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Author Topic: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG  (Read 10779 times)
mcv
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Martijn Vos


« on: February 12, 2009, 04:01:36 AM »

This thread is the next step in my quest to understand Story Now and how to give it to a new player who doesn't like Simulationism. It continues from What's Narrativist in Zero RPG?, and I'm quoting a couple of points brought up there. I'm letting go of Zero as my example and am using Serenity instead, since I actualy intend to start a campaign with that.

McV did mention Serenity RPG as a possible example of a narrativist game though, and I can say a little something about why/how Serenity isn't narrativist.  Seems like we've likely moved beyond that on this thread though, and I don't want to threadjack,

That's what this new thread is for. Why/how is Serenity not narrativist, but also: can I do anything to make it narrativist. I think the answer lies in understanding Premise and what to do with it.

I believe Too Much Analysis Kills the Fun.   At some point, GMs and Players need to step away from the theory and say "knowing what I have learned, can I make my game session deliver more Moments of Awesome?" and try it out.

Of course I want more Moments of Awesome, but then again, who doesn't? But yes, I want to try it out, and for that reason I want to move into a more practical direction. How to get Awesome in Serenity (in a way that the new guy also considers awesome), and if/how Premise can help me. Or which Premise, and how to address it.

Also yes: games based on TV shows (like Serenity) are often good vehicles for Narrativist Play.  Unfortunately, they tend to be designed around a Gamist/Sim bias: Unless your group is created to be a rag-tag band living on the frontier fringes of a civilized universe, taking whatever jobs they can to stay free, then there isn't really a whole lot of rules to the rule book.  What if the game was designed around, instead of a Guns rating, Jane has a Loyalty rating, and the dice roll isn't whether or not Jane can successfully shoot the Alliance guy kidnapping River, but does he shoot the bad guy or give in and turn over River?  It'd be a very different sort of character sheet.

It is, but to me, that also feels like I'm taking the character's free will away from the player, and putting it in game mechanics.

BTW: I think you nailed the important part of my hypothetical Serenity build: The challenge is directly about how the Story/Plot goes.  Note that that's just an example of how to use System Mechanics to push a game into Story Now mode, instead of using the current Serenity Mechanics, which push the game into Step Up or Support the Dream category.  You certainly can play any type of game with any System: But some Systems have a lot more pain and work on the part of the GM to reward different agendas.

I admit Serenity RPG has lots of elements in common with Step Up and Dream supporting systems, and I don't doubt it can support those approaches well. But it also has Plot Points, which the player can spend on just about anything, including introducing a situation related to Premise or Theme. And the GM can reward Plot Points for anything, including for addressing Premise (although I'm still not completely sure what that means, but that's what this thread is for). Basically, I think Plot Points, how they're spent and how they're earned, can have a huge impact on how the game is played. They're not earned at the end of the session and only spent to get a bonus on a roll, they're earned constantly for doing cool stuff, solving problems, facing your Complications (Disadvantages that make life interesting in the Chinese-proverb sense), and, well, why not for addressing premise in an interesting way?

But I need to get a better grip on Premise first. And instead of vague theorising, I want to get practical about it with examples of premises and how they affect play. Actually, FredGarber already did that for Luke and the Deathstar, but here I want to try to focus on Serenity instead (though if you're unfamiliar with the setting, examples for other settings are good too). Why Serenity? Because unlike Zero or Star Wars, I do want to use that game some day soon (as a replacement for my failed Firefly/Traveller campaign, which could easily fill a thread of its own), and I want to make our new guy happy with a more Narrativist angle.

Fortunately, Serenity RPG is nice enough to identify a couple of underlying themes (in a paragraph labeled "Underlying Themes" (p.167 in case you own the book)): Thrilling Heroics, Hidden Secrets, Outcasts & Misfits and Freedom. Personally, if you want to stay close to the style of the TV show, I think there's at least one more: Keep Flying. I'll get into them below. (I'll make all themes and premises I think I've identified bold.)

