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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Cascadiapunk post-mortem  (Read 5914 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: November 21, 2008, 09:08:07 PM »

So my Sorcerer game is dead. We only managed a handful of sessions, separated by delays of up to a month at a time, and in short never gained sufficient traction or player investment to give the game legs. Last night we met and talked it over, and decided it was best to end it and move on to other things.

This is the autopsy.

By the way, prep discussion is here, previous actual play threads are here, and here, The last time we played, we had a couple of interesting developments, but it was far from smooth. We only managed a couple of scenes, one in which Robin Last, coming to his Indian mentor pleading whatdoIdo, whatdoIdo, and surrounded by cops, pisses off the mentor and they fall out and disown each other, Robin goes out to ambush and demon-massacre the cops, gets himself horribly shot up and taken into custody in critical condition. The other scene was V and her pal Pigeon following their hospital getaway, heading out to her secluded Cabin (just across the valley from Robin and the Mentor!) while Pigeon explains that their employer wants them to steal artifacts from the Mentor for her ceremony.. They pass by the Flying J in flames from the grenade debacle, and V receives a Perception from her Demon that one of the ceremony ingredients she needs is in a car outside the disaster scene. She hops out of the car to go after it, attracts some police attention, plays some cat and mouse, and ends up escaping to her cabin via an underwater drainage pipe her Demon pointed her to.

There were a number of factors that killed the game. Any single one of them could possibly have been resolved (not "ignored" or "tolerated" but resolved) in order to keep the game alive and enjoyable. But all of them together were a death knell.

  • Difficulty coordinating schedules. This one was sort of a beyond anyone's control thing, on the surface. But I tend to think that underlying all that was a lack of commitment to the game to some degree. Not that I'm saying people's priorities were "wrong" or "bad"; I never, when I knew the reason for a conflict or cancellation, thought that they were unworthy activities to prioritize. It's just that bottom line, for whatever reason, people were more committed to other things than they were to the Sorcerer game.
  • We spent a lot of time chatting and BSing. This was mainly because we all like hanging out and this is our only time to do so, so we get sidetracked easily (and we've determined that spending time together IS valuable to us, beyond the context of this game). But I think it's fair to say that lack of commitment to the game--such that it's impossible to say "OK, let's play now" and have everyone respect that--was also a factor.
  • We had a massive mismatch of preferences and aptitudes for procedural frameworks in a game. We had one guy who loves to get under the hood of the rules and examine and tinker, one guy who loves "mechanics" (dicerolling, stats, etc.) inasmuch as they robustly support creative aims (that'd be me), and then three people who, in varying degrees, don't want to be bothered with rolls, scores, defined powers, math, what have you, and rather just want to more or less freely spin a story together, urged on by creative prompts. One player says, "at the mention of dice my eyes glaze over." Basically, if "roll dice equal to a relevant score, compare to an opposing roll for high die, number of victories rolls over into the next, relevant roll" is too much fiddly stuff for this group, then Sorcerer isn't going to work. Similarly, issues of when to employ the dice tripped people up, and someone would be spinning some string of narration about their character, and I'd have to go "wait, baaack up there; you know those police over there? With guns? Yeah, they're opposing you." The net result of all this was that I felt like a killjoy for constantly reigning in people's creative output, and everyone was kind of pushing and pulling over what kind of game we were playing.
  • We also had a mismatch regarding imaginative content and what we wanted to do with it. Everyone had a set of expectations about what the game would be, and though I tried to transmit the Sorcerer paradigm clearly and communicate well in our collaboration over setting and theme we still entered the game with often very different ideas about what it would be and what it would be like. I think everyone had a general idea of Sorcerer as "the game of summoning demons and what you do with the power and what cost you pay for it." But within that rough framework everyone brought a different set of expectations regarding such things as the shape of the story (Jake said in our talk that he went in wanting primarily scenes and conflicts with other PCs, and our prep just didn't have much Positioning on that score), the particular dynamics between  characters (Willem has stated that most of his character's relationships, as played by me, turned out totally different than he pictured them, in a manner that left him cold and left the PC with no direction or motivation), or the capability and methodology of specific capabilities (such as Willem thinking he could tear through a bunch of cops and getting creamed, or Jana struggling with what her Demon abilities could do and balking at the specificity of their operation clashing with her concept).

    It's hard for me to discuss this issue precisely because I had different expectations from them; often I would be looking across the table at a player seeing all kinds of exciting potential for proactive motion for their character, while they shake their head and go "man, what a dead end." Couple of examples: Jake's PC hustles some stolen checks and gets some cash in hand, and goes "well, I guess my Kicker's resolved." (Really? really?! Getting a bit of cash (and acquiring criminal entanglements in the process) constitutes a sustainable situation for Mike? Whaaa. . .?) And then there's the latest development in Robin's story--the mentor bitch him out, and Willem just feels like the relationship is destroyed, not in a "great, dysfunction, emnity and fallout!" sort of way, but in a "poof! it's evaporated, as if it had never been" way. And then he felt that Robin's only reason for caring about the Mummy Kicker was on the Mentor's behalf, so now he just "doesn't care" and has nowhere to go. Whereas I feel that I entered into the game in the good faith that the player actually did care about his Kicker, and correctly (after some floundering) identified that it was the relationships surrounding the mummy that were the meat, put pressure on those relationships. . .and the player (from where I;'m sitting) just up and gives up.

