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Author Topic: Getting into Story Now  (Read 3183 times)
Andre Canivet
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« on: November 09, 2009, 10:54:11 PM »

Dear Forge :)

I'm wondering: Can anyone recommend some good games to start trying out story now / narrativist play? 

I've read many different systems, but my actual play experience is limited to Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, and D&D 2e & 4e.  Over the past couple of years I've read through some Indie games, Forge posts, and design blogs; and listened to podcasts, all talking about this thing called Story Now.  It sounds pretty cool, but that's the extent of my knowledge.

Here's the thing: Both of the groups I play with have fairly well-established gaming habits.

The first group (which I see rarely) has also only played the Palladium system and some of my own designs.  All of these have so far been fairly tactical / combat heavy--or, if I understand the nomenclature: Gamist in terms of beating lots of faceless enemies, and simulationist in the sense of realistic but streamlined combat rules.  (I actually really screwed up my party during a playtest when I hit them with a social challenge... they'd optimized their characters for combat and hadn't even thought about social skills).

The second group I see regularly, but I don't know so well.  It's about 50-65% old school power-gamer types.  We're currently playing a very combat heavy D&D 4e campaign. 

Despite this, I think both groups might be willing to try some Story Now, but I don't want to hit them (or myself) with anything too crazy. I've considered trying Shock: Social Science Fiction.  I also have a copies of Dogs in the Vineyard, Zero, Hero Wars, and Everway.  But I'm wondering: do any of these games stand out as particularly good introductions to Narrativist play, or are there are one or two games I can pick up that would be better suited to that purpose?
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
Jasper Flick
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« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2009, 02:56:45 AM »

Here's some thoughts.

"I think both groups might be willing to try some Story Now."
Do you only think so, or did you actually ask them (including cummunicating what Story Now might be)?

If you did ask, I think you'll get more guidance from their answers than our shots in the dark at this point. There exist lists of must-play or learn-Story-Now-in-this-order games, but they're subjective and whether they're of any use for your case is anyone's guess.

I think the biggest choice is whether you go regular with some new tricks, or jump in deep with something radically different. In any case, communicate your intentions and propose the thing as an experiment. You're totally new to it yourself, so the first game you run might well go awkward. The first time you sit on a bike you'll likely crash, but that experience tells you very little about biking in general.

In case your groups are used to an entertainer-GM vs consumer-players model of play, it's a good idea to reconsider this attitude for Story Now play. D&D adventuring can survive quite a while in that mode, but Story Now play shrivels and dies fast (at least, that's my experience).
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Andre Canivet
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« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2009, 11:27:26 AM »

"Regular with a few tricks" is probably what I'm looking for.

I've asked the one group (the one I see rarely)--they're very reluctant to leave their comfort zone, so I don't want to present anything too far out. 

The other group I haven't asked yet, but I'm fairly certain they'd be up for trying a new game.  I'm also fairly certain that play would quickly drift back into the gamist arena unless the game explicitly encouraged Story Now play.  I don't want to try using a screwdriver only to wind up trying to use it like a hammer--so, I'm trying to get a sense of which games are reasonably "vanilla narrativist"--something that can be played over a couple of hours after a main session of a traditional game.

I hope this wasn't a stupid question--I just wondered if anyone more experienced could suggest a starting point, so I have something to present to them when I do ask.  Even those subjective lists would be helpful at this stage.

But indeed, I'll discuss it with both groups and see what they're up for. 
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2009, 12:44:36 PM »

Hello Andre

What did one of your last sessions look like, with either one of the groups? Could you describe a scene or two, tell us how the rules helped you arrive at that, what job the GM had and how the players where discussing the stuff of play (aka "meta-game", at least in French)? Also, what parts did you like, and why? What parts seem to be like a burden to either the players or the GM?

This way we will be able to discuss your needs much more clearly, even if it's a recommendation to do something completely different.

Cheers!
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Regards,
Christoph
Andre Canivet
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« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2009, 02:34:03 PM »

Thanks for your help guys!

Okay--

Christoph, here's a brief outline of the last couple of sessions of D&D 4e with my regular group:

After wandering through a forest, and later through a dungeon, the group was transported to the shadowfell with no way home.  The group consists of a human cleric (me), a dwarf warrior, a draconic sorcerer, a human wizard, and a halfling rogue.  Once in the shadowfell, we started walking in search of a way back to the material plane. 