First, are these themes the same sort of themes refered to in Story Now? The book tells me:
Quote
Some basic themes can help involve the crew in the story you're creating in your role as Game Master.

It says the GM is creating the story (which is very not Story Now), and the theme will get the players involved in that story. Will it? And, if so, how? Let's look a bit closer:

Thrilling Heroics: The book isn't clear on whether this is about cinematic stunts, or about being the good guys. "Be wary of allowing players to create characters who are nasty, evil, no-good skunks. Some greedy scoundrel-types are acceptable, but there's a limit. Flawed people are interesting, but flat-out evil folk will end up locked up or on the wrong end of a gun barrel." Sounds like they're suggesting Force. But in the TV show, murder is definitely being considered. Betrayal happens. They're definitely not incorrigible do-gooders. Mal (the captain) keeps insisting he's a bad man. Some agree, some don't.

I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?" (Am I correct in thinking this sort of question is what Story Now means by "Premise"?)

Hidden Secrets: There are several of these in the TV show. Particularly: "Why does a priest know so much about crime, military, and shooting people in the kneecaps?" and also: "Why did the government mess with the young girl's brain? And what did they do to her?" and related to that: "Why does the messed-up girl attack logos of a food company?" But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?

I suppose in Story Now, it's vital not to have the answer to these mysteries in advance. The priest's player may not know what his character's history really is, and by addressing that question in play, in the situations the players encounter, bits of the answer might develop out of how the players deal with those situations. I think. Could these questions be personal premises, rather than premises for the entire group?

Outcasts & Misfits: That just describes the group of characters. Hardly addressable as premise, right? The book says: "The kind of folk who get into the scrapes likely to happen in a campaign are not the sort who settle down and raise a bunch of young 'uns. The scrapes they are in may not have been part of their original live-plan, but circumstances have forced them to become misfits who can't find a place in life -- but might find one with a group of other misfits." And suddenly I find myself asking the question: "Why don't you fit into normal society?".

In most RPGs, the characters don't operate in normal society, yet we rarely question why. In Firefly, each character has its own reason to be on the move, on the run, to keep flying. They're all different, and for some of the characters, this is addressed in the TV show (not for all, unfortunately). It could be interesting to do something with that question in an RPG, but how?

Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.

Let's not forget the theme I added:
Keep Flying: It's a popular quote in the game (it's the name of a chapter, even), and a theme of the TV show. Mal (the captain) feels like his land has been taken from him, and now he only has the sky left. "You can't take the sky from me" from the title song. In the pilot, he says "It's getting awful crowded in my sky." He wants to keep his ship flying, and to do that he needs a crew and money. But money is always a problem (and so is the crew, actually), and he often needs to resort to crime. That's easy when its a victimless crime (smuggling), or the victim is impersonal, evil and/or rich, but what if you find out that's not the real victim of your crime? Can you steal from hospitals, even if they're rich? What if you discover that the goods you were stealing are medicines headed for a poor, sickly community that really needs it? "What does it cost to keep flying?" and "Who are you willing to hurt?" Lots of moral dilemmas here, and moral dilemmas sound like a great way to address this premise.

(On moral dilemmas, I get the impression that the way that phrase is used on the Forge has drifted quite far from its real meaning, which is something I discuss in the previous thread.)

Now I've got two questions:

1. Do I understand correctly what Premise is? Are all the bold questions above suitable as Premise?
2. How do I (or the players) address this in a game?
« Last Edit: February 12, 2009, 06:05:09 AM by lumpley » Logged

Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2009, 05:34:16 AM »

I messed up a BBCode tag in that post. Is there any way I can fix that? This looks kinda awful.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2009, 06:51:46 AM »

Got the bbcode for you.

Okay, so, a super-quick summary of Story Now play. Straight outta Egri.

Passionate characters, in action according to their passions. They face opposition across the moral line(s) their passions represent. They're fit to take on the opposition, and the opposition is fit to take them on. They escalate, escalate and escalate, facing and going through the inevitable moral dilemmas that escalating against fit opposition across a moral line creates. Ultimately they reach a crisis, they break the opposition or it breaks them, and they resolve the drives of their passions.