    Hmm. Looking over that, it's awfully judgmental; it just can't help but bubble up when I write about it. Now, I do feel that I'm entitled to my judgment, but at the same time I don't want to paint a picture like "I was the very picture of fairmindedness and creativity and they just wouldn't work with me." Anyway, I'll let the comments stand as the most honest assessment of my feelings at present.
  • On the whole, I think we ended up rather at sea in a number of areas because of our careless approach to the game. I mean at every level: forming a play group, determining our aesthetic preferences, investing together in an SIS, learning the rules, etc. I posted up a Sorcerer game at a local game meetup, and simply assumed that those who signed up and came to my table would be the right people in my community to play this game. While I succinctly stated what the game is about, I don't think I was able to effectively communicate to the group what the play experience is like, or what creative and social duties would be expected of them. Also, I didn't go in with a planned thematic scenario of the "one-sheet" variety, figuring we would work it out as a group. And we did, but we ended up with some things ill-defined (esp. Ritual and Demons), and a lot of gaps for people to fit their disjointed expectations into.

As the months flew by and awkward sessions trickled in, it became clear that the group wasn't gelling and the game wasn't gaining the necessary traction. I was reluctant to quit the game, for a number of reasons: I didn't want to "fail at Sorcerer" or give up on the challenge of running a satisfying game, I didn't want to let down this friend group or leave them with an unfun experience, and I was invested in the fictional content we had created and wanted to see a payoff for that creation. Hell, I hadn't even gotten a chance to introduce the major NPC I had created, which was primarily what my own creativity was sparking on regarding the game. So that felt like altogether an unsatisfying place to leave off.

But in discussion we all made it clear that the game was frustrating and unworkable for us, and we need to move on (yes, even me, despite the above paragraph: my fellow players' unwillingness to continue merely clinched a difficult decision). But it wasn't all gloomy. I think a number of positive insights and observations emerged from the wreckage:

  • We've affirmed that we DO like each other and DO want to play games together. Now that we've got a better handle on the group preference and agenda, we can select games appropriately and have more fun. What the group preference boils down to is "low handling time, room for all players to participate and interact all the time, lots of collaborative fiction-building and narration, low commitment week to week to account for schedule conflicts." We're thinking about In a Wicked Age, the Pool, 1001 Nights, and some others. Hopefully this'll evolve into a cool, relaxing rotating-game group.
  • I learned a lot about running a Sorcerer game; the campaign becomes a sort of dry run to work out the kinks. I believe I've honed my personal skills and my "radar" for potential pitfalls, and my ability to run Sorcerer in the future is enhanced, not diminished.
  • And in that light, I know exactly what I want to do with the ashes of our game. I'm going to take wat really engaged me about the material (most of which I didn't even get to introduce) and lift it out wholesale to build a whole new "Cascadiapunk" setting/concept for a future game. I'll do up a proper one-sheet, with Sorcery and Demon definitions alongside Humanity, and zero in on exactly what in the "setting" I'm focusing on (our previous game was just sort of "eh, anyone from Portland is fine"). This way I can hit the ground running with my own investment and enthusiasm engaged, seek out players who can also invest in this same thing, and create some awesome together, with a firm basis for aesthetic judgment and procedural expectations.

So, yeah. I've got some lingering frustrations, to be sure, but I think there's a happy ending to the tale. I'm looking forward to the next step, both for this group and for Sorcerer.

Peace,
-Joel
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2008, 06:48:23 PM »

Over in [Dead of Night] Nice Mr. Fitzgerald, Ron said some stuff about handling aesthetic judgment calls as a GM that seemed to me to relate to my issues here with communicating expectations, particularly Sorcerer's Bonus Dice for Roleplaying.

The relevant bit:
There's nothing in the text about cliches being silly or not silly, foreshadowed or not foreshadowed, or anything else. The numerous examples are generally descriptive and range from the very familiar to the thought-provoking. Graham's question was the right one - how did I, the GM in this case, organize "my discretion?" When the rules hand me the judgment call like this, I am a big believer in telling people what's on my mind, and finding out what's on theirs, because I don't like to start over case-by-case during play.

What I'm wondering is, how much and in what way does the statement quoted apply to Sorcerer? I'd imagine quite a lot. While I did try to communicate what my standards were in the midst of our conflict, by then it was already kind of too late, as everyone had already calibrated their individual expectations, and recalibrating turned out to be messy an awkward. Especially of note to me here is Ron's clause, ". . .and finding out what's on theirs," that is, communicating as a group, not just me the GM goin' "OK, here's the standard. Measure up, buckos." Which is I think how it came off when I tried to explain why a particular bit of narration didn't meet my standards for bonus dice.

