[Dust Devils] Content and Revelation authority vs Narrator Privileges

Started by Christoph Boeckle, November 12, 2008, 11:54:03 PM

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Christoph Boeckle

Hi everyone

This is going to be a technical thread I believe, even though I could rave on about the beauty and the tragedy of in-game events! I need to say it at least once: this game has definitely reconciled me with the Western genre almost single-handedly. The other contribution was the anime Cowboy Beebop (Ron, I'm Jet! you're Andy! silly over).

So, this thread harkens back to Ron's A brutal morality play in pre-San Francisco (already more than a year! yikes!) and the perfect face-punch it was for me.

Setting and characters and situation

I wanted to prep some serious background, because I hardly know anything about the States in that epoch. I decided I wanted Native Americans, women, religion and rampaging capitalism. For some reason, I landed on the page of the Trail of Tears on Wikipedia, and immediately decided that the situation would be set a year before it, 1837. This would be set somewhere near the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Georgia and Alabama (I have no idea if the geography is accurate, it was good enough for me), and I invented a Cherokee town and a little White city (Brashville).
Since this was going to be played in a convention, I decided to create a tense starting situation with six major characters, from which the three players would choose one each, the others would be my major NPCs. Oh, I decided that someone was making plans to construct some railways. This is probably anachronistic.
We had:
  • Wut-Teh, also known as Rosa Parks, used to be a woman dominated by tradition and husband (2) and now is an activist of the cohabitation principle (2). Her devil is manipulation
  • Tah-Chee, used to work with white people (1), now seeks revenge (3). His devil is alcoholism.
  • Sean McNamus, used to be a good-willed doctor in a Cherokee village (2) and now thinks only faith can save Natives and White alike. His devil is arrogance.
  • Tom Threepersons, used to have a quiet bourgeois life as a father (3), now has to put in effect the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in this region (1). His devil is fear.
  • Sarah Blumenbrock, sick of her comfortable city life (1), now wants to rise in the Southeastern Railway and Canal Company (3). Her devil is impatience.
  • Burt Griffin, his ex-wife was Cherokee (3), now wants to make profit on the fertile lands (1). His devil is bitterness.

My friend Zarina chose Wut-Teh, her boyfriend Jérôme (a different one than in the Carnival Bizarre threads) chose Sean McNamus and my brother Michael chose Sarah Blumenbrock. Talk about a convention! I was quite happy to play with people I knew.
Zarina chose that Wut-Teh had actually poisoned her White husband because he was a monster and that people didn't know. The other characters went into play pretty much as is.

Play! Adversity! Authority!

This session lasted way too long for my taste (six hours), but it was very good!
We had a slow build-up while we discovered our characters. I hadn't "role-played" so heavily in a long time. I'm extremely proud of how I established Tah-Chee as having a very reasonable gripe against the mentality of exploitation of people and land the Whites had brought through some semi-drunken debate with McNamus the Convertor. Wut-Teh was strange and compelling. Sarah was a real blue jeans wearing femme forte. Oh the colour!

Enough now. Here are my authority questions.