In the first scene of that session, we came across a keep, where we bargained with an unknown (but presumably undead) entity behind a curtain for information about the way home.  This was handled in the standard way, with one or two rolls of semi-relevant social and knowledge skills, made by the players with the best chance of success. 

After gaining the information, and a map to a city where a way home might exist, in the next scene we set out across the shadowfell again.  Night fell, and we wound up in combat with several skeletons and some sort of extremely agile undead centipede monster.  Several party members were reduced to less than 0 hit points, but we prevailed.  This combat took about three hours to resolve.

In our next session, we stayed in a small town, where we were attacked in the night by an angry ghost.  She almost wiped out several party members, before we were able to talk to her and convince her that we weren't the people she was angry at.  The next day, the party held a seance to summon the spirit and put her to rest, led by the cleric.  This was also handled by a few die rolls--although I rolled quite badly for most of them and only succeeded due to the aid of four other party members and the generosity of the GM.

-----

To analyze things a bit; the rules are definitely geared toward combat tactics--there's not much support or reward for roleplaying outside of combat; and the system of powers, special abilities, and automatic effects for each class and monster seems to discourage (or at least, don't encourage) much in the way of improvisation or creative thinking even within combat--it almost always seems to be about dishing out as much damage to the enemy as possible. 

The GM's role covers almost every aspect of narration--even down to player character reactions in some cases.  The notable execption is player announcements of their characters' attempted actions.  Also, the GM has frequently described his role as trying to kill the PC's.  Although I think he's half joking, that's what the game system seems to encourage (direct competition / opposition between GM & players).  There's quite a lot of trash talk at the table, which seems to almost border on abuse at times, although everybody seems laid back enough to let it slide.  Most of the other discussion seems to be focused on combat effectiveness--how much damage somebody did in the last attack, or plans for the next move.

To describe the parts I liked the most: the seance to put the ghost to rest was good, there was some roleplaying involved, and despite "whiffing" my rolls it was a situation where my character was actually useful in a way other than recharging people's hit points.  To be frank, that's about it.  The combat parts of the game are often quite tedious, and for the last couple of fights I find my character so close to death that I wonder if I'll have to roll up a new one... and then I realize that my new character will be almost exactly identical to the old one--there's nothing tangible about my cleric that distinguishes him from any other cleric, other than a few choices as to feats & prayers.  At least, nothing that comes up in play, and nothing that is rewarded by the rules.

It just doesn't seem very deep to me.

The others seem to be fairly happy with the way things are--they don't seem burdened, really--and I don't want to take away a game that's working for them or try to "change" them as players or a group.  I'm just hoping to throw in a pick-up game after the D&D stuff goes away, and try out some different modes of play.
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2009, 02:21:38 AM »

Hey, The Shadow of Yesterday might actually work with this sort of group. I've had good results in playing it with D&D players, due to how the games resemble each other.
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2009, 08:45:55 AM »

Hey Andre

What an insightful description! Good stuff to work with. Eero beat me to the punch with his suggestion. Indeed TSoY is quite crunchy, but in a way that produces good Story Now. You might also like Sorcerer (there are some nifty options when creating demons) or why not Dogs in the Vineyard (which can get quite technical, while remaining very "cinematographic")
The scene with the ghost could have been handled in very interesting ways in any of those three games. Combat is quite detailed compared to other indie games, yet is probably resolved faster than what you describe. My experience with these systems is that the action scenes are usually quite enjoyable in themselves (tactically and story-wise), a fact that wasn't often the case at the time I was playing D&D 3.0.

I believe you might get some mileage out of Burning Wheel and/or Riddle of Steel, but I've never played those, only read about them.
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Regards,
Christoph
Andre Canivet
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« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2009, 12:17:49 PM »

Thanks guys! 

I'll try out some of those.  I've been meaning to check out The Shadow of Yesterday, and if it would work with the D&D group that would be perfect.  I have a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard which I've been dying to try, but some of the players in the one group were turned off by the religious theme.  I suppose I could port it to a Star Wars theme of wandering Jedi, or a Far East theme with errant Shaolin warriors or Ronin Samurai.  I've just been kind of afraid to mess with it too much before I know what I'm doing.  I don't want to rob the game of its colour, but maybe I should just bite the bullet and experiment.

Sorcerer
sounds like it might also be a good option--the whole question of the price of power might be an interesting challenge to a group of mostly power-gamers.

Anyway--thanks for all your patience and help guys.  This gives me a really good starting point.