The other aspect I'm looking at is how to establish this sort of aesthetic communication. David Berg chimed in and linked to a list of categories he uses to communicate an aesthetic baseline. it's an interesting list, but I'm not sure if that kind of methodical approach is the best technique with every group. Which leads back around to the question I asked him in the previous thread: what bits of communication do you focus on, and how much do you frontload into the game startup, as opposed to letting it work out as play progresses?

Peace,
-Joel
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JoyWriter
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2008, 07:00:40 PM »

Taking control of other people's relationships is something we've had problems with in the past. Because those npcs tend to reflect something fundimental to the character, and playing them wrong can totally set things the wrong way.

The main trouble seems to be when players cannot express what it is about your portrayal that undermines their character, even after they see it, so veto doesn't work that well. It's too blunt an instrument, and our current GM is too sensitive and illusionist to take it well.

I wonder if there is some way for players to share control of a character, perhaps with one setting general boundaries and the other the specifics. I suspect though that that is no solution, as general boundaries can become more and more specific.

Another tack is to try to find ways to make the meaning of the characters explicit, perhaps through more gentle introductory or tuning scenes, so the GM can get a feel for how to play them, or via some question/answer method, with in character questions about that person. The first should have non-continuity status, depending on how strict that is, perhaps formulated as a dream or explicitly labeled as a trial.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2008, 09:50:24 PM »

Well, for Sorcerer, the basic idea is that once you've generated an idea during character creation, then it belongs wholly to the GM to shape into whatever form it takes in play. That includes the Kicker, and everything else too. Just as the GM gives up all ownership of certain crucial parts of "where the story goes," every other participant gives up authority over any character except his or her sorcerer. By "give up," perhaps the best way I should say it is "give over," or "transfer." You have the idea and then you give it to someone else and accept what they do with it.

Joel, that sounds like one of the issues you ran into, but I think it's actually just a symptom. I'll be getting back to this rather involved thread later in the week, I hope, with the reply I'm slowly drafting.

As a contrast, Trollbabe is totally different. It has rules that are a lot like what you're talking about. If you, playing a trollbabe, designate a given character as a Relationship, then from that point on, you say what that character does. But the GM always plays his or her attitudes and spoken commentary. Each function belongs to the indicated person in full. It works quite well, actually.

I've found in many experiences that your basic advice is sound as well, even without funky rules of either sort. I think a certain jostling, or no-blood-no-foul period is often necessary when dealing with the shadowy, semi-defined, yours/mine character associated with you as a player. I might say, "OK, he's in his armchair, sunk deep in contemplation ..." and give one of those "is this OK" looks to the player who made the character up. There's a lot more joint play of characters than I think we acknowledge, and sometimes it even goes past this opening stage.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: November 29, 2008, 09:53:18 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2008, 06:02:34 PM »

Hi, Joy!

Taking control of other people's relationships is something we've had problems with in the past. Because those npcs tend to reflect something fundimental to the character, and playing them wrong can totally set things the wrong way.

The main trouble seems to be when players cannot express what it is about your portrayal that undermines their character, even after they see it, so veto doesn't work that well. It's too blunt an instrument, and our current GM is too sensitive and illusionist to take it well.
I agree that this is a tricky issue. And it's worth paying close attention to who's got authority over what characters in the particular ruleset you're playing by (like Ron points out, there's a significant difference between how Sorcerer and Trollbabe handle it). I've had difficulty in groups where a certain "this is how to roleplay" mindset pervades; I might make an "NPC" type character (sidekick, flunky, cohort, etc.) which, by the rules (D&D, Big Eyes Small Mouth) I'm supposed to control, but the GM still tends to assume the NPC is hers, 'cause, y'know, the GM plays NPCs, right?

My stance (in agreement with Ron and the text) WRT this particular game is, it requires a certain amount of risk. If your concept is so brittle that it can't stand up to another participant freely monkeying with your supporting cast, then such a delicate flower is not Sorcerer-worthy. Now I'm more than happy to communicate and work with a player regarding what feels right, but in the absence of such communication I'm gonna barrel ahead using the components I've been given. I didn't receive any kind of "here's these NPCs and my relationship with them is like this," from the players. All I got was, Here's some names and roles. Not even so much as a personality descriptor. Which to me says, "I'm cool with whatever you do with these components." But apparently it meant something else entirely to the player.

Now we're getting more into that judgmental territory where I start justifying all my decisions at the expense of the players. Still not sure what use to make of that.

Ron,

Joel, that sounds like one of the issues you ran into, but I think it's actually just a symptom.
Had a feeling you'd say that. I'l look forward to your reply.

Peace,
-Joel
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2008, 10:56:14 AM »

Hi Joel,

I apologize for making you wait so long.

The first issue is about you, the other people, and posting about the game, particularly your own reactions and feelings. You only represent yourself here, you're not finking on them or bad-mouthing them by talking about that stuff. If you need to work out whether it's appropriate in their eyes to say what you think, acknowledging that that is only what it is, then you should talk to them about it. If someone has a problem with it, then you decide what to do. But don't keep posting in this halfway, I-think + ooh-that's-mean-of-me way.