Wut-Teh (who was pretty well integrated into middle-upper society in Brashville) quickly entered into obvious but discrete conflict with Threepersons. First it was quite polite and social (inviting Mrs. Threepersons to a tea and knitting party to instil some doubts about the judgements of the husband: oh the hypocrisy!)
The two characters really punched holes into each other's stats. I had some cuckold-luck with my hands throughout the session! I usually had high card too.
At some point, the widow invited the town's mayor to supper and tried to pry some information from him, as he was Threepersons's boss (except for that federal mandate thing about Indians). He refused to talk about the Indian Removal Act, so she put drugs into his coffee (Zarina won that conflict easily, I drew a 3-card stud hand, although after that I decided that I'd play conflicts on that theme through Tom's stats anyway, since it was really against him that she was fighting).
The stoned mayor started blurting crap about how they'd just wrap up that treaty and make the Indians go away, oh, and the silly farmers too while they were at it, since this railroad had to be constructed and Burt's well was quite interesting indeed. I had high card, so this revelation Zarina was drawing towards was narrated in perfect harmony with the content I had prepared.
He then slept the whole night and next morning (my decision). Wut-Teh quickly went to see Burt and told him all about the mayor's and Tom's plans to expropriate the farmers. Some stuff happened.
Wut-Teh came back, only to be arrested by the Sheriff for suspicion about attempting to poison the mayor, and, oh, so Tom says, the murder of her husband! I had no problem putting this into play, since I knew Zarina could always enter conflict and attempt to bring the situation another way. Also, she had brought that murder idea into play.
So there was a conflict about whether or not the sheriff would find evidence in Wut-Teh's house. Zarina chose to Fold, and thus we had to find a reason for the delay. The book isn't quite explicit about who should narrate, so since Zarina had an idea, I let her go ahead.
She declared that Burt came running: somebody had set his farm on fire! The sheriff had to leave immediately. I added that Wut-Teh would not yet be imprisoned.

Now, this is where I might have gone too far, or not. I'm not sure and it nags me. It makes me anxious. I told Zarina that she could narrate this "event" no problem, but that she couldn't say who was responsible for it, because that was my domain. Had she won Narrator position at the end of a conflict, I don't quite know how it would have gone. I would have accepted that she narrate some NPC who had fought with Burt go back later and set fire to the farm (if the context had made sense of course, which is a big deal).
But since this wasn't the issue of a conflict, since Wut-Teh was not the author of the act and since she wasn't anywhere near the farm when that scene played out, I decided that the identity of the fire starter falls under content authority and that that's me.

Now that didn't pose a problem in play at all. But still. It nags.

Concerning adversity. Remember Ron when I asked you in the pre-San-Francisco game why a GM was really needed? I'll play my scenario again and see if somebody takes Tom Threepersons to play. He is obviously the adversary to a number of people, although he has good reasons to team up with Sarah especially or even Burt, depending. I sense he won't be played the same. More importantly, even though I played him like a major NPC (mechanically just as good as a PC), he obviously was a Pivotal Character, if you don't mind using some Egri jargon. He didn't change an iota. He was just putting pressure on people, forcing them to move, even when he was the underdog in some conflicts. Same for the other two major NPCs. Is that just me or is there something about the way GM authority works that drives most people to play NPCs in Dust Devils like that?
There's this thing you said about ownership of a series of decisions. I clearly owned the "pain-in-the-ass" factor, even though the PCs could have had some friction amongst them. But that fire... could have been part of Zarina's series of decisions about the Indian Removal Act and how it empowered her character to act against it.

Now a hypothetical case

What if? What if a Narrator describes one of the characters as suddenly admitting to some unsolved crime? If this wasn't part of the prep, does it still lay in the hands of content authority and GM? What if this is somebody else's PC and they decide "yes, indeed, that's what my character did", but I had prepped something else?

Some ravings about play

Okay, you don't need to read this if you don't care to listen to someone raving about that oh so excellent session.

What happened: McNamus quickly quit trying to convert people and decided the Indian Removal Act was much more of a problem, He was reminded of his time as a doctor, and he came to regret that contact with the Cherokee. Finally, he joined a movement of protest in the village, to try and stop the chief of signing the "treaty" (with a non-descript clerk of Threepersons's!) He tried talking to the chief and utterly failed. He even tried to snatch the clerks treaty (and utterly failed again because of my luck), and was smiled off politely.
He was approaching the End, so Jérôme decided to have him confront Tah-Chee, with whom he had some serious fights previously (the priest had even been wounded).

Sarah did little in the beginning, and I'm wondering if she just had plain little to do (regarding the prep and situation). But her constant exploring and measuring and talking to town officials to prepare the construction of the rail road finally led to some serious problems. Tah-Chee shot one of her workers dead. So she decided that she needed to bring that guy down to allow the team to continue with work. Michael won a conflict there and caught up with the drunkard in the middle of the woods... just as McNamus was approaching.

