[TSOY] Um, is this a problem?

Started by dindenver, December 10, 2008, 04:06:04 PM

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  I am set to GM this next week, I have myself (SG) and two other players, is that a big enough group to get the full Solar System experience?
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Eero Tuovinen

I think so, yes! My ideal Solar System group is a SG and 2-3 players. Less players makes for a more intense and interactive story experience, more for a meandering, exploratory game. I'd take 2 players for a dramatic, perhaps short to mid-length campaign that wants to get deep on individual characters. I'd have 4 players for a game that was supposed to cover a lot of ground in the setting via different pairs of eyes. 3 players is superior to two as regards audience downtime (more time to rest between your own scenes), but 2 is fine if everybody is energetic, rested and interested. If I had 5 players, I'd split the game into two groups unless the setting and situation supported lots of protagonists really well. Also, smaller groups are easier to guide.

(Remember that unlike many other games, Solar System has a near absolute presumption for protagonism - there is relatively little room for players playing support cast the way many groups do; the game often only makes sense if your own character has solid, dramatic motivations, rather than you just following an actually committed player around throwing wisecracks. This means that lots of players = lots of protagonists = lots of stories.)

So I wouldn't be worried at all here, you're set for success as far as group size is concerned. Just coordinate with the players so they either create an entertaining duo of friends, or characters with different social positions and viewpoints on the setting. For example, having one play a Zaru slave and another play an Ammeni noble has lots of mileage in TSoY in all sorts of ways. An insider/outsider split also works very well.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


I was talking about games, protagonists and screen time with some friends, and I mentioned that you had said the following:

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen on December 10, 2008, 08:36:26 PM
3 players is superior to two as regards audience downtime (more time to rest between your own scenes)

This is something I'm really curious about, and want to hear your thoughts on. It's not an urgent matter, but a matter of curiosity. But it's something you don't really go into in your book (Solar System), and I hope to hear more about it from you.

Here's the question:

What you wrote (the quote, above) makes sense. However, for most roleplayers it's also pretty counterintuitive. After all, the vast majority of players complain that they don't get enough spotlight time, not enough play time. I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about not having enough "down time" in a game.

That said, I know what you're talking about. I've played games that are sufficiently intense that it really helps to have a scene or two now and then to take a breather. What I'm really curious about is how you see this as a TSoY player and Story Guide.

Why is it that the players benefit from this "down time", while the Story Guide seems to be left out of the consideration?

What does it feel like to you when you're a player in someone else's TSoY game?

The reason I'm curious is because the answer may say something about the way you run the game. How do you consistently generate a dynamic that is a) full-on, intense for the players, such that they benefit from a break now and then, but b) is not exhausting for the Story Guide?

I'd love to hear about the attitude you bring to the game as well as any specific techniques you use at the table,



Eero Tuovinen

That's a good question. The short answer is that Story Guiding is not as exhausting simply because you don't have to think on your feet as much. The Story Guide is also often the most motivated participant in the game, and he can pace himself because he controls the dramatic coordination and knows more about where things are going, how scenes are framed and such. I'd say that these factors are the main cause for why I don't get as tired when being the SG as when I'm being a player. (Not that I've had much opportunity for being the player in TSoY, specifically.)

The SG also basically gets to rest whenever the players hesitate. When I do the Story Guiding, players often confront pretty difficult conundrums which on my side are just simple pitches. "OK, the night is drawing near and you only have time to go visit one person more. Will it be your mom or the last suspect?" is simple to say, but it's much more exhausting for the player, who needs to make the choices. In general the SG has it easy when he learns to let go of worrying and realizes that he's actually the one who doesn't have to care about anything; he just throws out stuff and lets the players deal with it.

In a way the SG is always in the same audience mode the other players go into when their characters are not in the scene.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


How much does that effect vary for you, as you play with different groups and different players?

I've definitely had the experience of playing with very proactive players, or players who spend a lot of time interacting with each other, but I've never seen anyone GM in a way that guaranteed this reliably with ANY player at all.

Can you share any more specific advice on what you do in play that creates this dynamic? I feel that there's some really vital GM advice drifting around in your head that would be of great service to Solar System/TSoY fans everywhere. If you can dig it up in any shape or form, I'm sure they will be extremely grateful.