That's all necessary because, based on your post, I disagree that the failure of the game was due to the confluence of many factors, any of which would have been resolvable in isolation. That appears to be face-saving, let's-not-blame social rationalizing. I think you were far more accurate when you wrote,

Quote
... we ended up rather at sea in a number of areas because of our careless approach to the game. I mean at every level: forming a play group, determining our aesthetic preferences, investing together in an SIS, learning the rules, etc.

That leads to the second issue, to consider role-playing, and particularly using a given game, at the most fundamental level. That level is represented by two concepts: Color and Reward.

Regarding the first, sure, you can have great characters, great setting, and great system, but without Color that rivets one's attention on those before they are experienced in full, then they'll never get into action. Color is superficial in some ways, but crucial in other, cognitive ways. In Sorcerer, the Color is all about arrogance and whether it can be heroic. Everyone knows it can be disastrous, sure; but you look at the red-haired woman on the cover and wonder ... can she do it? Could I? What might lead me to try? Combine that with the visceral response to the word demon and now you've got the Color.

Regarding the second, what is the payoff for playing? It's all about those four outcomes listed in the book, which by any logical thinking should have been in the first chapter (at least the arrogance part is), mediated through the Kicker mechanic. The latter is most importantly expressed by the opportunity to change one's character's descriptors at that phase of play, but also by the more fundamental opportunity for you to decide whether your character's story is over or not. If that sounds mild, then consider whether any role-playing game prior to Sorcerer included it.

So, given those two things, and this applies to them no matter what game we're talking about, you either buy in, or you don't. Absolutely every other aspect of role-playing boils down to some manifestation of either one, or of an integration between them. So if you don't buy into them for a given game, then no matter how long you sit there, no matter how many dice you rattle, and no matter what monologues you dredge up, you aren't fucking well playing that game.

For a person in that situation, the only option is to rely only on certain specific other priorities: (a) what you didn't like and try to avoid based on previous play, (b) some Story Before you're making up, and (c) social priorites that aren't centered on play itself. I suggest that many of the instances you described in your post arise from this option in action. The weird thing is, it's not about blame! No one can be faulted for falling back on these things if they don't buy into the Color and Reward, because there's literally nothing else they can do.

I wrote up some of my personal takes on those instances, and then realized it was not right to do so. I wasn't there. And most importantly, dissecting out such an instance and trying to pin down why it was "wrong" or "not fun for me" in that particular case is wasted attention, when the event arose very logically from the lack of buy-in in the first place. I think you arrived at that conclusion yourself in the phrasing that I quoted above.

I only have one more little point that may be more generally useful. As I see it, no one actually hates dice. Someone may well hate being marginalized by shitty systems, and in response, have mastered a particular strategy of play. This strategy is to control the events of play through narrating, such that dice either get elided, or they only affect things that won't be permitted to really change anything. (A pro at this technique can divert the game away from using dice at all for hours. A real master, however, knows that the GM won't ever really kill a player-character, so permits things like combat to be very dice-y, smiling slightly throughout.) This is, in the terms I used above, refusing to buy into the Reward, and therefore to reject the attendant system components within it, including mechanics-based resolution with actual consequences.

Well, that's what I got. Let me know whether it helps or even makes sense.

Best, Ron
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2008, 11:13:48 PM »

Ron,

Thanks. Yes, it makes sense. As for helpful, I'm still digesting. Let me digest out loud for a bit:

I disagree that the failure of the game was due to the confluence of many factors, any of which would have been resolvable in isolation.

the event arose very logically from the lack of buy-in in the first place.

Yes. When you throw it all out there in the light if day I can see that this is what I was trying to get at. Basically, "the game tanked due to lack of buy-in, which made a bunch of other factors unbearable, where they'd have been workable or solvable otherwise." But yeah, I flinched and ended up pussy-footing around the issue. "Face-saving, let's-not-blame rationalizing" is exactly right. While we had a pretty frank and open discussion of the game, in terms of how things went and how people feel about it, I do sense that there's an implicit group commitment to upholding a "it just couldn't work out, there were too many nails in the coffin" vision of events, so that personal judgment of failure is not denied (f'rinstance Jake said first thing that he didn't buy in and that was a personal failing on his part) but innocuously diffused.

So enough of that then. What you say about Color, Reward and Buy-In. . .it makes uncannily good sense to me. It's one of those things that you never thought of, but once someone says it, you start mentally plugging actual situations into it, and it fits! It's an interesting synergy of the concepts, where all the talk about Color in isolation, or ditto Reward, doesn't get you to the place you can see when you look at them both together.

For a person in that situation, the only option is to rely only on certain specific other priorities: (a) what you didn't like and try to avoid based on previous play, (b) some Story Before you're making up, and (c) social priorites that aren't centered on play itself. I suggest that many of the instances you described in your post arise from this option in action. The weird thing is, it's not about blame! No one can be faulted for falling back on these things if they don't buy into the Color and Reward, because there's literally nothing else they can do.

I totally hear you here. I can only nod grimly, because I recognize that in cases where I myself didn't have buy-in, that's exactly what I've done.

