definition; instead, it applies the general definition to this specific case.

Well, that depends. If the story is created at the table in terms of the key decisions and shifts of the resulting plot, then yes. If the story is enacted and produced at the table in terms of (for instance) one person's guidance, then no. You seem to be kind of stuck at the boundary of these two ideas, and as a long-term veteran of that stucked-ness, I know how hard it is to let go.

"But ... but ... someone has to make sure that what happens turns out to be a story, right?"

Yes and no. Yes, because without a certain mindfulness toward relevant, engaging conflicts arising, they won't happen, and you get that fucking flouncing around "be my character" garbage that, speaking as role-player and not theorist, I hate even more than you do (really). But also No, because "yes" usually translates in the long-term gamer's mind into a GM who either preps a story arc which will indeed occur, or who retrofits anything that happens in one session to be story-relevant meat for the next.

I call the first tactic Story Before, and the latter one Story After. Neither one is Story Now, which presupposes that everyone at the table is mindful toward the possibility of relevant, engaging conflicts arising, that no one plans what they will actually be in a rock-solid way, and finally, that everyone is committed to enjoying the creation of plot through the game system as a wave-front through actual play itself. GM and players have different responsibilities toward the imagined fiction, but their aesthetic goal (Creative Agenda) and mindfulness toward it are the same thing.

A big part of this is learning what you go in with. The sandboxing technique is actually one of the primary wonderful tools, because a good sandbox is unstable or at least hyper-reactive. I pioneered this in textual terms with The Sorcerer's Soul, and it has been refined in two ways: My Life with Master, which adapted it into a story-structure arc (in which the arc is not predetermined, just that "it" will happen); and Dogs in the Vineyard, which adapted it into a specific hyper-charged setting, character creation process, and reward mechanic (see also Dust Devils, Lacuna, Conspiracy of Shadows, and The Shadow of Yesterday). I was not alone; you can see the same stuff going on in other 2000-2002 games that were influenced by Sorcerer, like the revised versions of The Burning Wheel and The Riddle of Steel. In just a couple of years, stupendously sophisticated applications showed up, as in Polaris, carry, Nine Worlds, With Great Power, and more.

Also, I should stress that when I say "no one plans what (the crisis) will be," I am not advocating that we are talking about multi-person improvisation with no prep. This method does include the GM prepping stuff like "OK, next session, the orcs attack over the hill," and making up the orc commander and so on. What it does not include is dictating or even expecting how the players choose to have their characters respond, or pre-determining what aspect of the ensuing orc-attack situation will be most important to them.

Again, in such play and in using such games, flouncing around being in character is simply not possible. The characters are so in motion, and the setting/situation is so hyper-reactive, that stuff will fucking well happen. And it will be consequential stuff, such that Story is generated Now with no need at all to decide or create what it will be or what it was.

I'm combining some of your text differently from the order in your post because you bounced around a little. You also wrote,

Quote
I kinda think I used your screwdown model.  I had several events going on, many underlying plots and self-motivated (yet flexible) NPCs.  The PCs dabbled in a given area and those actions led to new problems or the revelations of new plots/encounters.  As the plots were followed or time was invested in any given one, the intensity would increase -some were increasing whether the players involved themselves in them or not (all these things were the "Bangs").  The problem was, the players never got to the point of having to "leave their fence."  I originally wrote the adventure so that the player's interests, motives, and convictions would be the force that drove any given plot into a final climax.  But they all just wondered about involving themselves in plots to the point it was boiling up -but do all they could to keep them from boiling over.  Eventually I had to tag the whole "large-scale event" on to the experience to bring it to an end.

That's easy enough to understand, at least if my years of experience with Champions applies. You kept Banging insofar as your NPCs were concerned, but not insofar as the players were concerned - and yes, I mean the players, not the characters. A Bang isn't a Bang if it's just a clue that leads to a clue or a fight, or a fight that leads to a fight or a clue. Nor is it a Bang if the primary emotional connection to the players is supposed to be their appreciation of what one of your NPCs is doing or feeling.

Bangs aren't Bangs unless the players of the protagonists are gripped by a certain passionate fascination. The overall effect (not necessarily from a single Bang) involves not only what is done, but what cannot be done or must be abandoned in order to do it. I'm pretty sure that in your game, this wasn't happening. You had "stuff happen" but they did not seize upon it as opportunity for having their characters make irrevocable, significant, and (over time) cathartic decisions/actions.