(This process can be layered, at different scales: in Firefly on TV, each episode follows this process, and each episode is also an escalatory step in the larger conflicts of the series. When Mal compromises his "stay the hell away from the alliance" for the sake of his "Shepherd Book is part of my crew, so I save his life," that's a moment of resolution in the episode, and a moment of escalation in the series.)

With me?

So:

I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?" (Am I correct in thinking this sort of question is what Story Now means by "Premise"?)
(You are.) To make "how much of a good guy can you afford to be?" stick as a premise, you'll need (a) characters who are passionately committed to being good guys, in (b) situations where being a good guy is incompatible with surviving financially, with (c) something to force the issue, to bring inescapable urgency to the question.

Quote
Hidden Secrets ... But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?
I don't figure they are either. They don't have much moral dimension, do they? Same with backstory questions like "why don't you fit into normal society?"

Answering these questions is often, not always, part of revealing the characters' passions in action, and they're often, not always, fruitful territory to mine for conflict and opposition - but they don't make passionate characters in conflict with fit opposition across a moral line all by themselves.

Quote
Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.
The only one of those that really works for me is the last: should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom. (That's because "should" brings the moral dimension, where "are you willing" leaves it out.) Anyway, to address it in play, you need (a) (b) and (c) above: characters passionately committed to their freedom, in a situation where their living safety is in genuine conflict with their freedom, with some internal or external force that makes the question immediate and urgent.

It's really important, while we're here, to point out that for a premise to work, it has to be a genuinely open question. "We died for our freedom" has to be absolutely and genuinely a possible outcome.

Quote
Let's not forget the theme I added:
Keep Flying: It's a popular quote in the game (it's the name of a chapter, even), and a theme of the TV show. Mal (the captain) feels like his land has been taken from him, and now he only has the sky left. "You can't take the sky from me" from the title song. In the pilot, he says "It's getting awful crowded in my sky." He wants to keep his ship flying, and to do that he needs a crew and money. But money is always a problem (and so is the crew, actually), and he often needs to resort to crime. That's easy when its a victimless crime (smuggling), or the victim is impersonal, evil and/or rich, but what if you find out that's not the real victim of your crime? Can you steal from hospitals, even if they're rich? What if you discover that the goods you were stealing are medicines headed for a poor, sickly community that really needs it? "What does it cost to keep flying?" and "Who are you willing to hurt?" Lots of moral dilemmas here, and moral dilemmas sound like a great way to address this premise.
Yep. Especially "what does it cost you to keep flying," meaning, what must you compromise? ("When you have to hurt someone to keep flying, should you?")

Again, addressing them in play is just a matter of (a) (b) and (c).

You left out loyalty! Firefly is a show all about loyalty. The whole crew is in a constant state of "to whom do you owe your loyalty? What should you compromise to stay loyal? How should you respond to another's disloyalty? To, worse, your own? When your loyalty to one person conflicts with your loyalty to another, what should you do?"

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2009, 07:02:28 AM »

Oh, and whether Serenity the rpg is going to make it easy or hard for you to address any of these, or another premise, in play... I don't know. I suspect hard, possibly prohibitively hard, but that's based on my own prejudice so don't take it too seriously. I haven't read the game.

-Vincent
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FredGarber
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« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2009, 11:28:03 AM »

Vincent: That's why he's has his own principle...  he explains it all.