I only have one more little point that may be more generally useful. As I see it, no one actually hates dice. Someone may well hate being marginalized by shitty systems, and in response, have mastered a particular strategy of play. This strategy is to control the events of play through narrating, such that dice either get elided, or they only affect things that won't be permitted to really change anything.

I'm well aware of this strategy of play. I've done it and seen it done. Oh my yes. However, I just wanted to point out that Jana may be a different case entirely. She's very, very new to roleplaying, and is largely ignorant of, say, D&D and its surrounding, accumulated culture. I don't think there's any element of "marginalized by shitty systems" in her game experience. I think we're looking here at a genuinely different procedural preference, involving lots of sharing across all the categories of Authority, and large swaths of narration for which dice are a flow-breaker.

You are right that it's not the dice that she hates--it's not like she's averse to the physical objects, or picking up and rolling them per se, or anything. It's just that there are lots of roleplaying dice procedures--including ones that I believe are quite functional, like Sorcerer or Dogs in the Vineyard--that rubs her the wrong way and breaks her engagement with the game.

I'm not sure if that's an aside that's worth pursuing, though. I'll leave it up to you.



So. . .given all that, where do we go from here? I think I've got an intellectual handle on your major points, but I'm still mulling over practical application. So, in addition to further commentary on any of the above stuff, I'd like to try and address the following:

1) What kinds of techniques are useful for facilitating buy-in in the first place? I already identified that a more directed approach (in this case doing up a one-sheet with the Setting concept and Sorcerous Definitions, and using that to form a coherent game pitch) would have helped loads in this case. Anything else? Or is it just a sort of "you lean forward and go 'hardcore mermaid knife-fighters on the moon!' and if everyone gives you wicked shark grins, you're golden" kinda thing? (Which, incidentally, is exactly the method used for buy-in to an Immortal Iron Fist game with Classroom Deathmatch rules that I played with Jake awhile back, which was hella fun.)

2) How might one go about teasing buy-in out of an existing, floundering game? Are you pretty much doomed, or are there reasonably reliable ways to put on the brakes and solicit buy-in once it is clear you don't have it (bearing in mind that you can't make anyone buy in and you may still fail)?

3) It seems to me that there's an inverse principle to the necessity of buy-in: it's possible to be totally grooving on Color and/or Reward and have play still suck sour frog ass, because you don't know what to do with the Color or how to get to the Reward. In fact, I've been there many a time. I'm not sure if there's any cure that can be articulated though, any more specific than "know what you're doing and how to do it" (duh).

Peace,
-Joel
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2008, 08:37:25 AM »

Hi Joel,

Quote
1) What kinds of techniques are useful for facilitating buy-in in the first place?

More directed, certainly. But I can't over-stress the actual content - first, that Color remains only color and doesn't become a detailed dissertation on, for instance, setting, or other for-instance, how to play your character and what will happen to him or her later ("when you hit tenth level, it's really cool!"). Second, that Reward be explicitly identified in mechanics terms, especially in terms of large and small cycles. (Check out Beating a dead horse? for my most detailed presentation on that concept, for which all credit goes to Nolan.)

It also helps to show some investment on your part and to share that investment rather than merely wave your three-ring binder's worth of prep that they can't see. In the case of our current Alyria game, I emailed around the spiffed-up story map graphic and it got everyone even more excited. I have always been a big fan of brief but punchy handouts.

The trouble with your mermaids example is that it's Color only. I think that might be a major issue in the discussion. It worked in the Deathmatch case perhaps because the author of a game is often skilled at conveying understanding of Reward very quickly during play.

Basically, anything like what I'm describing that gets away from the traditional bullshit that connotes "We shall play this kickass game and I (or it) shall make it fun for you, you just wait and see." That doesn't work for traditional metaplot-heavy design, and it doesn't work for fast-fun Forge-ish design either. (If I could kick the shins of every person who's slapped Primetime Adventures down in front of a dubious group, promising that this game will wash their windows for them, let's play it right now, I would.)

Quote
2) How might one go about teasing buy-in out of an existing, floundering game? Are you pretty much doomed, or are there reasonably reliable ways to put on the brakes and solicit buy-in once it is clear you don't have it (bearing in mind that you can't make anyone buy in and you may still fail)?

I dunno. I suppose one should simply have the Color + Reward get-together at that point and see if it's possible to re-start in those terms, without having the fiction itself re-start. I haven't been in that situation because I'm typically willing to let the current game die and try something else. Then again, we usually start with that process anyway, so if we and the game aren't working out together, then we're sort of past that particular repair.

H'mm ... now that I think of it, we do practice a minor form of that repair when it appears that a given player is floundering. I remember that when we played the oldie-old-old alpha of Dust Devils, Maura and Tod both floundered a bit ... until I said, "We're not playing Hero Wars any more, and your character is not here to save the town." That was kind of a revelatory moment for both players, and I now realize it's because I was addressing Reward. What do you do in Dust Devils? You have your character grapple with his or her Devil, that's what. The local setting and all its hideous internal strife is a venue for that, not a set goal of its own; if you want to try to save it, that's just one thing to fixate on out of many.