In my experience, playing in the way you're describing tends to lead players to consider their characters as your (the GM's) catalysts. You provide the alchemical solution in terms of the sandbox; their characters are inserted as destabilizing agents; change happens among the elements of the solution; and now, the unchanged catalysts walk on to the next situation. Or, if they change, it's kind of an ongoing portraiture rather than transformation of actual values or resolution of powerful standing questions (and by values and questions, I'm talking about the people as authors and audience, not some purely-fictional element). After a while of playing like this, they tend to become a little bit ... well, unresponsive. They know that you will do all the work, so why should they bother "jumping in" when they know you'll plop the characters where they have to be sooner or later anyway? "Just point me at my cue line."

Whereas playing with Bangs in a context that does hit the players in their own humanity (and for which the trappings, fantasy, SF, horror, et cetera are reinforcers rather than an end in themselves) ... well. That's different. GMing isn't like directing a mostly-willing donkey, it's like having sex with a tiger. You better be willing to let the tiger take the lead a lot of the time.

PART TWO: YOU ARE MAKING NO SENSE, THAT WON'T WORK, YOU CAN'T MAKE ME DO IT ... GOD DAMN IT, HOW DO I DO IT?

Forgive me for my flip title to this section of the post. I can't help calling it that because I like to tease Jesse Burneko about torturing me for about five years with that exact reaction.

Quote
... some of what you suggest will produce "real stories" such as the "commitment to the fiction-so-far and mindfulness to character breaking points" always leads to the split up of the PCs and the dreadful lag of running in-depth parallel stories for each PC.  This has been my experience anyhow.  You focus in too tightly on developing the character, the character's responsiveness to the environment/NPCs, and their interests and goals and pretty soon each player is waiting 30 minutes for their turn to "interact" with the story.  It seems to wind up as simultaneous bits of fiction instead of a shared work.

Aaahhhh. Association and shared action across protagonists is an entirely different issue, and I suggest that it is completely independent of whether you "get story" or not. Fantastic story-creation can occur in play without teamed-up or even highly-associated protagonists; and team-ups and association can be functional and fun in role-playing that is practically devoid in any interest in "getting story."

Regarding any given play experience, everyone at the table basically has to choose: team play, ensemble play, or contrasting play, and to what degree that will be flexible or emergent. Even if the decision is made through simple habit or assumptions about how it's supposed to be done, it's still a decision.

If you want it to be a certain way, again, I do not think the idea that "I want story so the characters must be together" is valid. You're better off acknowledging that it's a specific desire, not a prerequisite for something else. And once you've decided, then it has to be run by and most likely accepted as a given by everyone else. Are or are we not a team? If not, then are or are we not enmeshed in a common crisis? If not, then are or are we not active in the same community? If not, then are or are not we engaged in individual stories that affect one another somehow?

I agree that if the answer to all of these is "not," then yes, you're basically running several separate stories. But if the answer to any of them is yes, even the loosest, then it's compatible with "get a story" in the sense that it's our story.

If you'd like, I can describe very specific techniques that not only connect disparate actions by different characters in different (if nearby) locales, but I can also do so in a way which does not inflict GM-centric story onto it, privileging "character drive" instead.

Quote
I'm not sure if it is the same thing as the HeroQuest Goal system, but in Century's Edge each character has a pressing goal they are trying to achieve so that the player may advance the character to the next Rank.  These goals are set up by the Narrator and the Player individually so as to facilitate a plot-driven game while giving a nod to the player's interests in their character's development.  In this particular case we used the generic goals offered up in the main rule book -which definitely added to the issue of characters' being "climax-shy."  These generic goals should have helped push the climax (for instance one character's goal was to obtain a new piece of technology which he could have more than easily done within Quisquis's lab), but still the players would explorer to the point of realizing how these goals could be accomplished but not attempt to accomplish them (i.e. find a nifty new technology, decide how it might be removed from the sultan's workshop, but then not actually attempt to remove it).