As a clarification to my Jane Loyalty roll, after I've had two days or so for my subconscious to work on it, you're right.  That would take the character out of the player's hands too forcefully.  I'd probably come up with some sort of Stat - based challenge, where the GM challenges Jane's Weakness (Loyalty to the crew) by offering him some of his Needs (Violence, Wealth, or both), and Jane's player depends upon his Strengths to give him bonuses to the roll.  If I win, he adds to the story my way.  If he wins, I narrate it his way.  But, that's getting "Thread Drifty," and would belong back in First Thoughts.  This is Actual Play.  Let me dig out my Serenity rules from the Gaming Closet, and maybe by the time I read it, you might have a question left (before all the other brilliant people here give you better advice than I could ;)

I tried to run a Serenity / Traveller game, and ran RIGHT INTO this too.  However, much of my group wanted a sort of game where they were playing out an imaginary Serenity Spin off, and so the game was very much about the "Shared Dream."  There was friction over the crew's choices, but people were more interested in Seeing the 'Verse (Exploring Setting) and witty exchanges of banter (Exploring Characters).  It was pretty Awesome, but not Narrativist play
 
Good luck.
-Fred
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mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2009, 03:16:33 PM »

Got the bbcode for you.

Thanks for that.

Quote
Okay, so, a super-quick summary of Story Now play. Straight outta Egri.

Passionate characters, in action according to their passions. They face opposition across the moral line(s) their passions represent. They're fit to take on the opposition, and the opposition is fit to take them on. They escalate, escalate and escalate, facing and going through the inevitable moral dilemmas that escalating against fit opposition across a moral line creates. Ultimately they reach a crisis, they break the opposition or it breaks them, and they resolve the drives of their passions.

I've seen references to Egri before here. I understand he's pretty important around here, so I did some reading. And my impression is that even the Egri premise is not quite the same thing as a Story Now premise, although it's closer. Where a movie premise is a short synopsis (for example, for Romeo and Julia: "Forbidden love between boy and girl ends in death"), te Egri premise is about the underlying message that the story tries to deliver to the audience ("Love defies even death"), whereas the Story Now premise is an underlying question, rather than a message. Perhaps each possible answer to that question could be an Egri message, I suppose.

But I think I get your point. Whatever the premise is, it needs to deal with something that the characters care about. And then the GM threatens it in a way that the characters can deal with, and you see what happens. And then you do it again, but you up the ante. And then again and again, until something snaps.

Quote
(This process can be layered, at different scales: in Firefly on TV, each episode follows this process, and each episode is also an escalatory step in the larger conflicts of the series. When Mal compromises his "stay the hell away from the alliance" for the sake of his "Shepherd Book is part of my crew, so I save his life," that's a moment of resolution in the episode, and a moment of escalation in the series.)

And that might be an interesting example to follow in a Story Now campaign. Each session needs its own resolution, but each resolution is also an escalating step in a bigger story. And I've got the feeling that bigger story could be addressing a completely different premise, is that correct? In fact, would it be possible to have several different premises relevant to the campaign, and address a different one each session? Or would that be too messy?

Quote
I guess one interesting Premise could be: "How much of a good guy can you afford to be?"

To make "how much of a good guy can you afford to be?" stick as a premise, you'll need (a) characters who are passionately committed to being good guys, in (b) situations where being a good guy is incompatible with surviving financially, with (c) something to force the issue, to bring inescapable urgency to the question.

That's good to keep in mind. With players used to Sim or Gam, I guess it's easy to end up with characters who are not really passionate about the issue addressed by the premise. Some of my players might answer up front: "Not a lot, really." or: "If there's profit in it." which is of course something that needs to be prevented. The up front part, at least. If during play they decide that being a good guy is just too hard in this setting, then I suppose that's their answer. Then I need to lower the bar, to figure out how low their standards for being a good guy really are. That's (a).

(b) is something that the GM needs to take care of. Shouldn't be too hard, I suppose. Firefly is full of situations where they need to choose between making money or doing what's right. Still, it's important to keep that conflict in mind. It's too easy to screw them over financially (or otherwise) without them having any choice in it, or to let them be heroes without it really costing them anything. I think "winning" means they need to sacrifice something, whatever the win is. The one thing I'm worried about here, is how much of a sacrifice a financial sacrifice really is. Fully detailing the financial situation of the crew of a tramp freighter can be some serious bookkeeping, which goes way over to the number-crunching simulationist side. I've done this in WFRP's Death On The Reik campaign, and tried to avoid it in our recent GURPS Traveller debacle, but the end result of that was that they had no idea what their financial situation was, and they had to take it on faith from me that they'd be short if they chose A, but would make their monthly payments in they chose B. Not satisfying. I think Serenity has some rules about this, so I hope they're easy and lightweight enough that it gives the players a better feel about their finances without breaking out the spreadsheets.

