Trollbabe-ish setup lacking drama

Started by Paul T, July 26, 2009, 05:08:26 PM

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QuoteI wonder, also, if a simpler backstory (one that could have been revealed very quickly, with fewer words) would solve this issue. There were enough little twists in turns in my backstory that I think the players were enjoying themselves simply uncovering what was going on. Once enough of the backstory had become clear to act, they did. So, perhaps if there had been less information to uncover, they would have acted more quickly.

I also think that the social circumstances (one person new to gaming altogether, one hadn`t played in a long time, the three of us had never played together at all) are an important factor. I know that I feel hesitant to jump straight into something with an unfamiliar activity and unfamiliar people, preferring to "play it safe", feeling out boundaries, and I can`t imagine that it`s too different for anyone else. I`m kind of surprised no one has commented on that aspect of the game--any similar--or contrary--experiences out there?

I think you might be on to something here -- and a little too quick to fall on your own sword before.  (A reaction which may be related to Ron's 'Fun God' point?)

I know that when I start with a new system or a new character or a new setting it takes me at least the first couple of hours to really take it on board.  If it's all new, or if it's especially complex, then I might really prefer the gentler, let's-play-tourist-for-a bit introduction that your players seem to have had.  The action, when it occurs, might then be more rooted in an equally shared understanding of the game world and system than if you start hitting them with too many events too fast. 


And in the Sorcerer + Kids thread Christopher just said this:

QuotePlayers are rightly suspicious of being shoved out into an RPG adventure without a baseline understanding of the risks and rewards of the mechanics.  Or, rather, if you want Players to take big chances and make interesting choices, this impulse is best supported when the Players have at least a baseline understanding of the risks and the rewards.  Until that happens, Players tend to make safe choices, avoid risks and kill their more interesting impulses.  The reason for this is completely rational: If I could accidently lose my guy on die roll I didn't even know I'd be making, and I don't even know when or how to roll a die, or when the odds or in or against my favor, why the heck would I risk doing anything?

which is pretty much what I was trying to get across, only said better.

If your players got through that stage and started to feel comfortable making big bold choices within the first two hours of gameplay, then I think it's more likely you were doing things right than you were doing things wrong.

Paul T

The issue of player comfort, and how it relates to the pace of a game, is exactly what I've been thinking about, as well.

Does anyone have any advice along those lines? Is it necessary to strive to find a middle ground between "slow and comfortable" and "fast-paced and exciting"? If so, what might be some useful techniques (or techniques to avoid)? Or is it a red herring altogether, and best just to let the game evolve at its natural pace?

Thanks for all the input so far.

Ron Edwards

Hi Paul,

The answer to the pacing question is unfortunately highly specific to the game you're using, your own desires and skills, and (of course, as best you can tell) what everyone else likes.

Some games have excellent pacing mechanics built into them. Dead of Night is a fine example, as are Polaris and Burning Empires. Both effectively operate on counters which are click fowards based on the resolution mechanics.

Others have more subtle second-order structural features to permit pacing to emerge tangibly, but not via designated mechanical markers. Universalis is an interesting example, and I tried hard to make the final version of Trollbabe (the one now printing) operate like this. RuneQuest of the mid-1980s would be an another and very different example.

Still others are in between, e.g. Sorcerer and My Life with Master, in different ways.

I also realize, on reflection, that we should distinguish between within-session pacing and session-to-session pacing - which are not quite the same as within-adventure and adventure-to-adventure pacing, so that would be yet another issue.

The bad news is that many games have no such things and rely on so-called "good GMing," or more accurately, everyone fumbling about in cognitive and imaginative murk. Some games are so well-designed that pacing becomes emergent for a given group, and that's great, but I'm saying that plenty do not have any such design, being mainly about character builds, combat mechanics, and long-term character improvement, with the pacing issues (three mentioned so far in this post) being utterly inaccessible given the scattered focus of the existing rules.

All of which makes me reluctant to advise anyone simply to "play and see" without much to go by. There's too much chance to flounder.