The two systems are similar in that a stated Goal is a stated element on one's character sheet, but as you describe Century's Edge, it's a little more focused, more tied to the reward mechanic. Close enough to analogize, though, because I actually don't think that stating an in-character goal as a single, fixed thing is the best way to evoke a player's commitment toward "character drive." In my experience, features like Muses in Nine Worlds and Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday (both derived from Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel) are far stronger, because they introduce flexibility toward the goals or principles. You can affirm the stated 'thing' or violate it, and either way there are consequences, many of which involve character transformation. And best of all, acting against is often more rewarding than following it, given certain system structures involved (too much to go into here). The dynamic, consequential elements of such mechanics are very engaging; they legitimately provide the player with a reason to invest in his or her character's actions exactly they way they want to, knowing that it matters.

Perhaps that idea can help explain why the players are acknowledging the characters' Goals, even sort of touching and feeling them during play, but not driving either at or against them.

PART THREE: PUBLISHED ADVENTURES AND NARRATIVIST PLAY

Quick clarifier: I did not write The Haunted Ruins (yikes!). That is an older supplement for RuneQuest from waaaay back, written by Greg Stafford and Sandy Peterson. I used the early-1990s Avalon Hill version of it in my Hero Wars game. At the risk of name-dropping, in 2000-2001, Greg and I were talking about scenario creation and Story Now play, and he referenced that supplement as his best attempt toward that end during his most active RuneQuest days. That's when I got it and studied it carefully.

Also, since Creative Agenda was not part of role-playing vocabulary when that supplement was published, and as Greg acknowledged, there was no known way to explain to the reader what to do in those terms, nor was there any general understanding that such focus was a good thing. Basically, if one were inclined toward Narrativist play, that supplement is like a lightning bolt of awesome goodness; if not, it can be read pretty much as an over-elaborate dungeon with some irrelevant family trees and personality traits included as mere color.

Now for your stated "real interest here." That's a biiiig question. To some extent it's better addressed in the Publishing forum, but I suspect more play-based discussion will be useful here before we hop it over that way. I'm going to focus on the play-elements that would be associated with a given product, rather than the product.

Successful publishing relies on identifying and reaching a particular audience. Really successful publishing means transcending that audience, but for now, I'll stick with the basic necessity. What I'm saying is that success isn't merely about purchase, for which all you need is a pretty box, but about use, continued use, and un-fabricated buzz about it. So how is that done for a sandbox item?

My view is probably predictable. I think the important thing to communicate is what Creative Agenda the material serves best. I do not agree with the notion that the 'best' publication is a mess that tries to satisfy any and every creative reason to role-play. Nor do I think the virtue of sandbox preparation is that one can do "anything" with it, which is one common manifestation of that mess.

All of that leads to one of your qualifiers: the product is supposed to be useful to a group that includes varying CAs. I consider that a red flag. Never mind my claim that satisfying varying CAs (or better stated, varying expectations for the group's shared CA) is pointless in the first place, whether for a product or a product-less play-ambition, whether a sandbox or anything else. That statement is a red flag on the simple basis that you're now talking about publishing "stuff" with no particular emphasis or even attention toward what the stuff is for.

Finally, and I hope I'm not being too picky, you used the verb "ensure" - and I feel forced to wave my arms around and say that a product can't ensure anything, ever. But again, this is an issue for the Publishing forum.

My current conclusion is simply not to do it as you describe, to re-assess what sort of sandbox presentation really expresses what you enjoy, and to focus your promotion to people who enjoy the same or similar things. I realize that this isn't 100% helpful, and for that I apologize, but I think I will leave it there. I'll hunt down some threads which have addressed this issue in detail and perhaps we can pick it up later in the thread.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #27 on: November 04, 2008, 10:42:20 AM »

Uh oh - Century's Edge isn't currently published, is it? I checked the website and just realized this thread probably belongs in Playtesting. Louis, can you confirm?

Best, Ron
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« Reply #28 on: November 05, 2008, 03:12:34 PM »

A lot to read… A lot to digest…  A lot to consider…

First, the answer to whether Century’s Edge is published is, “sort of.”  I have previously released spiral bound versions of the game (ashcan sort of things perhaps???) locally and on a very small scale at cons.  I am currently selling paperback Demo Booklets (which I hastily put together when I realized the full book wasn’t going to be ready in time for GenCon).  The Demo booklet is a pretty solid summary of all the rules of play and a truncated version of character creation.  The full-blown rulebook was supposed to be finished last month, but I decided to alter its layout and it’s taking me forever to readjust everything (a lot of work on tables and such…).  Quickplay rules are available for free on my page as well as the GenCon adventure I ran (which is really stilted –do A, go to B, get C, but it’s not bad for a convention game and I actually had an very positive response from the players at GenCon, I’m, running it this weekend at PentaCon so it will be neat to see if I get similar responses.)