Quote
Quote
Hidden Secrets ... But while those are questions, I don't think they're premises. Or are they?
I don't figure they are either. They don't have much moral dimension, do they? Same with backstory questions like "why don't you fit into normal society?"

Answering these questions is often, not always, part of revealing the characters' passions in action, and they're often, not always, fruitful territory to mine for conflict and opposition - but they don't make passionate characters in conflict with fit opposition across a moral line all by themselves.

I do think they're important questions to consider, however. They're more personal, less about decisions, and not much of a topic for discussions among the characters, but they're still issues that could make for nice backstory if answered in advance (which would be acceptable, since they're not premise), or could add interesting flavour by addressing them during play. Maybe they're only decoration, but they can be pretty anyway. And for a simulationist, the "not fitting into society" might even be necessary to explain why they prefer travelling around in a rust bucket spaceship.

Also, these issues could still be related to something the character is passionate about. Maybe he wants to keep his secret, for example (although I don't really like that, I think -- finding answers to mysteries is more fun than keeping them secret). And in Firefly, Mal is still passionate about the cause for Independence, which is why he doesn't fit into Alliance-controlled society. So there's still options for conflict here.

Quote
Quote
Freedom: The book says: "Freedom and what it truly means to be free is a strong underlying notion that should play a part in any Serenity campaign. What is the price of freedom? Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?" Well, that was easy. The book literally mentions three interesting questions that might work as Premise: "What does it truly mean to be free?", "What is the price of freedom?" (and how about: "What price are you willing to pay?"), and "Should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom?"

All of those sound excellent as Premise (at least if I understand Premise correctly), but I'm still at a loss as how to address them during play.
The only one of those that really works for me is the last: should living safe be purchased at the cost of freedom. (That's because "should" brings the moral dimension, where "are you willing" leaves it out.) Anyway, to address it in play, you need (a) (b) and (c) above: characters passionately committed to their freedom, in a situation where their living safety is in genuine conflict with their freedom, with some internal or external force that makes the question immediate and urgent.

I'm not sure if safety is the most interesting conflict for freedom here. Adventurers tend to have very little regard for it. But freedom could still cost them something else: maybe they could get a profitable job working for the alliance. Would they do it? (In Earthdawn, the players hate running errants for Dragons, exactly because it does tend to cost them their freedom.) Or it could be brought into conflict with other things they're passionate about. What if freedom conflicts with heroism? Poor, desperate people really, really need their help, and they're the only ones who can help, but they were actually in the middle of something else entirely, and don't really want to be stuck on a moon for weeks in order to help people for no profit.

Now I suddenly find myself wondering if it's really about answering deep questions, and not simply about characters having different things they care about and making them choose between them? That's pretty much your basic, classic moral dilemma, right? Except that morality is about ethics, not passions. Hm....

I need to think about that one.

Quote
It's really important, while we're here, to point out that for a premise to work, it has to be a genuinely open question. "We died for our freedom" has to be absolutely and genuinely a possible outcome.

But it's not good for the longevity of the campaign. But perhaps having a dramatic ending is better than having it bleed to death, as so often happens.

Quote
You left out loyalty! Firefly is a show all about loyalty. The whole crew is in a constant state of "to whom do you owe your loyalty? What should you compromise to stay loyal? How should you respond to another's disloyalty? To, worse, your own? When your loyalty to one person conflicts with your loyalty to another, what should you do?"

Or when it conflicts with one of your other passions? Because that's the fun part, isn't it? Each character has a number of passions, and they all conflict. For Jayne, for example, both money and safety often trump loyalty. For Mal, on the other hand, loyalty trumps just about anything else. Zoe is I think the only one with conflicting loyalties: to her husband and to her captain (who would both be player characters if it was a RPG, so I'm not sure how that would work out in actual play).