Cheers!
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
jefgodesky
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« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2009, 02:07:45 PM »

For people new to gaming entirely, I usually recommend A Penny For My Thoughts, because it really dives into collaborative storytelling at the table, which a lot of people would consider a contradiction.

But I find that people with a history of playing traditional RPG's sometimes have a harder time with this than others. For instance, playing Penny with such a crowd usually draws a reaction like, "It was fun, but I don't think it was a game." People without that baggage immediately recognize the game element. So, for RPG players like your group, I'd recommend Mouse Guard. Burning Wheel in general makes for a nice middle-ground to introduce regular RPG players to more collaborative storytelling. That said, Burning Wheel by itself can get pretty complex. Mouse Guard simplifies things somewhat, and even keeps that medieval fantasy vibe somewhat, so you don't have to push them too far out of their comfort zone.
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Andre Canivet
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« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2009, 05:41:07 PM »

Okay, I'll consider those as well, Jason.  Mouse Guard may be perfect, since, while I've heard lots of good things about Burning Wheel, I'd also heard it's on the big & crunchy side.  I haven't heard of A Penny For My Thoughts, though.  I'll go do a search for that right now.

Thanks!
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
noahtrammell
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« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2009, 08:43:14 PM »

  Andre, I'm currently playing in a game of DITV that's been ported over to Star Wars.  I really like the idea because Jedi are pretty much religious fanatics trying to impose their dogmatics on everyone else, it's just that usually you lose sight of that through the hail of blaster fire and flash of lightsabres. 
  Our gamemaster has some pretty cool ideas on how to convert the sin progression over to Star Wars, and so far it's worked really well.  I have to say though that it might be easier for your group to wrap their heads around TSOY or Burning Wheel, even if Dogs basically retools all the familiar tropes of D&D over to a narrativistic setting.
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Judd
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« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2009, 11:37:57 PM »

In my experience, going to a group of players and saying, "Want to play [game title] where we will play [cool game premise]?" has been far more successful than I think I would have been than if I had said, "Want to game in an entirely new way called Story Now?"

game title = Burning Wheel

cool game premise = orc caught in elven lands after their horde is destroyed

game title = Sorcerer

cool game premise = 50's noir where folks from the Hell-side of town are demons and those who can navigate the legit side of life with the criminal are Sorcerers.

game title = Dogs in the Vineyard

cool game premise =  Quasi-Mormon teens told to solve a community's problems with a gun and a holy book

Good luck finding a fun game.
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Andre Canivet
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« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2009, 01:52:57 PM »

  Andre, I'm currently playing in a game of DITV that's been ported over to Star Wars....   I have to say though that it might be easier for your group to wrap their heads around TSOY or Burning Wheel, even if Dogs basically retools all the familiar tropes of D&D over to a narrativistic setting.

I'm thinking TSoY might be the best bet--I've read the online version of the rules and they seem fairly straightforward.  I think I'll order a copy of the full game from IPR next chance I get.

In my experience, going to a group of players and saying, "Want to play [game title] where we will play [cool game premise]?" has been far more successful than I think I would have been than if I had said, "Want to game in an entirely new way called Story Now?" ... Good luck finding a fun game.

Yeah, that was my thought also.  Just present the game and avoid the theory discussion and all the entanglements that come with it.   Originally I was thinking I might try Shock:, but I have a feeling that a game without a GM might be too much--plus this is a fairly large group (6-7 players), which might make for a longer game than just the quick pickup / test game I was hoping for. 
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
Rafu
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« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2009, 03:09:47 PM »

I'm thinking TSoY might be the best bet--I've read the online version of the rules and they seem fairly straightforward.  I think I'll order a copy of the full game from IPR next chance I get.

A warning: assuming you read the up-to-date online version found at http://tsoy.crngames.com/ (as opposite to one of the older ones still available online), the "classic" print book for TSoY doesn't hold any new content in it for you.
The most current print form for The Shadow of Yesterday is instead comprised of the Solar System booklet and its more weighty supplement, The World of Near.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
Andre Canivet
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« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2009, 04:52:31 PM »

Okay--thanks very much for the info, Rafu.  I haven't read the wiki--the one I had seen was an html file called TSoY 2005 or something similar.  But I'll see about getting the two most recent books.  It would be good to have the system as a separate book anyway; since it would be easier to familiarize the players with it. 
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Andre Canivet

Reality is the original Rorschach.
--The Principia Discordia
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