Quote
3) It seems to me that there's an inverse principle to the necessity of buy-in: it's possible to be totally grooving on Color and/or Reward and have play still suck sour frog ass, because you don't know what to do with the Color or how to get to the Reward. In fact, I've been there many a time. I'm not sure if there's any cure that can be articulated though, any more specific than "know what you're doing and how to do it" (duh).

Interestingly, I have no idea what you're talking about. To me, "totally grooving on" means actually doing it with everyone else doing it too, which negates your point entirely, so that must not be what you mean by it. Do you mean "anticipating" or "hoping," or maybe do you mean "individually/privately?" I'd like to know about one of your many times in detail in order to understand what you mean at all, especially the inverse principle.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2008, 10:45:06 PM »

1) What kinds of techniques are useful for facilitating buy-in in the first place?

I've had a lot of hits and misses with this.  I liked Ron's analysis, but I think an example would help.  So, here's my shot at one:

"Hey guys!  Come play Primetime Adventures with me!"  (Color:)  "It's like a TV show!  What kind?  Well, we'll figure that out together early on."  (Point of play:) "The basic thing you do is play a character with a morally interesting Issue, and help tell stories that allow you to explore that Issue."  (Large-scale Reward:) "You get to bring the character to a satisfying conclusion with respect to their Issue."  (Small-scale Reward:) "In the course of that, when you try to succeed in conflicts, your ability to do so depends on points other players have given you for making contributions they liked."

Ron, is that reasonably close to what you had in mind?  I couldn't think of a way to describe the largest Reward scale in mechanics terms... might just be my ignorance of PtA...  "And then this happens in the fiction, which is cool, right?" is where I tend to wind up when describing my own game's rewards.  I'm not sure whether that accords or conflicts with your recommendation.

-David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2008, 07:59:21 AM »

Hi David,

I think your exercise will only make sense at all if you try it with a game you know pretty well - either played it and reflected on it, or at the very least, have read it carefully and genuinely are prepping for play.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2008, 10:51:08 AM »

Right now I'm prepping a Trail of Cthulhu game.  I've read most of the book carefully.  I'm planning to say something like:

(Color:) "It's X-Filesy paranormal investigation in the 1930s, except your investigations lead toward mind-blowing cosmic monstrosity."  (Point of play:) "The investigation is the framework that allows us to really explore and enjoy '30s Lovecraftian X-Files."  (Large-scale Reward:) "When you complete an investigation, you uncover a nicely chilling Mythos plot or happening, and your characters will have travelled some distance toward madness."  (Small-scale Reward:) "Each clue you follow exposes more of the GM's colorful story, and each harrowing experience the characters endure ticks off points on a scale of how crazy you should play them."

I could further specify that the task resolution system calls for depletion of finite pools, but right now that doesn't strike me as significant.

FWIW, my first instinct on "point of play" was to focus on the characters' goal: uncover the mystery.  That's probably how I'd have pitched this with a little less thought.

Ps,
-David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2008, 12:40:16 PM »

Thud.

There's no reward in your reward.

Try, "The more you understand, the more you're driven toward madness, as your increasing Mythos Lore skills and Sanity scores grind into one another."

Notice that I did not say, "Can you solve the mystery before you're a gibbering lunatic?" I left all strategy out of the reward statement so as to highlight the intended CA (the one I presume you were aiming at), and I left the door open for the player to enjoy the descent into madness or to try to resist it, either way.

I deliberately confounded player and character for the strong "actor/you" experience inherent in most Call of Cthulhu play.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2008, 01:13:13 PM »

Ah!  So for describing Reward, don't bother with, "and this is why it's fun!"  Just state "doing X produces Y" in terms of the fiction and the mechanics' effect on the fiction.  Then let the players decide if "doing X produces Y" is something they find appealing.

In my friends' accounts of their ToC games (and the one game I played), it seemed like relevant Sanity decay happened too slowly to function as a regular reward for play, and that everyone was much more invested in finding out "what's going on here?"

What leads to your judgment that sating curiosity isn't a real reward?

It seems to me that perhaps, "My Sanity just went down by enough that I'm hallucinating!" is an instance of the game's large-scale reward cycle in action, while "we found out that Detective Tom is actually the cult leader" is an instance of the game's small-scale reward cycle in action.  The mechanical enforcement of the smaller cycle is the game's instructions for GM prep ("define clues that advance understanding"), combined with the "investigative abilities always find the clue" rule.  Does that work? 

Thanks,
-David

P.S. Interestingly enough, I was already planning to jack up all the Stability and Sanity tolls of given encounters...
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2008, 08:50:39 PM »

Hi, Ron!

By the numbers:

1)
The trouble with your mermaids example is that it's Color only. I think that might be a major issue in the discussion. It worked in the Deathmatch case perhaps because the author of a game is often skilled at conveying understanding of Reward very quickly during play.