On the one hand, I've got lots of good ideas now, but on the other, I've got a nagging feeling that I'm dilluting my new found understanding of what Story Now is. On the gripping hand: does it matter? The most important issue is that we get exciting play where we deal with issues that the characters care about.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
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« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2009, 03:45:40 PM »

Hi mcv,

Is there anything that...scares you about your own life? It's a bit of a private question - I'm asking merely to raise the idea rather than asking for an answer here. For example, a hard one is, what if I conceive a child and it has down syndrome? Would I get an abortion?

I imagine there's a short shocked silence to that one from all reading, but that's exactly my point - I'm not bringing up some fantasy, far away moral dilemma. If it was too much, just dismiss me as another internet weirdo and skip the rest of the post, that's ok.

With some things that scare you, perhaps you've made your choice. But with other scary things, you may have doubts about how to deal with it (perhaps even as you deal with it a certain way in real life).

Can you imagine exploring those doubts in a game? Perhaps draping it in metaphor and space ships, to make it less horrifically close to home? But basically it's those doubts actually explored.

I don't definately know myself if that's to do with the definition of nar. But I do tend to think that pure fantasy moral dilemmas that are harmoginised and sealed off from what shares the shit out of you probably will have you indeed dilute your understanding of story now.
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JB
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« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2009, 03:56:32 PM »

Wow. I think Vincent covered the 'themes' so I'll keep my comments there to a minimum. 

I'd second the idea that some of the 'themes' in the Serenity text aren't 'Themes' or Premises in the specific sense that we're using the word, but are more like motifs or tropes.  They're not using the word to mean something as specific as we are here though, and the Premises have been identified, so no problems there.

I'd also emphasize that you absolutely must give the players the authority to decide what side of the issue they come down on, and the power to influence how they addresses that issue.  You and the whole group needs to be open to the players answering 'yes' OR 'no' to the 'premise question' and for them to go into tragedy OR triumph to make their argument.  Some of that can be established before you start playing, but some of it is going to have to come from the play itself.

Got a game of my own to get to, so I'll have to leave off here. I'll try to get an analysis of the Serenity RPG up tomorrow, along with what I see as the potential stumbling blocks to using it as a vehicle for Story Now, as well as some thoughts on what you might do to get around those.  I'm also not convinced it's worth the effort, but I really sympathize with your situation so... Onward!

I also see there's a couple of new posts up since I read through this thread earlier, so my apologies for any confusion if this is crossposted.
 
Cheers,

J
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2009, 04:19:26 PM »

MCV, I want so much to say, "Use all the cool setting stuff from your Serenity RPG book (because it is pretty damn cool), and use my game The Rustbelt with the Frontier Suns mod included therein for everything else," because it presents so damn clearly a particular take on the Firefly thing (i.e. my particular take on the coolest, most cutting Premise that can be derived from it), with a built-to-specs system for that take.  Because, even if it isn't your take, or a take you like, I think you'd find it helpful.  But the damned thing isn't ready yet.  That, and I'd look like a self-promoting ass.  Arrrg.

-Marshall
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2009, 04:34:10 PM »

Oh, hell, lemme see what I can do anyway.

Okay, so, this particular take on the Firefly thing revolves around the Black.  Right, a colloquialism for the vast emptiness of space, but here also a metaphor for isolation.  This being roleplaying we're talking about, we can treat metaphor as something that acts and has an agenda and does shit to people.  So, we explore what isolation does to people.  Isolation, as in how the outer planets are isolated from the central planets, and what that did to those outer planets and the people living on them, and what that allows the Alliance to do to the folks on the outer planets as the distance diminishes their apparent humanity.  Isolation, as in my planet is separated from yours by space, so we're different and apart from each other.  Isolation, as in the only connection between your ship and my ship is a video screen that I can turn off if I want, and doing so will make it a lot easier for me to kill your ship for food and fuel.  Isolation, as in I'm just looking out for me and mine, and I don't have time or energy to take up for you too.  Isolation, as in "She's wanted by the Feds; they'll give me money if I turn her in; if I protect her, I'm in danger; hmm...."