Wut-Teh escaped after that fire alarm. This confirmed her guilt and she was tracked by a number of men who brought her back after hours of fleeing. The woman was about to enter the End really soon. And Zarina took hold of that possibility. Wut-Teh had been charged with murder and was to be hanged. So Zarina entered a conflict with Threepersons: he was to let Wut-Teh out one last time so she could see the stars. That's were her devil (manipulation) proved quite handy. She utterly clattered the town official and dealt him some serious harm with her hand and subsequently with the chips. This is what happened in her End:
Wut-Teh took advantage of Tom's confidence, picked up a stone and knocked out the man, escaping into the woods on a horse. There she met the other two PCs, staring at a smoking hole in Tah-Chees chest (Sarah shot him, Sean had decided that he had no right to kill the man after all). Zarina redeemed the priest by putting Wut-Teh's hopes for the Cherokees in his hands and then disappearing, never to be seen again.

Sarah left the priest who as a last act blessed the Cherokee's corpse (! I... that's cultural domination! but McNamus was supposed to be a good guy!) At the village, Burt was waiting for the iron lady with some buddies and accused her of burning down his farm. She tried to convince him that this was absurd, but in response received a brutal beating (her men too). I had three aces and a joker... sorry Michael! Haha!
Blumenbrock decided that that was it, that she was going to call the sheriff and do something about that violent farmer. When they arrived at the farm (with Threepersons in tow), it nearly escalated to a fight again, before Mr. Removal Act reminded them that now that the Cherokee would be leaving they could compensate the farmer with their land! Blumenbrock even offered double the land in exchange for the parts she'd have to buy off to have the rail road pass. And since the rail road was a major economic argument in the first place anyway, Burt agreed and the White people settled their grudges. Capitalism wins!

This is how it probably happened, give or take a few historical facts. Uck,

BTW, I decided that Threepersons burned down the farm, in order to set Burt against Sarah so that she'd require his help and that then she could help him with the Cherokee (another rail road would have to cross their territory), just in case. But no character ever really came to know that. If they were still alive, they would still tell you it was Tah-Chee, could you ask them.


Eero Tuovinen

The way I've always played Dust Devils has been that narrator privilege concerns what happens now, not what happened before. It's really a simple line to draw: does my narration reveal something that has implications for the backstory? If the Narrator manages to still say something that contradicts backstory, the Dealer can always set him straight. There are no hard secrets in Dust Devils, if it proves that a player needs to know some backstory to Narrate, just outline the pertinent facts and let him do it. There can be all sorts of backstory "secrets" that players could potentially infringe, which is why it's not rare at all for me to start the conflict narration with something like "OK, now it's your turn to narrate Christoph, and I should note that the ol' Black Tom has a wooden leg hidden in that left boot of his, which your character doesn't know. Just in case that has anything to do with what happens here now."

In other words: in my play a player can have a character admit to a crime that was never played out in a scene, but then it's up to the Dealer whether that character is wrong in his confession somehow. Obviously I'd let the players know as the Dealer if I wasn't willing to play along, in case they wanted to revise the situation so that a character wouldn't prove a liar or mentally challenged later on. This is no different from any other situation in which characters tell each other things about the past and far-away places: the fact that the Narrator can theoretically have characters speak of anything does not mean that these things magically become true. It just means that these characters speak of many things, presumably for a reason.

Also: I usually have the Dealer narrate folded hands exactly because the easiest way to narrate a delay or interruption is to have some outside force come in and mess with the conflict. This almost always infringes on backstory authority, so it's simply easiest to let the Dealer do it.
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Christoph Boeckle

Hi Eero

These tweaks make a great deal of sense.

1) Narrator describes the present, no backstory infringement
2) Folded conflicts are narrated by the dealer
3) Talking is not asserting

Check. Thanks!