So I'm not sure what to tell you. If the game has such features, then it's a matter of finding and understanding them, which I think is often not possible without play unless you're dealing with the most structured designs. If it doesn't, well, you're in a pickle because you can't light the way through the murk all by yourself. You and the others will effectively have to design your own "rest of the game rules" in order to play comfortably.

I'm also saying there is no One True Pace. Unless the game locks it down somehow, then a great deal of "good pacing" depends on what you personally think is good pacing, at the time, and also on how people in the game, GM included (or maybe only the GM, depending on the game), are empowered to kick off the conflict mechanics in a given scene.

I hope this post was helpful. I'm trying to outline the issues involved, not spray around a crazy quilt of almosts, but I can't tell whether I succeeded.

Best, Ron

Paul T


Your post is mostly helpful, because those are the same questions and variables I've been thinking about. What I'd really like is to solicit some people's feedback on games they have played that were:

a) of short duration (a single session in the one-to-three hour range),


b) with a new group, particular involving people unfamiliar with a certain gaming style and (even better) people totally new to roleplaying.

I find it often difficult to get useful feedback from such games, because the people involved don't feel like they have anything to compare to. Without a point of comparison, they struggle to give feedback. They don't know that things could be any different.

I wonder how many people have had such experiences, and whether they found a difference in the "success rate" (i.e. amount of fun had by all involved, whether they decided they'd want to play again or not at a later time) based on the pacing of the game. Do certain personalities or types of people get bored by a slower, learn-as-you-go pace? Do others feel overwhelmed by a more "face-stabby, go address premise" kind of play that's sometimes lampooned by the indie crowd?

In my own game, for instance, I found it interesting that the heavy video game player didn't seem thrown by a totally different, open-ended style of play in the least; neither did she exhibit any sort of behaviour I could attribute to video games (such as, say, picking up random items and seeing if they "did" anything).

I find it an interesting issue, because, by contrast, experienced gamers tend to acquire very specific kinds of skill sets over time. Some players grow more and more careful, planning out every move and carefully "turtling", particular with a new group and/or a new GM or system. Other players develop an ability to create drama and action through their character, even in games with tightly confined authority and heavy delineation of player rights and knowledge.

For instance, Dave Berg (here on the Forge) is a friend of mine who is really easy to GM for because he lays out what his character cares about and what his or her fears might be as he plays, often presenting a sort of "target" for the other players, in terms of how he'd like his character to be challenged by adversity.

I've digressed a little, however. I'm interested in a discussion of the topic above (top of this post). Should we carry that on here, or should a new thread be opened for the topic?



Callan S.

Hi Paul,

Are you trying to accept everyone into the game, and trying to let them develop and grow their own approach? I thought you might be still developing what you want to get at yourself, but you identified David Bergs approach as one you like and articulated the steps of it really well (enough for another person, or atleast myself, to follow those steps too) - why aren't you just telling everyone that's what playing in the game involves (telling them when giving an invite to play)? Do you want to preserve some sort of thing where everyone finds their own way and aren't 'bossed' toward some approach? If so, is that really all that important? I mean, I'll grant David Berg may have found his method by just that means - he wasn't bossed around and somehow found that method you described. But is your game about discovering such techniques in a sort of genesis state, or applying techniques already discovered and getting on with playing it out/leaving the genesis state? Is it anything like what I'm asking about?

Paul T


That's an interesting observation, and it certainly applies to my GMing style. Perhaps I need to build clearer objectives or techniques into the game itself, both for the players and the GM. It's certainly worth thinking about, thanks.

Also, since I haven't received any feedback on my main question (two posts above), I wonder if I should begin a new thread. What do you think?



Ron Edwards

Hi Paul,

Those questions are a good topic for a new thread. Please remember to include a play account, however briefly summarized, which illustrates some of your concerns. Otherwise even the most careful description (without play) will yield bizarre and far-ranging interpretations which won't address your question.

Best, Ron