For my money, this grabs everything in the Firefly canon, from Train Job to the movie.

By treating the Black as if it were a character, you can make it work to isolate and divide people and thus open up the door for desperate and despicable behavior.  You can do things like have it take away resources so that people might have to do something unsavory or despicable to get by; you can put people in a situation where a despicable, self-serving, and even murderous act can go unpunished (or seems like it can); you can drive wedges between friends, by having the pressure of all the hardship, desperation, and isolation hammer on their nerves until they lash out at each other.  There's lots of tricks.  But the thing is, you give them opportunity to be horrible, and good reason to be horrible, and then watch to see if they act horribly to get by, or nobly despite the cost, or manage to find a balance somehow.  And then you challenge their choice.  And re-challenge it.  And so on.

I'm not good at stating Premises, but there's one in there.  With considerable houseruling, you can do it with Serenity RPG.  My consternation above is based on the fact that The Rustbelt + "Frontier Suns" mod is custom-made for this very thing (right down to having rules for the Black acting as a character).
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mcv
Member

Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2009, 04:39:27 PM »

MCV, I want so much to say, "Use all the cool setting stuff from your Serenity RPG book (because it is pretty damn cool), and use my game The Rustbelt with the Frontier Suns mod included therein for everything else," because it presents so damn clearly a particular take on the Firefly thing (i.e. my particular take on the coolest, most cutting Premise that can be derived from it), with a built-to-specs system for that take.  Because, even if it isn't your take, or a take you like, I think you'd find it helpful.  But the damned thing isn't ready yet.  That, and I'd look like a self-promoting ass.

Well, if you need a proof reader, I'm volunteering. I'm very interested.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
sirogit
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Posts: 506


« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2009, 08:57:15 PM »

I never -played- the Serenity RPG, but I did create a character and read the rulebook with the intention of drifting it Story Now.

While the setting has awesome potential for addressing premises, and the book mentions a few of these premises in passing, I don't think there's much in the rules that I would want to steal for narrativist purposes.

To start off, the game puts a lot of emphasis on "Then the GM decides what is best." This can be extremely obstructive to addressing premises, such as the concept of "How much of a team player/rat bastard can I be?" - The rules explicitly states that the GM decides how much the character must be adhering to a team - and thus there is no question about it by the time we get to play, because the GM has already decided it pre-play. I would say that the rules imply that however much of a team player you've established your character to be is an informal contract with the GM, which means it can't be dynamic and change in response to meaningful game events - That premise, as a component of story that is composed in the moment, is effectively dead in the water.

Like most trad game systems, the disadvantage system is the most tempting to the story-now-drifter. Especially with a few key disadvantages like Secret. But Secret is pretty much drowned out in a sea of very generic disadvantages I'd be hard pressed to try to squeeze story out of, like being mildly whacky or antisocial. This more or less defeats the plot point mechanic as a meaningful story engine, as people aren't as likely to be getting brownie points for revealing secrets as they are for having a bum leg or being mildly irriatating or whatever.

I wouldn't peg it as impossible to drift the -game rules- in a Story Now direction, but I don't really see the benefit of doing so compared to just using the setting in combination of a game that is already a decent fiction engine.

- Sean Musgrave
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JB
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Posts: 29


« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2009, 09:46:44 PM »

I'd personally still like to take Serenity RPG apart and see what we could change to better facilitate Story Now.  Even if there are better vehicles out there, in terms of setting and mechanics both, I think it might be educational and illustrative both for understanding the big model and as an exercise in game (re)design.
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Trevis Martin
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Posts: 514


« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2009, 11:56:06 PM »

Quote
Some of my players might answer up front: "Not a lot, really." or: "If there's profit in it." which is of course something that needs to be prevented. The up front part, at least. If during play they decide that being a good guy is just too hard in this setting, then I suppose that's their answer. Then I need to lower the bar, to figure out how low their standards for being a good guy really are. (a).