I was figuring my example would get a pass because it was an "off the cuff," silly hypothetical. But thinking about it, I think you're right to pick on it, 'cuz the sloppiness is comparable to the careless approach I described WRT the Sorcerer game, and my "RPG pitch" method in general. It's not that i only focus on Color all the time, it's more like it's haphazard; whatever comes to mind for me with a particular game, further subdivided into whatever I feel I can express succinctly. in some cases, like Shadow of Yesterday, it works well, because I am pretty jazzed and articulate about Color and Reward. In others, less so. For Sorcerer, I touched on Reward with the mention of Kickers and their resolution, but I don't think it was directed enough to take hold. Or maybe it's that the surrounding elements were covered poorly, so understanding Kickers meant little amidst our wasteland of Color, Resolution, and Short-Term Reward. In any case, I think the min take-away is that I need to be deliberate in developing a pitch, in part so I can make sure I understand the Color/Reward interaction myself.

By the way, I think I've caught the Handout Fever from you (I've seen you mention it for years, but when you actually showed some of yours, that did it for me). When I set out to retool my Cascadiapunk concept for a future game, I'm envisioning whipping up some handout hotness.

2)
I dunno. I suppose one should simply have the Color + Reward get-together at that point and see if it's possible to re-start in those terms, without having the fiction itself re-start. I haven't been in that situation because I'm typically willing to let the current game die and try something else. Then again, we usually start with that process anyway, so if we and the game aren't working out together, then we're sort of past that particular repair.

I think there's definitely something to be said for making a clean break if things aren't working. As I've said, with the Sorcerer game I think we were right to do so. I also feel, though, that it'd be good to have some tools in the box for evaluating and facilitating the possibility of fixing rather than abandoning.

What draws me to such a possibility is: A) when I get invested in a fledgling SIS it's painful to see it cut off in mid-stream and whither away, never to be fulfilled or resolved. I just read the collection of Young Gods from Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller, which petered out without concluding due to various creative and publishing issues. It was a great read, but so frustrating! I want there to be more, I want it to fulfill itself, but it will now never be. If anything, this feeling is even more intense with in a roleplaying setting (at least one that I really like), since it's our shared creation, not someone else's, that's stillborn.

The other draw is: B) I deal with this issue often in my longstanding game group, where a venerable campaign is out of juice (or maybe never had it), and nobody knows how to correct for it, instead continuing to slog on an hope to "make it better" by, I dunno, sheer brilliance or force of will. Not a functional way to play, I know. I wanted to explore methods of re-orienting to use in that context. In any case, what you're saying makes sense to me: do the same thing you'd do with a brand-new game. I have had a few of those "whoa, time out, can we talk about how things are going?" talks, but always with limited success. What this Color/Reward discussion is giving me is an awesomely focused framework for discussing buy-in.

3)
Interestingly, I have no idea what you're talking about. To me, "totally grooving on" means actually doing it with everyone else doing it too, which negates your point entirely, so that must not be what you mean by it. Do you mean "anticipating" or "hoping," or maybe do you mean "individually/privately?" I'd like to know about one of your many times in detail in order to understand what you mean at all, especially the inverse principle.

"Anticipating/Hoping" sounds about right. When I wrote that I was actually thinking of a passage that I thought was somewhere in the GNS Essays, but I can't find it. Something to the effect of getting hung up on prep and nursing a pristine vision of what this character "is," and how hes so great and you love him and everything, but in play you're paralyzed, not knowing how to make the character be as cool in action as he is in the realm of Platonic Forms.

For illustration, I'll give two contrasting examples, one that wasn't like this and one that was:

First Example: In early high school I played a Rogue (well, Scout, technically) in Middle Earth Roleplaying, who I consider really to be my first character. Before that we'd played Marvel Superheros as a mere boardgame, and my technically-first MERP character was a generic Ranger named Nathan who died on his first adventure from a random critical. That event flipped a switch in my brain, I think, as I tried to make some sense out of the senseless loss. I went "aha!" and rolled up Alex, Nathan's ne'er-do-well older brother who forsook is calling as a Ranger, but who hears of his brother's death in a foul den of orcs and vows to make good and venture forth against evil. Alluvasudden I was playing a person, with a personality and a past and all kinds of drives and issues he was wrestling with and everything. It set the mold for my entire career of roleplaying endeavors. I had a general framework for playing the character, and he by-god did stuff. He didn't just tromp around with the party like part of a damn amoeba, he split off and had his own shenanigans. He acted in surprising but character-consistent ways, seeking a kind of redemption for his brother's death, being drawn back to his old, carefree, thieving days, pissing off petty tyrants with his insolence, setting his own course through the world, not just going "so, GM, where we goin' now?" The effort was awkward, lurching, adolescent. But never passive or paralyzed.

Unfortunately I was jerked around quite a bit by the GM who, most of the time, had no interest in supporting what I was doing (supporting  including meaningful opposition) I didn't get a lot from the other players, either, though there were a few memorable times. So I didn't get the kind of "arc" I might have wanted with Alex, but I still enjoyed playing him quite a bit, and what I was doing was honestly pretty revolutionary for our group. And of course nobody knew how to talk about Color, Reward, or Buy-In.