Your ability to make the game work for you reliably is as much a key to the success of the system as the mechanics and crunch. I'm really happy that you included some great GM advice in the Solar System booklet, but I also feel that you've left out just as much, and that's a shame! (I say that in the most positive sense, by the way.) In particular, there is really almost no advice at all on how a GM's play interacts with players' Keys.


Eero Tuovinen

Writing GMing advice is actually pretty difficult. I have this new campaign/project based on D&D which is all about figuring out what it even means to design a roleplaying game based on method (as opposed to rules). Solar System is not a full treatise on Story Guiding, but that's because it'd have been delayed quite a bit if I'd tried to catch the complete picture of my method on paper.

In the real world, though, the GM is limited to what his players are willing and interested in doing. My numero uno advice in this regards is communication. Always make sure that the players understand what you are doing as a group, what you are doing as the GM, and what you expect the players to be doing as players. When you do something new, tell them what you are doing. When you are rolling for that wandering monster, tell them why. (The real reason, which probably has something to do with time-based resource constraint in their decision-making, not some bogus "realism"-explanation.) When you are not certain why a player is acting or not acting in some way, ask them. Functional roleplaying seems to always be predicated on mutual understanding of goals - I've had fun playing without understanding what others are doing, but it's often fun on their expense or fun regardless of what they are doing, not fun with them.

From this viewpoint, when Story Guiding Solar System, I've had my share of failures. These mostly concern matching the right person with the right game. I remember especially vividly how the game crashed out of simple boredom when I tried TSoY with some teenage girls combined with teenage boys - it's a fact that TSoY is a gamer's game, it requires buy-in to the mechanical process. The character generation and the necessary mechanical choices kill interest in people who don't want to bother with it, and even if the SG fibs somehow to get them through that, such a player is easily left out of the interesting bits by the game's concern for mechanical resolution, leveraging your mechanical strength and receiving mechanical rewards. Another clear failure was when I tried to run TSoY with the Dealership methods I'd learned from Dust Devils and got a group of completely disparate characters who actually lived in separate parts of Near - the game worked in theory, but was much too slow in practice, as the player characters were all over the place.

Aside from that sort of thing, though, it's pretty difficult to give one-size-fits-all GMing advice. The real process of play only starts when you hook up with the player on the other side of the table and affirm a mutual appreciation of each other's input into the game. To get there you reach with some color, some thematic possibilities, some genre conventions - and when the other player answers, you get to start play. After affirming connection you can each start pushing and pulling according to how the given game is structured. I write quite a lot about the accorded responsibilities of each player in the Solar System booklet, and this writing basically concerns a situation where the mutual affirmation of participation has already been established. When you know that the players are getting you, just play according to those responsibilities: judge the rules, coordinate drama, play the NPCs and whatever it was I listed at the beginning of the SG chapter.

The great majority of problems that surface in this process are because you and the players are not getting each other. My first example of problems above, the one with the teenagers, is an example of this: a player is not correctly perceiving the purpose and use of the rules of the game, so she's not receiving the signals of communication. I can talk about the different Secret choices until I'm blue in the face, but that will mean nothing if she doesn't realize how the choice interconnects with the cool stuff. Such communication problems might be cleared by having the player read the rules in advance (I made the SS booklet cheap and a bit disposable exactly because I want you to give it to your friends), by talking theory with him (only works with some rare players, usually other game designers and such hardcore activists) or by playing through some mock transactions, to list some possibilities. This is basically a pedagogical issue, so whatever the individual rules-responsible person (practically always the SG, as he needs to have the most solid grasp of the game to begin with) finds smart to do is probably better than what I could suggest.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Quote from: dindenver on December 10, 2008, 04:06:04 PMI am set to GM this next week, I have myself (SG) and two other players, is that a big enough group to get the full Solar System experience?
Heck yes! I'm SGing a campaign for just two players myself, and we're having a blast! The campaign started with just one SG and one player, but we've since added another player.

However, Clinton R. Nixon did not exactly support my decision to run a game 1-on-1. He states that the game was designed for 3-6 players.