Right on.

My instinct on this is to say that it's totally okay for them to answer it up front. The story of the game isn't formed only by the question and the answer, but by the question, the answer (which is the sum total of the characters actions in the overall situation) and the consequences of the answer.  In fact, that is really the way the question is answered.  The player has the character take a position through action (maybe consistantly, maybe not), and the consequences roll out and we discover the pay off together.

I guess I mean to say that answering it isn't as simple as just saying "if there's profit in it."
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mcv
Member

Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2009, 01:11:51 AM »

To start off, the game puts a lot of emphasis on "Then the GM decides what is best." This can be extremely obstructive to addressing premises, such as the concept of "How much of a team player/rat bastard can I be?" - The rules explicitly states that the GM decides how much the character must be adhering to a team - and thus there is no question about it by the time we get to play, because the GM has already decided it pre-play.

That's true, but then again, it's only words, not integral part of the system. Lots of RPGs have crappy descriptions of how the GM should act, and I usually ignore it unless it fits what I'm looking for. On the other hand, I think I do want the characters to be part of a team. On a ship together, and doing some thing. But some group dynamic with a bit of tension would be nice.

Quote
I would say that the rules imply that however much of a team player you've established your character to be is an informal contract with the GM, which means it can't be dynamic and change in response to meaningful game events - That premise, as a component of story that is composed in the moment, is effectively dead in the water.

Of course there are other premises you could focus on if you don't want to focus on loyalty, but if you want to do justice to the TV show, then loyalty should certainly be an issue. (Although with the exception of Jayne, most characters seem to have a surprus of loyalty, rather than a shortage.)

Quote
Like most trad game systems, the disadvantage system is the most tempting to the story-now-drifter. Especially with a few key disadvantages like Secret. But Secret is pretty much drowned out in a sea of very generic disadvantages I'd be hard pressed to try to squeeze story out of, like being mildly whacky or antisocial.

Now that I've got my mind into a Story Now mode, I'm not so sure I like the disadvantages so much anymore. Just like with a Loyalty stat, it sounds like you're forcing certain decisions on the players and taking away their freedom. On the other hand, the majority of Serenity's Complications don't seem to have the forcing aspect that GURPS Disadvantages have. In GURPS, you have to roll Will to act against mental disadvantages, in Serenity, you get Plot Points for acting in accordance to your Complications. But if you don't need Plot Points, you're basically free to act.

Quote
This more or less defeats the plot point mechanic as a meaningful story engine, as people aren't as likely to be getting brownie points for revealing secrets as they are for having a bum leg or being mildly irriatating or whatever.

I'd definitely award Plot Points for conflicts that seem to reveal or suggest something about someone's Secret. Take all those "Why does a priest know so much about crime/kneecapping/etc?" moments in the TV show. If you've got a Secret, playing up the mystery gets you plot points in my book.

Quote
I wouldn't peg it as impossible to drift the -game rules- in a Story Now direction, but I don't really see the benefit of doing so compared to just using the setting in combination of a game that is already a decent fiction engine.

I admit my main reason for it is that I don't know of any game rules with a Story Now direction. Of all the Story Now systems mentioned in various places, Zero is the only one I know, and I don't see any clear Premise addressing in the rules itself. As far as I can tell, it's only the settin, and I'm not even all that sure about that (but that's a topic for another thread). I did get the impression that perhaps Serenity was slightly more aimed at Story Now, but I could easily be wrong about that.

Of course the real problem is that I don't have any experience with Story Now yet. I'm trying to cobble together what it should look like in these two threads, but some practical examples would help a lot. I've suggested that the guy in my group who originally suggested we try Narrativism should GM a game of Dogs In The Vineyard or something like that. Something not too wacky, still recognisable as an RPG, but with direct focus on premise. From what little I've read, Dogs In The Vineyard, HeroQuest and Sorceror sound most attractive for that purpose.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
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