Second example: When I found a new roleplaying group in college, I joined an AD&D 2E campaign and, being obsessed with all things Celtic, made an Irish-ish Bard named Dorian. He had a tragic history: the younger son of a Chieftan, who was happy with his lady-love, until his older brother picked a fight over her from jealousy, she came between them, and Dorian accidentally killed her. So now he is self-exiled from his native land, wandering the earth in penance seeking to learn to heal rather than destroy.

Play consisted mainly of me, in-character, soliciting buy-in from numerous participants in serial fashion, and being turned down, often in bewilderment. I made my grand entrance in the campaign singing (for real) a ballad I'd been working on in my voice lessons), and people were kinda like, "ehh, OK, can we get back to the game now?" I wandered around with the party, and vacillating during characters' downtime between "oh woe is me, isn't my tragic past tragic?" and "hey, everyone, aren't I so very poetically wise and bard-y?" The GM was invested in how cool my character was, and committed to supporting his development, but damned if either of us actually knew what that meant. Mostly she just had me play through disturbing visions (a favorite device of hers) based on my past trauma, and tried to work Dorian into the "main story" of her major NPCs.

Now: in neither case did we have group buy-in to Color and Reward. The contrast I'm drawing is between the condition of me, myself, being bought in to a character such that I can actually play, and the condition of, well, not being so.



Anyway. . .hmm. Reviewing all that, it looks like what I'm really getting at (or fumbling towards) is just what you've been trying to drum into my head: that buy-in to just Color isn't sufficient, you've got to buy in to Color and Reward.

Peace,
-Joel
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JoyWriter
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2008, 05:39:56 PM »

When dealing with buy in, it seems like there are two ways to look at it; either the players are not working at it enough, or they don't get it. To some extent the second can be reformed as "the game doesn't get them", or less judgementally by saying that the game and players are miscalibrated, they're not matching.
Now I hope you see that this problem can essentially be stated as, "the game wasn't right for your group as a whole". This is why buy-in characterises what you feel happened so well; it's just saying that what each player wanted to do did not produce (as a whole system) the game you expected to be playing.

Now you can say "tough, work at it, you'll enjoy it eventually" or just "tough, do it or the book says your wrong", but that I think is a foolish task. Something already drew you together. They have enough investment in "something" to come to your house.

I don't think it's a failure that you didn't clearly define your preferences and expectations before you started; even in more logical fields like software design a perfect specification is hard to see without actually trying to use the softwear, and people have developed proper language for expressing that kind of stuff, a language you proabably won't share. The tricky thing is that you tried (as most people do) to find out in play what you wanted from the game. Now sorcerer is not set up for this, most games aren't, excluding the common game "constantly changing house-rules for all"! (sounds a bit like universalis actually, maybe that's why I love it so much)

Now onto the bard story, why didn't people buy into your stuff? When you interact with someone, you can expect or imply a certain response: You have an idea of "how this conversation should go", and obviously someone else's perspective is probably different.

One important part of this can be reciprocity; people feel encouraged to respond in kind, so you invest time in handouts and setting structure, and they invest time in them too. This can have two parts, in that they can be in a sense paying you back for the stuff you did that they enjoyed, either through duty or gratitude, or it can be through modelling, as they see how much you enjoy a certain action, or how much cool stuff is produced by it, and they get pumped up to do the same. This kind of bouncing off one another can amplify, if the stuff you do builds into the stuff they do and vice versa, so you don't just get two good things but a continuable process! A virtuous circle.

Now obviously we want that one, right? (Some people just want applause, but I suspect that is not what you want) The trouble is that when you bring something to the table, it can imply all these different circles of positive feedback; all sorts of different responses from them would feed back well into you and lead to you two going somewhere. But that might not be where they want to go. Or perhaps one circle does go that way, but neither of you can see it. The hard part is finding responses that are not identical but complementary.

So fitting this back into practical, your playing this Bard and people hear you make this song and say "cool, but I don't know how to respond to that, so is it just for applause?". They don't know how to react in a way that fits what both of you want. So people do what they can do, and switch. Their alternative to changing the subject would be to find a way to plug what your doing into what they are doing, as with the "disturbing visions" stuff.

So to recap, as I currently understand "bye in", it's about player investment, or in other words how much their natural self expression matches up with the game, either by forcing it to, or by clever embedding (if that doesn't make it clearer stick with the above!). For a game to be self-sustaining it needs to give out to the players as they give in to it. Or the more they force themselves to comply, the more benefit they should be getting out of it.

Now these things don't have to be synchronised, and I think this is where the reward cycle comes in; people put up with using dice and letting people take over parts of their character and all sorts of other things because of the unique benefits that are supposed to come from it. Now in the perfect world people will like every inch of the system, sometimes they'll just like kickers. But reward points in the system allow you to focus on just getting that bit right, so that whatever else happens there will always be that constant plug of positive feedback to keep everything ticking over, as you solve the harder problems of getting everyone's purposes and feelings about their characters to embed nicely, not necessarally so they agree, but so they all get somewhere better.

Now in this context it seems like a reward cycle for any particular person is the guaranteed frequency of the stuff they like turning up in game, and colour is stuff that hints at stuff they will like, but is not mandated. What's the difference between colour and everything else people make up? Is it the creative content that comes ready with the game book?
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