Now on to my responses…

Fist off, I want to point out that my original thread was about getting a sandbox adventure to end in some form of fulfilling multi-player climactic scene.  Most responses have been centered on changing the CA (?) of the adventure (now that its been pretty much pointed out that my adventure’s focus isn’t narativism), and leaving the characters to explore their own goals and pushing on those to create a climax that is cathartic to the individual players.  Where as, this is a good response, and has given me much to consider, it has lad more to a discussion of what is narativism and story.

Unfortunately, the suggestions most people have offered are counter intuitive to me, as the closest experiences I have had to these sorts of games (hinging on shared narrative authority and player/character driven plot determination) have sucked…badly.  I am guessing the problem is that the GM did not handle things right in these experiences, and they would have been more along the lines of what you guys are talking about, but for the quality/skill of the GM.  In fact, I wonder if only a handful of GMs could proficiently/successfully run a game in the naratavist CA as you all have defined it.  Anyhow, there was a lot in Ron’s last post that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around or that I’m not sure I have a correct understanding of. 

Ron wrote: 
A big part of this is learning what you go in with. The sandboxing technique is actually one of the primary wonderful tools, because a good sandbox is unstable or at least hyper-reactive…
I think I get the sandbox needing to be “unstable/hyper-reactive.”  Do you mean that the conditions of the “sandbox environment” need to be written so that there is lots of conflict and tension between the NPCs present, and the diversity of moral and ethical situations that exist?  In other words, in my game every NPC entity that was at the sultan’s palace had their own reasons for being there, their own goals for what wanted from the sultan, and their own reason for double-crossing/causing trouble for the others.  Each also viewed the PCs in different lights (saviors, competition, xenophobic-ly, scapegoats, etc.).  Even the physical environment of the sultan’s palace was conflicting.  The ancient sandstone structure had been retro-fitted with technology and the floating island had crumbling parts, deserted wilds, and the expanses where Quiquis had inset different technologies to keep the island up in the air, steerable, and replete with power/fuel (i.e. hydrogen).  These elements are described in a way so as often there was trouble with one part of the island or one system of technology that required perilous actions to attempt fixing (in one scene the players decided to help Quisquis engineers fix a broken propeller and had to make their way across the underbelly of the island on rickety catwalks, etc.). All this laid a hot bed of tension and possibility for any thing the players may have decided to do.
 
Ron also wrote:
I pioneered this in textual terms with The Sorcerer's Soul, and it has been refined in two ways: My Life with Master, which adapted it into a story-structure arc (in which the arc is not predetermined, just that "it" will happen); and Dogs in the Vineyard, which adapted it into a specific hyper-charged setting, character creation process, and reward mechanic (see also Dust Devils, Lacuna, Conspiracy of Shadows, and The Shadow of Yesterday).
I am totally clueless on how the story-structure arc works and what it looks like and how it might be integrated into the other things…  Can anyone give me a simple example…

Ron also wrote:
Bangs aren't Bangs unless the players of the protagonists are gripped by a certain passionate fascination. The overall effect (not necessarily from a single Bang) involves not only what is done, but what cannot be done or must be abandoned in order to do it. I'm pretty sure that in your game, this wasn't happening. You had "stuff happen" but they did not seize upon it as opportunity for having their characters make irrevocable, significant, and (over time) cathartic decisions/actions… I'm talking about the people as authors and audience, not some purely-fictional element). After a while of playing like this, they tend to become a little bit ... well, unresponsive. They know that you will do all the work, so why should they bother "jumping in" when they know you'll plop the characters where they have to be sooner or later anyway? "Just point me at my cue line."
I guess this might be the heart of the matter here.  If I can get what exactly you mean, I should be able to understand the paradigm shift most of you guys are suggesting.  Now again, I want to make sure everyone is focused on the right problem.  The problem isn’t about “How do I make a sandbox adventure work within my gaming group” –solving that issue is rather insignificant to me.  The bigger question is, how do you write a sandbox adventure (for publication/sale let’s say) such that the GM who reads and interprets it will have the tools they need to bring it to an ultimate conclusion that will likely maintain the feel of a good literary climax (old school, pre- “story about nothing” type of literature).  So when we talk, let’s consider, “How would you write this” or “What all should be written” to guide the user (a GM) into helping the Sandbox climax for his/her group.  You can see how from this perspective getting the players “gripped by a certain passionate fascination” may be daunting.  Further I can’t see how these fascinations would come to cross paths and climax together unless your gaming group was really homogenous or you talked the story out ahead of time or practiced “revisionary” history over much of what the group had done in previous sessions.  Talking the thing out ahead of time seems like such a suspense-killer and revising a previous game has always been a shameful act in my mind.

In response to the, “After a while of playing like this, they tend to become a little bit ... well, unresponsive. They know that you will do all the work, so why should they bother "jumping in" when they know you'll plop the characters where they have to be sooner or later anyway? "Just point me at my cue line.”  We (especially in sandbox adventures) don’t really play this way.  The players typically do all the “driving” and the GM (whether it’s me or not) plops down all the “roads” –but it’s not a “railroad.”  That is, if a player makes a “left turn” the GM then (using the source material, their knowledge of the plot, and paying appropriate respect to setting’s realism and tone) plops down the intersections that lie along that “road.”  Will the GM try to arc the player back toward a “story point” –yes, when the choices of the player make sense to bring them in that direction.  Can the player get “downtown” by driving the wrong way down a “back alley” the GM hadn’t thought of?  -yes, but we’ve found that sometimes this is to the player’s own dismay (if we talk later about what was out there, and the player realizes they missed a potential scene with an NPC they like, or a conflict that would have been important to their character).  Here’s the big one, “Can the player take a “road” out of “town”? –no, of course as a GM I (or any of my group) could let them, but we’ve found once we do this the quality of play goes way down.  The PCs typically lose their interdependence and direct effect on one another, the players end up playing in segmented turns instead of just going around the table.  The story gains a “syndication” sort of feel, where there just seems to be a string of small resolutions instead of a point that everyone can say, “We did it!” or whatever.  It’s like roads that just lead to other roads and on and on –occasionally there might be a neat diner or truck stop, but none of the “oohs” and “ahhs” of driving into the downtown metropolis.  I would not say my players are typically unresponsive in the sense of stalling or waiting around for me to push the story –this phenomenon usually only happens when we do Sandbox games, and even then it’s not that they aren’t doing anything, its just that they are more into exploring and piddling around than pressing things into some major movement of plot.  I feel like I’m repeating many of the other posts I’ve made in this thread, I’ll move on…

Ron said:
If you'd like, I can describe very specific techniques that not only connect disparate actions by different characters in different (if nearby) locales, but I can also do so in a way which does not inflict GM-centric story onto it, privileging "character drive" instead.
I lost you on this one, I would love to see the description, please don’t think me deft.  Will the example be applicable to “prewritten” game material? 

Also, is the supposition that the GM is orchestrating the story such a bad thing?  This is part of what I look forward to when playing a game as a player. “What has the GM cooked up?  How will the plot twist and turn?  What can my character do to resolve the conflict inside of the character’s own mode of operating/conduct?”  “Will my character’s conduct/mode have to change –how will this impact them?” 
I’ve played only a few player-narrated games.  They were fun, but they were totally different animals than the traditional RPGs I’ve played.  For example, the Engle Matrix game I played (Dead Man on Campus) was great!  It was fun!  It felt like a party game.  But, it wasn’t a serious game where we all were really following an interesting plot.  The plot grew and turned and twisted in a very ridiculous way, and our characters acted in the midst of this as if it were real and normal to a point, but beyond it we simply one-upped each other on the audacity of our actions and interactions.  Again, it was extremely fun, but not the tone I want in my Century’s Edge game.  I could see the same system being played seriously, but I don’t see how the plot/reality woven by it could hold up with out a great deal of suspension of disbelief or some kind of previously stated “contract of play” (We will play like this, with this tone, and attempt to do this for this reason).

Ron wrote:
In my experience, features like Muses in Nine Worlds and Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday (both derived from Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel) are far stronger, because they introduce flexibility toward the goals or principles. You can affirm the stated 'thing' or violate it, and either way there are consequences, many of which involve character transformation. And best of all, acting against is often more rewarding than following it, given certain system structures involved (too much to go into here). The dynamic, consequential elements of such mechanics are very engaging; they legitimately provide the player with a reason to invest in his or her character's actions exactly they way they want to, knowing that it matters.
I don’t really get this –sorry, you might have to give an example.  In what way is the goal flexible (or –how is it stated flexibly).  How/why would acting against a character’s principles be more rewarding?  -Do you mean in a mechanical sense (i.e. you gain #XP for placing yourself in inner-turmoil) or a psychological sense (seeing your character change within a game).

I also don’t get the “reason to invest...actions the way they want to, knowing that it matters”  A simple “I want to do it” seems reason enough for a player to have his/her character do something.  If you’ve got a “good” player, than they want to do it because it’s right for their character’s personality or the tone/events of the story.  If the player is “bad” they do an action because it interests them or settles their curiosity at the time and they didn’t conceive of having this yearning when they first created the character and his/her personality.  (the player really isn’t bad, they just aren’t working “in character” –which has traditionally been seen as a bad thing). 

On the last part, all actions matter in our games.  To GM without response to a character’s action breaks the dynamic of play.  Now, the players won’t always perform an action that has their intended effect, but the effects always match the tone, pace, and elements present in the GM’s story (yes, this goes back to the GM-centric narration).  I would think that a game where the player’s actions always mead out their intended results would seem boring or at least different.  It seems it would be more like sharing a story around a campfire than playing in a story and knowing that what you do changes the story (within loose bonds) and carries the possibility of success or failure…

For some reason every time I finish writing on this thread I feel I’ve only been rambling…damn!  Thanks for walking me through this guys...
Louis Hoefer
www.wholesumentertainment.com
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hoefer
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« Reply #29 on: November 06, 2008, 08:22:37 AM »

Having read the “Narrativism: Story Now” essay I can see more clearly what most of you are referring to as the CA Narrativism and where my gaming group (and my game) fit (outside of this CA).  I got to say though, I'm not sure narrativism is a great term for the kind of play this CA describes.  The term has such an authoritative literary feel (i.e. the narrator is the one telling the story –the concept of multiple narrators and shared narration is alien to the tradition of most literature) and it seems it really deals only with games where the play mode is "free-form" and the goal is to seek "theme" or "character development" (maybe the original “dramatist” term fits better).  The kinds of things being described as climax and plots are more what I would think of a “rising actions” within a story and not a centralized plot or over arching climax.  From most writers I’ve read (and grant it, these are writer’s like Stephen King –who many consider “low brow”) they talk about theme entering into a story as an after-though or piece that can’t be really recognized until the point of the first manuscript revision.  Also, you all must admit there is a real "narrativism nazi" sort of feel to things a round here -maybe when I get a better grasp on what a narrativist CA feels like (when done right) I'll understand why...

Theme and character development are a (close) second string to a strong all-encompassing plot in the kinds of games I like and am producing.  So I guess we'll go from that reference from here on.  That is, the CA I’m trying to achieve is whatever (labeling it may be an exercise in futility) but the structure of the material is intended to manifest a palette of “story arcs” and “rising actions” that all move and move into a central plot that comes to a head in a final climax.  This structure’s design is intended to be very open to player exploration and drive, yet narrow-enough that unifies what is going on in the story so that the players feel they are experiencing the same situation from different angles and not different situations from the same angle or whatever…  I would like (when I get more time) to start a new thread elsewhere where you all can educate me on these sort of CAs and how they can work well. 

Summarizing point: I’m not sure suggestions pushing the game toward full “narrativism” are going to be helpful for this particular game.  That’s not to say some elements rescued from that direction might not be useful.  For now, think of writing for a “traditional RPG” (please don’t give me crap about using the word “traditional” –I think it has the same accessible meaning to most gamers, think D&D if need be) and trying to put together a sandbox adventure that could guide “Joe GM” to ending the adventure with an intense climax satisfying the trails and encounters the characters might have experienced within the sandbox.  What I want to steer around is just plopping down a crisis out of nowhere or making the conditions of the sandbox so tight that “all roads lead directly to Rome.” 

Louis Hoefer
www.wholesumentertainment.com

p.s.  Do we win some sort of reward for having the most drawn-out and lengthy posts in any forum thread ever known to mankind?
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